By: Brayden Fengler / October 23, 2021
Welp the days of Olli or Boney are finally behind us, all eyes are now on Jack Rathbone as the team’s front-running defensive prospect. With Olli Juolevi gone, Rathbone unsurprisingly made the team out of training camp and the pre-season and he is already making an impact on this iteration of the Canucks.
Rathbone has earned his spot and is thankfully making Benning and Co. look good about their choice to trade away his competition. That said, the amount of regular-season games currently played makes for a small sample size, so how likely is it that Rathbone will continue to improve, and is there any risk of the Juolevi over Rathbone decision turning out to be more of a lateral move?
Understated and Smart.
Those two words fit the description of Rathbone’s early-season performance. Currently, Jack benefits the most from the eye test rather than a look at his statistics alone. Points wise Rathbone sits at the bottom of the pack among Canucks defenders, currently nursing a goose egg along with linemate Kyle Burroughs and veteran defenseman Brad Hunt. However, he did score a goal that was ultimately called back due to goaltender interference.
Unlike Hunt and Burroughs, Rathbone is of course expected to be more of an offensive defenceman, a Quinn Hughes light if you will (an expression perhaps overused already). So with offence in mind, you would want to see him a bit higher up on the points sheet by now, even if the refs aren’t doing him any favours with their goal calls.
More than the refs though, preventing Rathbone’s production may just be his deployment. Rathbone’s TOI is near the bottom of the team’s defensive players, only having a slightly higher TOI than Burroughs, at 14:22 min per game for Rathbone.
The offence will hopefully come in time, Jack has shown no reason to think that his confidence is in any way shaky. For the time being, Rathbone is performing respectfully on the defensive side of the game, he sits with a 0 plus-minus on the season, and so far he’s only directly contributed to one giveaway in the five games that he’s played.
Whereas taking into account his increased ice time compared to Rathbone, original recipe Quinn Hughes has already been the direct playmaker responsible for four Canucks’ giveaways so far this season, nearly one per game.
There are few stats to highlight that really sell the strength of Rathbone’s game so far this season, again it’s really the eye test that’s doing him the most good. He’s only five games into what should be his first full NHL season, and we haven’t seen the young defender look drastically out of place or be outclassed by any opposing team in a worrying way.
Rathbone belongs here, and if he can get the opportunity to handle the puck more, combined with his already proven defensive ability, he should stay on track to quickly grow beyond the skill level that Juolevi has been at for the last few years.
Get This Man More PP Minutes
One thing that would be good for Rathbone, is getting him some consistent power play time. Rathbone has not yet been tasked with any regular duty on the powerplay, and if he continues on his current path, Greener should consider giving him a more sizable role on PP2.
I think it’s too early to be upset that Rathbone has not earned this responsibility yet, but it is something the youngster seems on track for, and shouldn’t be held up by because of his age.
That was Green’s reasoning for not knocking Alex Edler off PP1 when Hughes was clearly the choice for that role earlier in Quinn’s time with the team. It’s still early in the season, but the Canucks’ power play is only slightly above average at 14th in the league at 21% after 19 attempts. It’s not as though it’s broken, but it’s not a well oiled machine yet either.
Rathbone, should not be long for a significant power play role, if the team’s PP’s don’t catch fire in their current configuration.
If you scroll on over to daily faceoff you may see that Rathbone is listed as a part of PP2 with Oliver Ekman-Larsson as his partner. However, their numbers do not indicate that they have really spent much time as partners at all.
OEL and Hughes have eaten the bulk of the defensive power play deployment for the team, with Hughes at 18:03 power play TOI and OEL at 14:43. There is then a steep drop off to Rathbone with 3:20 minutes of power play time, who is the third highest out of Canucks D-men.
In this short time on the power play Rathbone has demonstrated mature spatial awareness, and again, despite the small sample size of games and minutes, the youngster has yet to make a mistake to justify any hesitancy in him being given more responsibility.
Get 👏 Him 👏 The 👏 Puck
Rathbone has worked for 7 shots in 5 games played with the Canucks this season and he sits third out of Canucks defencemen in this category, behind, you guessed it, the two big minute munchers in OEL and Hughes. Although Rathbone has yet to get a point to his name this season, that has not been from a lack of quality chances during his minimal deployment.
Rathbone’s underlying possession numbers are again in a good spot for this stage of his season. For his part, Green has made sure that the youngster is seeing good offensive zone deployment, with a near team leading 77% of his faceoffs in the attacking zone. This combined with Rathbone’s respectable shot attempt percentage, his lack of giveaways and overall strong positional play are the key reasons contributing to Rathbone having a strong, yet low key start to the year.
There may be nothing too “exciting” about his game so far, but there is nothing to be worried about either, and that’s really the most exciting thing in the world when it comes to Canucks defence prospects.
All Bone’s Days
There’s no doubt that Rathbone must be aware of the pressure that was placed on his shoulders the moment that the Canucks shipped Olli Juolevi off to Florida. Rathbone has earned this role, and it’s in his and the team’s best interest that he continues to be given every chance to elevate his role to the next level.
Again the young yanky hasn’t blown the doors off, but he has been an all eye test type of player in the first few outings with the Canucks. Although the team as a whole has stumbled a bit out of the gate, it doesn’t appear that Rathbone has. Rathbone remains an exciting player to watch, especially since Vasily Podkolzin has not taken to his first NHL season with quite as much promise as fans would’ve liked to see.