Time to check in on the guy with potentially the most expectations for the Vancouver Canucks this preseason. Yes, Nils Höglander has a lot to prove, as does Russian KHL transfer Andrei Kuzmenko among others, but we’re talking about left-shot defenceman Jack Rathbone.
This preseason is very similar to last, with plans to give him as much ice time as possible in the NHL exhibition games ahead of the start of the regular season on October 12th.
“From the first time he stepped on the ice until now he’s really come along,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said, “he takes direction well. He wants to play. I think he’s an up-and-comer and hopefully we’ll see if there’s room at the start and go from there.”
Boudreau said Rathbone will get a look in at least four of the five remaining preseason games, plenty of opportunity to show his stuff. It’s a treatment very similar to last fall when coach Travis Green and the club gave Rathbone a look in every preseason game and the first nine regular season games before he was sent down to Abbotsford.
In his early season 2021-’22 NHL stint he failed to earn a point, averaging around 13:45 of ice time per game. He did pick up his first NHL goal and two assists during an eight-game appearance at the end of the previous season.
If top Vancouver Canucks D-man Quinn Hughes plays his natural left side, Rathbone would generally be considered in competition with Travis Dermott for the third left-side slot behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Dermott is dinged up at the moment, his injury (“not feeling right” after taking a hit in practice Tuesday) and prognosis unknown for now, which opens the ice up for Rathbone even more.
If and when Hughes moves to the right side, it simply provides another opportunity for the man some call “Bonesy”.
“That’s a coach’s decision, I’m trying to play as well as possible,” Rathbone said when asked if he was on an NHL trajectory, “I’d like to try to force their hand, but I think it’s been positive so far, just trying to take it a day at a time.”
The cliche’ at the end is literal in this case. Rathbone needs to make the most of every opportunity to leave no doubts with the Canucks brass.
“If he keeps improving, good things can happen for him,” Boudreau said after practice Wednesday.
Rathbone signed a two-year, one-way NHL deal for $850,000 per season at the start of July, an initial good sign for what potentially lies ahead. The one big mistake he could make is to assume anything, and he’s made it pretty clear that that type of thinking never enters his mind.