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Young Stars 3 Stars: Cole McWard leads Canucks to 5-2 win over Oilers

Aidan McDonough, Aatu Räty, and Cole McWard were the Vancouver Canucks top three players in their final Young Stars game.
Cole McWard wrapped up the 2023 Young Stars Classic with a two-point game for the Vancouver Canucks.

The 2023 Young Stars Classic showed that experience matters.

Most of the prospects that performed the best for the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton had NHL experience under their belts: Akito Hirose led the tournament in scoring with 5 points in 3 games, Aatu Räty and Cole McWard were right behind him with 4 points each, and Aidan McDonough led the tournament in goalscoring with 3 goals in 3 games.

For those four players, this prospect tournament wasn’t really about making a name for themselves as prospects — they’re not going back to junior or the NCAA or a European league. Instead, it was about setting themselves up to potentially make the Canucks’ roster out of training camp.

That’s a legitimate possibility for all four of them, though not likely all four at once. McDonough could outbattle Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Höglander, and Phil Di Giuseppe on the wing. There’s an opening at left defence on the third pairing for Hirose if he can grab it. If Tyler Myers gets traded to free up cap space, McWard could find himself on the right side on defence for the Canucks. And, while it might take an injury to Pius Suter or Teddy Blueger, Räty could sneak in as a bottom-six centre.

At the same time, it’s important not to get too overhyped about how a player performs at a prospect tournament. The pace of the Young Stars tournament is a step down from the NHL preseason, which is itself a significant step down from the NHL regular season.

What’s going to matter for Hirose, McWard, Räty, and McDonough is how they handle the change in pace in the next couple of weeks

Third Star - Aidan McDonough

Another game, another power play, another goal.

Aidan McDonough scored his third power play goal in as many games, once again beating a goaltender cleanly from distance. This time, the goal came off the rush, as Cole McWard found him cross-ice with an excellent pass.

McDonough’s shot is something to behold. His technique is superb, as he gets his hands out in front of his body and leverages so much power behind the puck, causing it to erupt off his stick. His shot is by far his best attribute and clearest NHL-caliber tool in his toolkit. 

The question for McDonough is if he’ll be able to find space to use that shot in the NHL. He’s adept at finding time and space to use his shot on the power play but does he have the skating and hockey sense to find space at 5-on-5 in the NHL? Because power play time comes at a premium and McDonough might not be lucky enough to get any with the Canucks.

That said, McDonough showed some other elements to his game against the Oilers, including a lovely toe-drag off the rush to set up a chance for Marc Gatcomb that also drew a tripping penalty for a power play.

McDonough’s strong performance at Young Stars makes him one of the most interesting players to watch at the Canucks’ main camp.

Second Star - Aatu Räty

Aatu Räty got better every game at the Young Stars Classic and he was at his playmaking best against the Oilers, creating chance after chance with his vision and passing. 

It can be tough for a detailed player like Räty to shine in a prospect tournament, where there’s little practice time to instill systems and there’s little chemistry between linemates who might have never once played together before. But Räty’s intelligence made a difference on Monday, as he made smart zone entries to control puck possession and made great small-area plays to deal with heavy traffic.

Räty set up McWard’s goal with his work down low along the boards and picked up an empty-net goal to cap off his tournament with a two-point night.

He could have had more assists with a little more finish from his teammates too. He had a superb setup for Josh Bloom on the rush in the first period, as he had to reach for a pass from Dalyn Wakely, but reeled in the puck and slipped it through to Bloom to go in alone.

Räty’s development of his playmaking since he was drafted is great to see, as it makes it all the more likely that he lands at centre in the NHL rather than on the wing. He’s turning into a more well-rounded pivot, which is a major positive for the Canucks’ prospect pool.

First Star - Cole McWard

Cole McWard finished off Young Stars with a two-point night. He converted on a Räty pass to the point by pulling the puck inside to find a shooting lane, then whipping the puck through traffic.

He then added the assist on McDonough’s power play goal.

But beyond the points, McWard continued to show that he’s got the chops to contribute at both ends of the ice. He continued to be solid in transition with crisp passing, but he also looked good on the penalty kill, filling lanes and keeping an active stick to deflect shots away.

His most notable defensive moment came in the third period when he suddenly had to deal with a 3-on-1 thanks to a bad Canucks change. He handled it about as well as he possibly could, forcing an early pass, then getting down low in the middle of the slot to pick off the backdoor pass.

That’s some fantastic poise in a difficult situation, all part of a first-star-caliber game for McWard.

Stray Observations

  • Danila Klimovich and Karel Plasek showed some chemistry in this game, beyond just the opening goal, where Plasek made a clever pass against the grain from behind the net for Klimovich to tap in. Klimovich fired shot after shot in this game, many of them set up by Plasek, even hitting the post off the rush. It was nice to see from both players.
  • It would be a really pleasant surprise if Plasek turned into a player for the Canucks. He’s had a rocky development path with injuries derailing things completely a couple seasons ago, sending him back to Czechia for last season. It’s great to see him back in North America, where he can hopefully have a stronger season in the AHL this time around. 
  • Akito Hirose didn’t make the three stars this time around, despite scoring his first goal of the tournament. It was a great goal on the power play, as he identified the penalty kill was sagging back and attacked the high slot before rifling the puck top shelf. The goal exuded confidence.
  • Where Hirose fell short of the three stars was in the defensive zone, which was a far cry from how steady he was in the first two games of the Young Stars Classic. He lost a couple of physical battles, which is a concern for him at the NHL level, and got caught playing too high in the neutral zone on the Oilers’ first goal, leading to an odd-man situation behind him.
  • Marc Gatcomb didn’t look good on that goal either, as he was completely exhausted at the end of his shift and had nothing left in the tank on the backcheck. Gatcomb, who is signed to an AHL deal with the Abbotsford Canucks, had major highs and lows all tournament — his forecheck at the end of the game led directly to Aatu Räty’s empty-net goal.


  • Nikita Tolopilo had an excellent first period, stopping all ten shots he faced and he wasn’t really to blame for the two goals that beat him in the second period. He could make things interesting for the Canucks’ goaltending situation in Abbotsford, as he looks like he belongs at that level. He came out of the game in the third period so AHL signing Jonathan Lemieux could get into the game.
  • I was hoping for more from the speedy Josh Bloom in this tournament. It’s not that he’s been bad, necessarily, just underwhelming. He had chances to score, including several set up by Räty, and just couldn’t convert. Then, in the second period, he got caught standing around on the Oilers’ second goal as Carter Savoie walked unimpeded to the front of the net to finish off a pass from Ethan De Jong.
  • I really like it when Kirill Kudryavtsev activates in the offensive zone. He has fantastic vision and set up some quality scoring chances by spotting players backdoor when he jumped up the wing. He’s heading back to the Soo Greyhounds and he ought to be one of the best defencemen in the OHL next season. 
  • Final point totals for the Canucks:
    Akito Hirose: 3 games played, 1 goal, 4 assists
    Cole McWard: 3 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists
    Aatu Räty: 3 games played, 1 goal, 3 assists
    Aidan McDonough: 3 games played, 3 goals, 0 assists
    Max Sasson: 3 games played, 0 goals, 3 assists
    Marc Gatcomb: 3 games played, 1 goal, 1 assist
    Karel Plasek: 2 games played, 1 goal, 1 assist
    Arshdeep Bains: 2 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists
    Filip Johansson: 2 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists
    Vilmer Alriksson: 3 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists
    Danila Klimovich: 3 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists
    Jacob Maillet: 2 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists
    Sawyer Mynio: 2 games played, 0 goals, 1 assist