What will it take for Jack Rathbone to get called up to the Vancouver Canucks?
The team’s top prospect spent nine games in the NHL to start the season, playing minimal minutes on the third pairing until Travis Hamonic was finally available to play. Rathbone was then sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks, where injuries have had him in and out of the lineup.
Given his injuries, keeping Rathbone in the AHL was understandable. He needed time to get back up to speed and prove he deserves to get called up.
Over the last week, however, Rathbone has been simply outstanding. He scored 3 goals and 10 points in just 4 games, including a five-point night against the Tucson Roadrunners. He’s now on a five-game point streak.
That five-point game illustrated key elements of Rathbone’s game, like his ability to jump up in the play to create offence off the rush and the way he uses deception to create passing and shooting lanes off of offensive zone possessions. His five points in the remaining three games of the week continued to showcase his impressive skillset.
His assist in a 5-0 win over the Roadrunners on February 9 was a classic case of getting a shot through traffic — a low, hard wrist shot that forced a rebound to a waiting Phil Di Giuseppe. It wasn’t the flashiest point of the bunch but it’s still an important element of his game, particularly as a power play quarterback.
His goal against the Manitoba Moose on February 11, however, was definitely flashy.
That’s a fantastic goal, even if the defending was quite lax from the Moose. Even if he wouldn’t get that much space in the NHL, it shows what he can do when he gets time with the puck. Rathbone added another power play assist, setting up a bomb of a one-timer from Di Giuseppe that was tipped in by Sheldon Dries.
Side note, Dries has 39 points in 33 games for Abbotsford and leads the AHL with 22 goals.
Side note to the side note, Nic Petan also scored this fantastic between-the-legs goal against the Moose. It has nothing to do with Rathbone but it was nice and you should see it.
Petan has 31 points in 27 games for Abbotsford. Petan and Dries are potential veteran options for a call-up if the Canucks start selling heading into the trade deadline and open up some spots on the roster, as would Di Giuseppe. That said, a younger player like Will Lockwood might be more likely to get the call.
Back to Rathbone. He capped off his week with another two-point night against the Moose, starting with a bomb of a one-timer on the power play.
Finally, he hit John Stevens with a pass in full flight in the neutral zone and Stevens did the rest.
Does this mean the Canucks should immediately call Rathbone up to the NHL? It depends on your perspective.
If this Canucks season is a wash — if you consider it essentially over already — then the rest of this season is all about development and growth. With that in mind, it might make sense to keep Rathbone in the AHL a while longer, where he can play big minutes in all situations and work on shoring up some of the weaknesses of his game.
If there’s still a belief that the Canucks can push for the playoffs, then Rathbone should already be up in Vancouver. There’s little doubt in my mind that he’s the Canucks’ third-best defenceman on the left side behind Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and he’s a step above the players they’ve had quarterbacking the second power play unit, like Brad Hunt and Tyler Myers.
The Canucks need need more defencemen that can produce offence. They need defencemen that can hit a forward in stride in the neutral zone, escape the defensive zone with their skating, and get a wrist shot through traffic. They need more offensive creativity from the back end, which can only help their forwards produce more offence in turn.
Keep in mind, Rathbone isn’t a raw teenager. He’s 22 and turning 23 in a few months. At the AHL level, he’s put up 28 points in 26 games. Offensively, there’s not much more he can do in the AHL.
The question mark for Rathbone is the defensive side of the game and it’s an area he’s been diligently working on. He’s shown steady improvement in the AHL, but it’s hard to assess the defensive side of his game until he plays against NHL talent.
Even if this is just a development year for Rathbone, at some point they have to get him up in Vancouver to see how he performs against the speed and skill of NHL forwards. It’s a key element of assessing the Canucks’ defensive depth for the future.