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Jack Rathbone’s 5-point night in Abbotsford means it’s time for a call-up

With Quinn Hughes unavailable for three games, now is the perfect time to call up Jack Rathbone but the Canucks are keeping him in Abbotsford.
Jack Rathbone Canucks
Jack Rathbone deserves a call-up to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks have had some serious issues with creating offence from the blue line this season. 

Sure, Quinn Hughes is in the top-10 in NHL scoring among defencemen with 34 points in 45 games, but the rest of the Canucks’ defence has been remarkably point-less. It’s a big enough issue that head coach Bruce Boudreau has publicly lamented the lack of offence from the back end.

“You need more than one guy like Quinn to be able to jump into the play, to be able to create some offence from the defence,” he said a few weeks ago. “If you don’t have that — look at all the good teams in the NHL, you take the top 10, their defence are all mobile and they can rack up points and they create offence from the defence and, of course, we would like more of that.”

Even with Hughes, the Canucks are 27th in the NHL in points from their defencemen. Take out the top-scoring defenceman from every team and the Canucks plummet to last, with just 41 points from seven defencemen. 

For the next three games, the Canucks will be without Hughes, as he tested positive for COVID-19 after a trip to the U.S. during the All-Star break. 

One major reason for the lack of offence has been the stulted production of Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s consistently put up 40-point seasons throughout his career but is on pace for just 17 points this season. While he’s been solid defensively, the Canucks need more out of Ekman-Larsson, particularly with Hughes out of the lineup during this week’s homestand.

“It’s obviously a huge disadvantage for us not having him in the lineup but, at the same time, it’s the way it’s been going this year,” said Ekman-Larsson after Monday’s practice. “Somebody else has to step up and hopefully that’s me.”

There is, however, another option: Jack Rathbone.

Rathbone's 5-point night with the Abbotsford Canucks

The Canucks’ top prospect on defence has missed some time this season to injury but he’s healthy now and back in the Abbotsford Canucks lineup. On Monday night, after it was announced that Hughes was in COVID protocol, Rathbone had a statement game against the Tucson Roadrunners with a five-point night.

Rathbone’s assist on the first goal shows exactly what he could potentially bring to Vancouver. Off a save by Spencer Martin, Rathbone immediately jumps up the ice to spark a chance in transition with his strong skating. He sends Sheldon Dries in on the left wing for the finish but it’s that initial aggressive attack up the ice by Rathbone that creates the opportunity off the rush.

His later assist on a goal by Nic Petan shows that Rathbone can also create offence off of offensive zone possessions, not just the rush. With a fake shot and a step down the boards, Rathbone creates the space he needs to spot Petan at the backdoor with a perfect pass.

Beyond those two plays at even-strength, Rathbone was a force on the power play, confidently quarterbacking from the point to pick up two more assists and get his one goal on the night, a slap shot blast from the top of the right faceoff circle.

The Canucks have struggled on the power play recently even with Hughes. Without him, they’re relying on Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, and Brad Hunt. Or, they could call up Rathbone and use one of the greatest strengths of his game.

Rathbone now has 14 points in 15 games this season and 23 points in 23 career AHL games. He’s already 22 years old, so it’s not like he’s wet behind the ears, and he has NHL experience already. He provides the exact ingredient that’s missing from the Canucks’ current defence corps.

"Our strength is defence right now."

But the Canucks haven’t called up Rathbone and it appears to be for a very shortsighted reason.

“I’m sure there’s going to be an opportunity for him coming down the road,” said Boudreau. “The reason we didn’t call him up this time, in my mind, is our strength is defence right now and our strength is playing 5-on-5 and if we have to eke games out 3-to-1 and 2-to-1, that’s what we’ll do.

“So, we wanted the better defensive defencemen up right now.”

The truth is, much of the Canucks’ supposed defensive prowess at 5-on-5 comes down to exceptional goaltending — the Canucks have the highest save percentage at 5-on-5 in the entire NHL. 

Meanwhile, the Canucks are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league at 5-on-5, ahead of only the hapless Chicago Blackhawks, and have a below-average power play that is 2-for-16 over their last six games. If defence is the team’s strength, their biggest weakness is producing offence.

The Canucks need to take steps to address that weakness. Even before Hughes went into COVID protocol, calling up Rathbone should have already been under consideration as one of those steps. With Hughes out, it's baffling that Rathbone is staying in Abbotsford.