The Canucks’ early cuts this preseason featured players that are unlikely to play games in the NHL this season. That includes young prospects with plenty of potential, like Jett Woo and Michael DiPietro; they’ll likely play for the Canucks one days and could be impactful players, but not this season.
The latest round of cuts, however, contains several players that could have a significant impact this season, including two defencemen that could quickly get called up if injuries strike.
Six players were assigned to the Utica Comets in the AHL: Brogan Rafferty, Lukas Jasek, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind, Josh Teves, and Justin Bailey, who cleared waivers. The seventh player cut was Landon Ferraro, who was released from his PTO.
As always, PITB is here to breakdown these cuts. While we’re still not getting to the cuts of players that had a realistic shot of making the team out of camp, there are still a couple potentially NHL-caliber players in the mix.
Let’s start with Brogan Rafferty, who was signed by the Canucks last season as a free agent out of the NCAA. In his two games in the NHL, he didn’t look out of place, showcasing an all-around game with a lot of poise with the puck.
In the preseason, Rafferty came through with a goal in his final audition, ripping a slap shot from the point. Along with the goal, he showed a head for the offensive side of the ice, pinching down at opportune time to keep possession alive and joining the rush to create chances in transition.
Rafferty is solid in the defensive zone as well and looks NHL-ready. The issue is the Canucks just don’t have any room for him. The top-six group is already set, with no openings. To make the team, he’d have to unseat Alex Biega, which would mean sitting in the press box instead of playing big minutes in the AHL to prepare for the NHL. Rafferty had nothing but positive things to say about Biega, who treated him exceptionally well despite the fact they were competing for the same job.
“He could come in and see me as a potential threat for him and then he treats me like garbage, but it was completely opposite of that,” said Rafferty. “He’s been super-friendly and showing me the ropes and talking to me, asking me about my past and school, because he went to college too, at Harvard, so we’re both east coast boys, so we have a little bit in common there.”
Rafferty is hoping he won’t be in the AHL for long.
“I’m looking forward to developing, they’ve got a great staff and coaches there,” he said. “I’m definitely not going to be pessimistic about it. I’m going to go there with a positive mindset and do the best I can, and hopefully spend the least amount of time I can down there, no offence to them.”
It’s likely that Rafferty will be the first call-up on the right side of the defence, though Jalen Chatfield could conceivably challenge for that role.
On the left side, the first call-up is likely to be Olli Juolevi, assuming he doesn’t suffer any more setbacks in his health. He got off to a strong start in his first AHL season last year, putting up 13 points in 18 games while playing in all situations, but a knee injury unexpectedly ended his season.
I’ve written about Juolevi recently. While some fans are writing Juolevi off, he’s still a top prospect and has an NHL future. Beyond the problem of the Canucks already having a set defence corps to start the season, he’s still working his way back from his knee surgery. He was held out of some sessions during training camp and didn’t play any preseason games.
Assuming Juolevi is fully healthy, he’s a likely candidate to get called up to the NHL if a left-side defenceman gets injured. Perhaps if an injury strikes early on before they’re fully comfortable with putting Juolevi in the NHL because of his injury recovery, maybe Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, or Josh Teves would get called up before Juolevi, but it’s very likely that Juolevi makes his NHL debut this season.
Kole Lind is an understandable cut, though he’s looked good at times in the preseason. Lind needs to prove himself in the AHL after a tough rookie season; he wasn’t going to make the Canucks out of camp.
Lind will look to play a much larger role in Utica than last year and rack up some points.
“I want Kole to have a little bit of arrogance to his game, a little bit of cockiness to his game, and it’s tough when they jump into the pro level,” said Ryan Johnson, director of player development and GM of the Utica Comets.
Lukas Jasek will likewise look to build off last season in Utica, though he was a lot more effective than Lind. Jasek had 29 points in 63 games in his rookie season in the AHL, tied for sixth on the team in scoring.
Jasek has become a bit of a forgotten prospect in the Canucks system, partly because he’s been playing in Czechia. He’s got a speedy, crafty, aggressive game and is a dark horse to play NHL games this season. At times, the Canucks experimented with him at centre in camp, which is an intriguing development. If he can develop more versatility, that could get him a quicker call-up to the Canucks.
Like Rafferty, Josh Teves was signed out of college hockey and made his Canucks debut last season. He’ll have a tougher time getting to the NHL this season, however. That’s partly because he’s not quite as well-rounded as Rafferty, but also because he has a lot more competition on the left side.
Teves has to battle his way up a depth chart on the left, past at least a couple of Juolevi, Sautner, and Brisebois. That means he’s going to have to battle for ice time in the AHL, let alone to earn a call-up to the Canucks.
That said, Teves showed some offensive upside with a pretty preseason goal, and he’s a determined guy. Perhaps he bucks the odds and works his way up.
Justin Bailey could be a depth option for the Canucks this season if the Canucks need some size in the bottom six. He’s a 6’4” journeyman with a handful of NHL games under his belt, but has primarily played in the AHL.
Bailey is a decent point producer at the AHL level, but hasn’t been able to translate to the NHL. He’s decent defensively, however, so could be a safe, reliable option for the Canucks during the season. He had no chance of making the Canucks out of camp, however, so the early cut makes sense.
Finally, there’s Landon Ferraro, who didn’t have an NHL contract with the Canucks and didn’t do enough to earn one, even if he stood out at times for his hard work on the ice. It’s unclear if he’ll get an AHL contract with the Comets — they’ve got a lot of bodies already — but perhaps he caught the eye of a scout or two that watched him play in the preseason.