Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin has repeatedly stressed the need to add depth to the organization. The plan?College and European free agency, where the Canucks can add promising players without spending draft picks. In particular, Allvin's connections in Europe could give the Canucks the leg up.
The Canucks' first signing of the Allvin era, however, comes right from their own backyard. On Friday, the Canucks signed Surrey's Arshdeep Bains to an entry-level contract.
The 21-year-old Bains is in the middle of an outstanding over-age season in the WHL for the Red Deer Rebels. The winger is currently tied for the points lead in the WHL with 30 goals and 82 points in 55 games. He's the first player of South Asian descent to ever lead the WHL in scoring according to the Canucks.
To go with his scoring, Bains has solid size at 6'1", 183 lbs, quick hands, and excellent edgework in his skating. His overall skating needs some work according to NHL scouts, as the jump to NHL speed could be a challenge. Skating has been a focus in the Canucks' development plans, hiring Mackenzie Braid as a dedicated skating coach with the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL.
It's fair to call Bains a late bloomer. In his first year of draft eligibility, Bains had just 18 points in 63 games, showing little sign of the dominant offensive player he would become in a few year's time.
"Basically, I went from Midget hockey, which is the only people watching the game are your parents, to Red Deer to go play my first game and it's 5000 people watching you play," said Bains in an upcoming documentary on South Asian hockey players. "It's not an easy jump."
He's shown steady progression ever since. He had 18 goals and 51 points in 63 games in his second year then, in limited games in the COVID-19 bubble, had 8 goals and 21 points in 23 games last season.
This season, however, has been an explosion. With the caveat that he has already turned 21, Bains' production put him on the radar for NHL teams. He has been a catalyst for the Rebels, helping them to third place in the WHL's Eastern Conference and playing a key role on the team's third-ranked power play.
"I’ve been in the league for a long time now,” said Bains a few weeks ago, “and it’s been good learning every year, getting better every year. I kept improving every year, so I knew I could be this player, a player I’m trying to become, and I’m trying to get better still. I am proud of myself that I accomplished this so far, but there’s still a lot of season left to go.”
Bains is an exciting player, with all sorts of tricks up his sleeve, from spinorama dekes to toe-drags through the legs, to blind backhand passes. He's an adept playmaker, able to find teammates in prime scoring locations and also put pucks into space with slick saucer passes.
Bains has a bevy of shootout moves as well, making him a nightmare for opposing goaltenders.
He's not shy about charging to the front of the net to score either.
Bains is evidently a strategic thinker as well. During the pandemic, he picked up a new hobby: chess.
"I’ve been learning chess a lot, that’s the main thing outside of hockey,” said Bains. “That’s my hobby at home – with COVID and everything, that’s what I picked up on. I play online and watch videos, learn stuff. Pretty bored, I learned the game and now I’m kind of addicted.”
There's an awful lot to like about this signing for the Canucks. The local aspect is a great draw and an immediate connection for Canucks fans from Surrey and Canucks fans of South Asian descent throughout the province.
"I never really had too many hockey role models to look up to growing up, so if I can help South Asian kids get into the sport, that’s special to me," said Bains last month.
If his season with Red Deer ends early enough, he could even sign an amateur tryout contract and hit the ice for the Abbotsford Canucks this season.
Beyond the local angle, Bains has some serious talent. It's always uncertain how an over-age player will develop but there's at least the potential for Bains to become a legitimate NHL player, with creative flair beyond what the typical undrafted free agent might offer.