Canucks prospects: Five things that stood out at Young Stars

The Vancouver Canucks’ youngsters went 2-0-1 at the late summer showcase event in Penticton

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And that’s a wrap.

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The Vancouver Canucks’ prospects put on a show in their final game of the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Monday with a 5-2 win against their Edmonton Oilers’ counterparts.

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The victory follows a 3-2 shootout loss on Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets and a big 7-1 triumph on Friday over the Calgary Flames to begin the four-team tournament.

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks’ youngsters tested their mettle at the late summer showcase event at the South Okanagan Events Centre:


Vancouver Canuck forward prospect Vilmer Alriksson plants himself at the front of the net against the Calgary Flames at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Vancouver Canuck forward prospect Vilmer Alriksson plants himself in front of the net against the Calgary Flames at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Photo by Marissa Baecker /Shoot the Breeze

Fast starts

The Canucks came out flying in all three games, building leads and huge shot advantages.

In Friday’s thumping of the Flames, the Canucks’ young guns led the shot count 18-2 after the first period and didn’t let up, finishing the game with a 36-13 advantage.

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The same happened on Sunday, with the Canucks peppering the Jets’ net for almost 20 shots in the first period and a 1-0 lead. The Canucks outshot the Jets 41-29 on the night.

In Monday’s finale against the Oilers, the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period despite being outshot 10-5 in the frame.

“We talked in the locker room … usually the team that has a better plan, is more prepared comes out on top,” said centre Max Sasson after Friday’s win against the Flames. “Everything from our breakouts to our offensive zone pressure looked really good and it gave Calgary a lot of trouble.”

From the outset, there was communicating between the defence and forward groups, putting pressure on the Flames’ defence and causing turnovers.

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“I thought we started really well, love the work ethic, forechecking, aggressiveness, thought our defence did a good job defending the rush so we were able to make a lot of plays. It’s fun to watch,” Abbotsford Canucks head coach Jeremy Colliton said.

Colliton wasn’t as enthused after Sunday’s game, in which the Canucks got into penalty trouble against the Jets in the third period and gave up a 2-0 lead, losing 3-2 in a shootout.

“The first two periods were pretty solid, probably needed to score more to kill the game. We knew we were going to have to kill in the third — that’s just the way it is — I thought we didn’t manage the puck as well tonight … so then it’s a harder game.

“It’s a learning experience for a lot of guys on how to kill off games.”

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The Canucks again gave up a 2-0 lead on Monday, but had a strong third period to pull away from the Oilers’ prospects.


Vancouver Canucks defenceman Akito Hirose has his shot stopped against the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Sunday. Hirose led the tournament with five points (1G, 4A) in three games.
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Akito Hirose has his shot stopped against the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Sunday. Hirose led the tournament with five points (1G, 4A) in three games. Photo by Marissa Baecker /Shoot the Breeze

A deeper blue-line

Once seen as a weak spot in the prospects pipeline, some recent additions have bolstered the back end — and it showed during the tournament.

Canuck defenders were doing their part at both ends of the ice. Pucks were moved effectively at the point, shots were getting through traffic and some even went straight into the net.

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Right-shot D-man Cole McWard, 22, was very good throughout, consistently finding a way to hit the net from the point and being rewarded with two goals from the blue-line.

McWard, who played NCAA hockey last season with Ohio State and signed with the Canucks in April, also assisted on the opening goal of Friday’s game, with the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Missouri product wristing a quick shot from the blue-line that was tipped in by big forward prospect Vilmer Alriksson.

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McWard was good with his stick, taking away lanes from opponents and disrupting shots. During the second period of Sunday’s loss, McWard turned the puck over in the middle of the ice but reacted swiftly to reach out and deflect a dangerous shot over the glass and out of play.

“It was awesome. I think there was a lot of energy from our group coming in. It’s a really great group of guys right now and we’re all clicking. We want to go out there and play for each other,” McWard said on Friday.

Fellow NCAA signee Akito Hirose, 24, was the best of the bunch, showing a strong two-way game and leading the tournament in points with four assists and a goal.

