Hockey is back!
The Vancouver Canucks’ prospects faced off against the Calgary Flames’ prospects on Friday night in Penticton in the second game of the Young Stars Classic.
It was a scrappy, low-scoring affair, featuring excellent goaltending from both the Canucks’ Arturs Silovs and the Flames’ Dustin Wolf. The game was tied 0-0 until the Canucks finally broke through in the third period, scoring two goals on Wolf and adding the empty-netter for the 3-0 win.
But the result of the game doesn’t matter all that much in this type of tournament. Instead, it’s more about the individual performances — who stands out and looks like they could have an NHL future? Which prospects are starting to make an argument for an invite to main camp and perhaps even some preseason games for the big squad?
It’s also about seeing prospects put on a Canucks jersey, some of them for the first time. Many of the players taking the ice for the Canucks in this game have never been seen before by Canucks fans, so it’s a great chance to see what they look like on the ice.
Since the focus is more on the individuals, this isn’t really a full game recap. Let’s take a look at the three stars of the game, then follow that up with a few other observations.
Third Star: Tristen Nielsen
Tristen Nielsen may not have an NHL contract but it feels like he could earn one in the coming season. In a limited role in his rookie year with the Abbotsford Canucks, Nielsen showed flashes of a strong two-way game with excellent speed, a willingness to play the body, and some untapped offensive skill.
That was the case on Friday as well. Nielsen was a menace for the Canucks, playing the body with aplomb despite his smaller stature. In the second period, he dropped Jeremie Poirier with a solid open-ice check, earning the ire of 6’8” Adam Klapka, who towered over him like an Ent over a Hobbit.
Nielsen wasn’t intimidated, however, and kept playing the body, running over Cole Jordan later in the period.
It wasn’t just his physical play that stood out. Nielsen showed signs of what was to come later when he danced through the Calgary defence with a nice move, only to lose the handle as he tried to cut to the net.
He had no issues keeping the handle in the third period. He took a pass from Danila Klimovich off his skate, drove into the offensive zone, made a power move past Poirier, then finished it off with an incredible backhand shot into the top shelf.
It was a great finish to a great game for the 22-year-old forward.
Second Star: Arturs Silovs
It’s awfully hard to avoid giving the goaltender the first star when he posts a shutout, but one other player stood out just a little bit more than Arturs Silovs.
Still, it was a great performance by Silovs, who stopped all 24 shots he faced. He was at his best in the second period, where he made 12 of his saves. He had to come up big on several shorthanded chances as the Canucks’ power play struggled with their puck management at times.
Silovs had to be particularly sharp on a shorthanded 2-on-1 that suddenly turned into a 2-on-0 when Chad Nychuk got twisted around.
It was a bit of a chaotic game, which can be tough for a goaltender to handle, but Silovs tracked the puck well, challenged when appropriate, and came up with every save he needed to.
"We were pretty good defensively but I thought he made us look better than we were maybe, just by being under control," Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton. "Nothing seemed like a problem for him back there for him. Really calm back there."
Silovs even bailed himself out, coming up with two big saves after he turned the puck over up the boards.
It was a solid first outing for Silovs as he looks to claim the starting job with the Abbotsford Canucks this season.
First Star: Arshdeep Bains
Arshdeep Bains was the WHL’s leading scorer last season and an intriguing prospect to watch. He was on the Canucks’ top line with Chase Wouters and Linus Karlsson and they were easily the Canucks’ best line. It was Bains that stood out the most.
It wasn’t just because Bains scored a goal, though that was a nice exclamation point on his game. It was a simple enough goal — Bains went hard to the net as Wouters drove a shot on net and was in the right place at the right time to bang in the rebound.
Being in the right place at the right time is a legitimate skill and Bains did well to get position on defenceman Ilya Solovyov and angle himself to put the puck where it belonged.
Beyond the goal, Bains was impressive all game. His passing was top-notch. On the power play, his passes were crisp and clean with quick decision-making to avoid penalty-killing pressure. At even-strength, he showed an array of passing skills and never seemed to panic under pressure.
This drop pass to Max Namestnikov is a great example, as he cuts into the middle of the ice to draw defenders towards him, then neatly slips a backhand pass behind him. Namestnikov didn’t do much with the opportunity — it would have been nice if he spotted the trailer, Quinn Schmiemann, behind him. Even without a positive result, that play shows some pro-level habits from Bains.
Bains also showed some one-on-one skill, deking around Chris Sedoff to gain the offensive zone, though he wasn’t able to get a good shot off.
Away from the puck, Bains played a smart game — as one colleague said to me, “Bains has got brains.” His head was constantly on a swivel, especially in his own end of the ice, and that awareness led to a great defensive play in the second period.
Wouters went chasing a hit — getting a boarding penalty in the process — and Schmiemann didn’t identify the danger of Ilya Nikolaev in front. Fortunately, Bains did and darted out to disrupt the scoring chance. A moment later, he picked off a pass at the point and would have been away in transition if not for the delayed penalty on Wouters.
"I thought he was really good all night," said Colliton. "It's nice for him to get rewarded with a goal but even if he wouldn't have scored, we would say that he was really, really solid. Protected the puck, won races, he was on the puck it seemed like every time he was on the ice...Nice net drive to score the goal but a complete game as well."
It was an all-around game for Bains and an encouraging one for his chances of becoming a legitimate prospect. As much as his gaudy point totals from last season catch the eye, it’s his intelligence and defensive awareness that are more likely to earn him a shot at the NHL level.
- Kirill Kudryavtsev was the youngest defenceman on the Canucks’ blue line by several years but he frequently looked like their best. He calmly cleared pucks from the crease, started breakouts with smart, simple passes, and activated smartly in the offensive zone to pinch down the boards and extend offensive zone shifts. It wasn’t a fancy game for Kudryavtsev but he was still heavily involved and his involvement was entirely positive.
- Linus Karlsson was one of the Canucks’ best players and had several shots on goal. He picked up the secondary assist on Bains’ goal and finished things off with the empty-netter. I will say, I can understand why people have concerns about his skating — it looks rough. I’m interested in seeing how he performs when the pace picks up and there's less space to maneuver.
- Chase Wouters had a solid performance centring the top line. He’s another player on an AHL contract who could work his way up to an NHL deal this year. He has a solid defensive game but showed some offensive pluck against the Flames, including a couple of hard slap shots to create rebounds, one of which led to the opening goal. He also hit the post on one transition chance set up by Karlsson.
- Danila Klimovich is still a bit chaotic but I liked his passing game today, both in the offensive zone, where he set up a great chance for Nielsen in the first period, and on breakouts. Honestly, I’d like to see him pass a bit more — he kept the puck on a 2-on-1 with Nils Åman and settled for a bad-angle shot when Åman was in a much better shooting position.
- I’m worried about Jett Woo. He was all over the place in this game, frequently chasing the play instead of trusting his teammates and picking up his man defensively. The Young Stars Classic feels like an opportunity for him to reestablish himself as a legitimate prospect for the Canucks but this wasn’t a great start.