The Vancouver Canucks will conduct off-ice evaluations with their rookies on Thursday before the youngun’s hit the ice on Friday afternoon at Rogers Arena. As talented as some of them may be, it’s often easy to lose track of them once the big club gets going. For casual fans, it’s “out of sight, out of mind”, especially when your AHL team has been in Utica, New York. This season will be a bit different. A couple of these gent’s are a solid threat to crack the roster, or a given in a case or two, while the AHL’ers will soon be toiling just down the road in Abbotsford. Let’s look at a half-dozen of the current campers.
Vasili Podkolzin will be the number one focus of eyeballs this weekend. The Vancouver Canucks chose him 10th overall in the 2019 NHL draft, their highest choice over the last three years. He’s a pretty big boy at 6’1″ tall and 195 pounds and he’s not afraid to use his size. (A couple of prospect sites have him at 6’4″, 205, so either they’re wrong or he has spastic pituitaries and he’s growing fast. We’ll see in a couple days.) He’s apparently developing elite level skills, which bodes well. It’s been said he can finesse you or bulldoze you in going to the net. After a quiet regular season in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, he showed great determination and tallied 11 points in 16 Gagarin Cup playoff games. Barring something unexpected or traumatic, this guy should be dressed with the big club this season.
There is no particular order to this so I’m going with Jett Woo next, based simply on the fact he has the coolest name at camp and he bears watching. The half-Chinese, half-German defenceman was the 37th overall pick of the Vancouver Canucks back in 2018. Easy to get lost in the mix when Quinn Hughes is the blueliner chosen thirty slots ahead of you. Woo showed great offensive promise in juniors with Moose Jaw and Calgary respectively, tallying 66 and 46 points his last two WHL seasons. The latter was considered an unfortunate drop-off for some, but I’m not gonna hold a new team and a change of comfort level against a teenager. In the limited Covid AHL 2020-’21 season in Utica he focused more on his own end. The recently-turned 21-year-old is 6-feet, 205 pounds. The right-shot will continue development in Abbotsford and will look for any opportunity that comes along to substitute into the big show. With Brogan Rafferty signing with Anaheim this summer, there’s one less righty in front of Woo on the organizational depth chart.
While Woo is the only 2018 draftee at this camp, it’s busy with players from the following year. Three besides Podkolzin. One of them is the lone goalie listed, Latvian Arturs Silovs, chosen 156th in 2019. The Riga native is part of the apparent Latvian wave of goalies making their way to the NHL. Or maybe it’s a mini-wave. Of course, the hockey world lost one of them this summer when Matiss Kivlenieks died over the Fourth of July weekend from a fireworks accident at a private party in suburban Detroit. His sidekick in Columbus Elvis Merzlikins, another countryman, carries on. As does Silovs, who played one season in the OHL with Barrie and put up mediocre numbers behind a middling club in 2019-’20. His numbers improved playing back home last season, as they did in his one game on loan to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. No rush. He seems to be developing quickly and he’ll continue to do so in the minors.
The most recent highest pick for the Vancouver Canucks is Danila Klimovich, a Belarusian chosen 41st-overall this past summer. He played back home this past season and performed rather well with the Minskie Zubry club, with 52 points in 37 games. He dominated among his fellow Under-18’s at that level’s Worlds this past year, with six points, all goals, in 5 games played. He also played 3 games at the senior level with Belarus at this spring’s IIHF World Championship in Riga and was held scoreless. Some scouting terms for the right winger/centre are “dazzling” and “highly skilled”. He has an excellent release from a variety of angles and body positions. This should be an entertaining camp for him and everyone watching. He doesn’t turn 19 until January.
Connor Lockhart is possibly the most fascinating name at camp. A young man who sat out last season because of the OHL’s Covid closure and his inability, because of his lack of elite junior status, to land a gig in Europe. He’s still just 18, having been taken in the 6th round of this summer’s draft. In his 16-year-old season with the Erie Otters he had 27 points in 57 games. It’s very hard to gauge his talent and progress at this point, but like Podkolzin and Klimovich above him, he’s likely somewhat of a steal at his respective position in the draft. He’s undersized at 5’9″ and 165 lbs, which doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. His opportunity is the biggest of anyone’s at this rookie camp, just in the fact that he’s here.
Of local interest will be Tristen Nielsen, a native of the Peace River community of Fort St. John, BC and a former Vancouver Giants leading scorer. Nielsen led the club with 30 goals and 65 points in his 19-year-old season when he was named the team’s most improved player, and followed it up with 32 points in just 22 WHL games this past season. The 21-year-old 5’10”, 190 lb forward signed a minor league contract and will mature quickly in the AHL. He’s fast and relentless, great assets in today’s professional hockey world.
There are other talents and interesting stories mixed in among the rest of those making up the 12-man camp roster. We’ll keep you posted. There are a total of three defencemen and eight forwards joining Silovs in net. On-ice sessions begin Friday afternoon at 1:30 pm.