Hirose scored his goal on the power play in Monday’s win, stepping in from the blue-line and finding twine to make the score 2-0.

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Hirose is an effortless skater and his passes are always on point, as we saw on Friday when he teed up right-shot D-man Filip Johansson for a big one-timer.

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In Sunday’s loss, the Calgary native also set up standout forward Aidan McDonough with a seeing-eye pass from the point for McDonough’s second power play goal in two games.

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The 6-foot, 170-pound left-shot defender nearly scored a goal of his own on Sunday, but was stopped in tight by Jets goaltender Thomas Milic with seconds left in the second period.

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The additions of McWard, Hirose and Johansson to the organization could turn an already solid Abbotsford blue-line into one of the best units in the AHL this season.

Add in Jett Woo, Guillaume Brisebois, Noah Juulsen and others into the mix and the organizational depth on the back end is much improved.


Vancouver Canucks forward prospect Arshdeep Bains skates against the Calgary Flames at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Vancouver Canucks forward prospect Arshdeep Bains skates against the Calgary Flames at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Photo by Marissa Baecker /Shoot the Breeze

Lasting impressions

A handful of forwards stood out at Young Stars.

None made their mark, however, as much as Aidan McDonough, the 23-year-old power forward picked way back in the seventh round of the 2019 draft.

McDonough scored three power play markers in three games, with the deadly shot we saw in NCAA play proving just as potent at the next level.

“Yeah, he can shoot it. It’s pretty clear,” Colliton said with a smile after Sunday’s loss. “He’s beating guys clean, so this is one step for him and hopefully he can keep building momentum and see if he can do it in camp.”

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McDonough’s goal against the Flames was impressive, with the 6-foot-2, 201-pound left-shot winger taking a pass from Sasson at the right circle, stutter-stepping a defender out of his skates and ripping the puck past the Calgary goaltender blocker side from a prime scoring spot.

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The Massachusetts native also scored in the shootout on Sunday, making the same move he made during the Beanpot final last season for Northeastern which won the Huskies the title.

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McDonough’s third goal came with the power forward streaking down the left side and firing a wrister post-and-in short side.

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He looked confident on the ice and sounded the same in an interview after Friday’s win.

“I love playing on the power play,” he said with a laugh. “Some really good looks by Akito Hirose, he’s really smooth out there.

“I think I took a step. I think it allowed me to have a bit more confidence out there. I think I was holding onto the puck longer than I was last spring when I was in Vancouver but I still think I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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Surrey product Arshdeep Bains, 22, also showed well, scoring on the power play in Sunday’s loss and passing the puck effectively in the two games he dressed. Bains, one of seven Canucks players returning to the tournament, is looked to as a leader by coach Colliton for his maturity and hockey sense and was one of the better Canucks on Sunday.

“I want to show I’ve gotten better since the last time I was here and play the right way. The first time you come here, you don’t know what to do or what type of player you are, but I think I’ve learned throughout the season,” Bains said.

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And while his name wasn’t all over the scoreboard, centre Aatu Raty scored an empty netter, assisted on a couple goals and made countless precision passes all tournament, setting up teammates for high-danger scoring chances. His hands and ability to process the game with the puck are clearly professional grade.

“A smart player, intelligent player who makes plays,” Colliton on Sunday. “He’s got a good shot. when he’s able to get inside and get that shot off, he’s pretty dangerous. The more he does of that, the better, and I think he did that a few times tonight.”

Raty collided awkwardly with a Jets player early in the third period on Sunday and was slow to get up, but stayed on bench and didn’t miss a shift.

The 20-year-old worked on the strength of his stride this summer and will be expected to build on the 12 points (2G, 10A) he registered in 25 games in Abbotsford last season after being part of the Jan. 20 trade that sent former Canucks captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders.

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File photo: Abbotsford Canucks forward Danila Klimovich celebrates after scoring a goal at the Abbotsford Centre last season.
File photo: Abbotsford Canucks forward Danila Klimovich celebrates after scoring a goal at the Abbotsford Centre last season. Photo by Darren Francis Photography

Klimovich connects

It took until the third and final game, but Danila Klimovich finally connected for his first goal against the Oilers.

