You know that Vancouver Canucks hockey is back in earnest when they’re giving up a 2-0 lead in the third period.
Of course, Sunday afternoon’s shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets was just in a prospect tournament, which is like Whose Line Is It Anyway? in that everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.
In other words, the result of the game doesn’t really mean anything in a prospect tournament, even if a win certainly feels better for both the players and fans. What matters in this environment is how the individual prospects perform, both within the system and with their individual skills.
So, who stood out the most for the Canucks? Let’s take a look at the Young Stars 3 Stars for Sunday’s game against the Jets.
Third Star - Akito Hirose
With his second two-point game of the tournament, Akito Hirose was once again one of the Canucks’ best players. Frankly, as someone who impressed in NHL games last season, Hirose ought to shine at a prospect tournament.
Still, it’s nice to see Hirose thriving, particularly on the power play, which isn’t necessarily where fans might have expected him to excel. Both of his assists came on the power play — one was a deflected point shot that Arshdeep Bains finished in front, while the other was a superb, heads-up pass from the left point to Aidan McDonough.
Hirose also showed he knows when to activate, twice getting great chances in front of the net — one on the power play and one in overtime. While he couldn’t get the puck past Thomas Milic either time, that says more about Milic, who made 39 saves on 41 shots.
Beyond his work in the offensive zone, Hirose was his usual calm and steady self in the defensive zone. He broke up rushes with a good stick What was a bit unexpected was the physical play from Hirose, such as when he stood up Brad Lambert on the rush in the first period.
Hirose also made transitioning the puck up ice look easy, either by sailing through the neutral zone with the puck himself or hitting his teammates with crisp passes.
It was another solid, well-rounded game for Hirose, who is setting himself up well for the Canucks’ main camp.
Second Star - Aidan McDonough
Another game, another picture-perfect power play snipe by Aidan McDonough.
McDonough was deadly on the power play for Northeastern University and you can see why. When he has room to shoot, McDonough is clinical. Late in the second period, Hirose made a great keep-in at the blue line and found the wide-open McDonough, who made no mistake, sending a shot just over the right pad and inside the far post.
That’s essentially a perfect shot and one that is so difficult for a goaltender to stop.
McDonough also got in on some chances at 5-on-5 but couldn’t quite convert but had no issues finishing in the shootout. Again, the word for his finish is “clinical.” It was as if McDonough was demonstrating the perfect shootout attempt at a hockey clinic for kids.
The wings are crowded for the Canucks but McDonough is making an early argument that he belongs on the team’s NHL roster.
First Star - Arshdeep Bains
It’s easy to see why the Canucks love Arshdeep Bains. The details of his game are on point and he has fantastic hockey sense.
Bains has a knack for evading hits while keeping possession, such as this great first period play where he pulled up in the neutral zone and slipped the puck through for Aatu Räty, who set up invitee Dalyn Wakely for a great chance.
Bains was making slick little plays like that all game. He was constantly looking to get into dangerous areas of the ice and several times slipped a check to cut into the slot for either a shot or a dangerous backdoor pass.
He was noticeable all game for his puck pursuit as well, as he was quick on the forecheck and got back hard on the backcheck.
His goal came after a great backcheck, as the Jets tried to get away for a shorthanded chance. Bains, who looked like he was about to make a line change, spotted the turnover and accelerated to pick off the puck, then quickly turned that into a zone entry that allowed the Canucks to get set up. After that, he got to the front of the net to finish off a deflected Hirose point shot.
The one blemish on Bains’ night was a mishandled puck in overtime when he was on a 2-on-1 with Aatu Räty, squandering a golden opportunity. He had a chance to make up for the fumble in the shootout but was absolutely robbed by Thomas Milic, who stretched across to stop his backhand move.
That’s just a great save by Milic — there wasn’t much more Bains could have done with that attempt.
Bains is almost certain to start the season in the AHL but there’s a very good chance fans will see him in Vancouver before the season is over.
- Aatu Räty had a better game against the Jets than he did against the Calgary Flames, as his playmaking came to the forefront. He set up some great chances for his teammates that they just couldn’t finish, leaving him off the scoresheet. He also took some heavy punishment, with one hit away from the puck and another after the whistle, with no penalty for either.
- Goaltenders have such a thankless job because all it takes is just one or two mistakes to unravel an otherwise perfect game. Ty Young was playing well and was in line for a spot in the Young Stars 3 Stars before a puck squeaked through his legs and was shoveled in by Jacob Julien. He nearly had another goal sneak in under his pads but Kirill Kudryavtsev was there to clear the puck away.
- Saving the goal was Kudryavtsev’s biggest highlight in his first game of the Young Stars Classic, but he also had a strong performance overall. His gap control was excellent and he made some crisp outlet passes. He also set up Wakely for a great chance in the second period but Milic came up with another big save to keep both of them off the scoresheet.
- Hunter Brzustewicz’s game was a mixed bag. He had a couple of solid defensive plays but also got burned a couple of times. In the offensive zone, I quite liked his simple shift of weight to fool his defender so he could drive wide and draw a penalty. He’s got some maturing to do in the defensive zone but there’s a lot to like about his skillset.
- Max Sasson had another solid game, showcasing more of his playmaking with setups for McDonough and Hirose. He could get an opportunity to play some big minutes at centre for the Abbotsford Canucks and you have to wonder if the 23-year-old Sasson might be more likely to get called up to the NHL for fourth-line duty than Räty.
- Current point tallies for the Canucks through two games:
Akito Hirose: 0 goals, 4 assists
Aidan McDonough: 2 goals, 0 assists
Cole McWard: 1 goal, 1 assist
Aatu Räty: 0 goals, 2 assists
Max Sasson: 0 goals, 2 assists
Vilmer Alriksson: 1 goal, 0 assists
Arshdeep Bains: 1 goal, 0 assists
Marc Gatcomb: 1 goal, 0 assists
Filip Johansson: 1 goal, 0 assists
Jacob Maillet: 1 goal, 0 assists
Karel Plasek: 1 goal, 0 assists
Sawyer Mynio: 0 goals, 1 assist