One of the breakout stars of last year’s tournament, the 20-year-old worked hard in the offseason and was rewarded for going to the net, converting a smart Karel Plasek feed.

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Klimovich also struck the post early in the third period on Monday with a wicked wrist shot.

The Belarusian winger honed in on his shooting and creativity all summer. Whenever you’d see a clip of Canucks players on the ice during the summer, there he’d be, working on his game. Klimovich practised on-ice five times a week and spent hours watching video clips from last season to improve his positioning and coverage.

“I’m working on my reaction, like any change in different game situations and quick reaction on the spot. I’ve been watching plays in the d-zone and offensively where I need to be better,” Klimovich told Canucks.com’s Lindsey Horsting earlier in the week.

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Klimovich, with that heavy, accurate shot, had several good looks throughout the tournament and could have scored a few more.

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He had an effective overtime shift against the Jets — getting a quality scoring chance and then hustling back to help break up the potential game-winner.

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Klimovich would like his penalty shot attempt against the Jets back, with the 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-shot winger skating in slowly, making a ton of moves but fanning on his shot.

A player who runs hot and cold, the Belarusian will be looking to have a strong training camp in Victoria later this week and continue to improve in the AHL this coming season. Klimovich scored 17 goals in 67 games last season in Abbotsford, a big improvement over the eight goals he scored as a first-year pro two seasons ago.


Vancouver Canucks defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz and goaltender Ty Young in action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz and goaltender Ty Young in action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. Photo by Marissa Baecker /Shoot the Breeze

The kids came to play

There are typically two tiers of players at the Young Stars tournament.

The first tier are the guys who’ve had professional or NCAA experience.

You expect these guys to make an impression.

The second tier are the true youngsters — teenagers just drafted or signed who have yet to make their mark in the pros.

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Among the kids who elevated their games were 2023 draft picks Vilmer Alriksson and Hunter Brzustewicz, as well as 2022 seventh-rounder Kirill Kudryavtsev, a 19-year-old defender who will be playing his third season in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds.

Kudryavtsev, paired with Johansson on Sunday, played a clean game, taking care of business defensively, moving pucks up ice and even chipping in in the offensive zone. In the second period, the 6-foot, 201-pound left-shot D-man made a superb pass from the left point, finding 19-year-old forward Dylan Wakely at the top of the crease for a glorious chance.

“Yeah I thought he was good. Solid,” Colliton said of Kudryavtsev on Sunday. “I liked his gaps, tried to play direct, move it ahead, competed hard so it was good to see him.”

Brzustewicz also held his own in his first games with the club, showing poise with the puck and good offensive instincts. In the second period on Sunday, the 18-year-old right-shot D-man made a slick move past a Jets defender at the blue-line and made his way to a prime scoring spot before being hooked by a Jets defender for a penalty.

Brzustewicz lined up with Hirose on the first defensive pairing on both Friday and Sunday.

Also getting noticed was Alriksson, who scored the first goal of the tourney for the Canucks.

Alriksson, still only 18, skated on the fourth line in both Friday and Sunday’s games. The Canucks have been preaching patience with the huge teenager, who started last season in the Swedish juniors as more of a finesse-type player.

“He started to understand that he is a big kid and used his size to his advantage,” Canucks scout Bobby Hagelin said last month. “For being a big guy, he’s really fluid and smooth and has a good release. So it’s really where he is physically. You’ve got to be patient, it’s going to take some time for him to grow into that body.”

At Young Stars, Alriksson got the message, using his 6-foot-6 frame to plant himself in front of the net. The big Swede got under the skin of the Jets on Sunday, getting into it with a couple defenders at the top of the Winnipeg crease after a whistle.

Alriksson, taken in the fourth round this past summer, will be playing with the Guelph Storm of the OHL this season, his first in North America.

— with a file from Ben Kuzma

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