Jack Rathbone: What to do, What to do?

By: Trent Leith / February 18, 2022  

Jack Rathbone is the best Canucks prospect that the team has in their system. He is so good that he is arguably better than half of the defenders currently on the Canucks roster and yet Jack Rathbone is down in the minors. The question is, is that the right call for his development or is it better for him to be up with the big club? That’s a complicated question.

Wednesday night Rathbone took a dangerous hit in the numbers behind his net, which ended up with him laying on the ice motionless for over 10 minutes before being stretchered off the ice. At first glance, it looked detrimental to Rathbone who has already had so many struggles to remain healthy during the last two seasons. 

Thursday morning it was reported and then officially confirmed by the Abbotsford Canucks that Rathbone was released from the hospital the next morning and would travel with the Abbotsford Canucks on their next road trip. There are no broken bones but he will be monitored for concussion symptoms.

It was a scary scene seeing Rathbone laid out on the ice and it’s a relief to see that the player seemingly escaped with minimal injuries. Especially because he is playing so well and knocking on the door to try and get another shot at a regular role in the NHL.

Since turning pro in 2020-21, Rathbone has only played a total of 44 professional games, 17 in the NHL and 26 in the AHL. In his 26 games in the AHL, he’s managed to put up seven goals and 30 points. On February 13th Rathbone was named the AHL player of the week after 10 points and three goals in four games. 

If Rathbone truly is better than some of the options that the Canucks are currently icing in their roster, then what does the guy have to do to get time with the Vancouver Canucks. Even if he does, is that even the right call for the young D-man? I talked to some contacts with better eyes on the team than I have, to pick their brain about his situation. There seem to be two dominant schools of thought, playing for the Baby Canucks will only make him better, and he’s learned all he can at that level and needs to graduate. 

The Benefits of Playing in Abbotsford

There are a lot of reasons to like the idea of Rathbone playing more games in the AHL versus coming up and playing in the NHL. In the AHL, Rathbone gets to play top per minute and quarterback the first unit power play. That is just simply not an option for him in the NHL with players like Quinn Hughes leading the charge on the man advantage, it might even be hard for Rathbone to get regular second unit time. There are a lot of other players on the Canucks team that would wind up getting more ice time than Rathbone would, which isn’t great for development.

One person I spoke to really stressed the importance of building up Rathbone’s confidence by letting him be “the guy” in the minors. There’s something to be said about that school of thought because in the NHL Rathbone only has one goal and two assists in 17 games played. It’s important for an offensively minded player like Rathbone to hit the score sheet and without doing that, players can start to get in their head and that can stunt their development as well.

Jack was asked how his confidence is on the ice and he said “It feels good, I am not going to lie, it’s nice to find the score sheet”. Later he was asked about how his offensive game didn’t game translate to the NHL level and how it helps his confidence to be scoring again, he said “It’s huge to see a couple go in”. It is clear that being able to put up points at such a high rate is doing a lot for his development. 

The other thing to factor in is the Abbotsford Canucks are poised to make the postseason and go on a playoff run. That is something that the main club is not looking like they will be able to do despite any recent success. Something like an AHL playoff run could be quite important for the development of a player like Rathbone. 

The Benefits of Playing in Vancouver

On the flip side, there is a lot of benefit both for Rathbone and the club as a whole, for Rathbone to be playing in Vancouver. Another person surrounding the team suggested that due to the overall poor quality of defensive play in the AHL, there is only so much Rathbone can do to grow the defensive side of his game in the minors, and his offensive side is already very well developed. 

“It’s always nice when the points come, but a lot of my game is being able to clean up the defensive end and obviously tonight I took some strides there,” Jack told the media on Feb 7th. 

If there is one aspect of Jack’s game that needs more work than others, it would be in the defensive end of the ice. Developing that aspect of your game in the AHL is quite difficult when the pace and skill levels is so much higher in the NHL. It’s hard to form the necessary habits to play against the best players in the world night after night when you’re not playing against them. 

Rathbone is absolutely pounding on the door to get a call up into the NHL, but despite his best efforts he doesn’t seem to be getting that call. Rathbone wasn’t even the next man up when the Canucks lost Quinn Hughes to COVID protocol.

It’s important for this new Canucks management group to be able to get a long hard look at Rathbone in the NHL to aid them in any potential decision making coming down the line. It would also be a good idea for Rathbone to get a chance to see how he would perform in Boudreau’s new offensively minded system.

Why Not Both?

Assuming Rathbone comes back to game action relatively soon after his scary hit on Wednesday night, the best play for the young defender would probably be a hybrid of AHL and NHL time. It’s probably best for Rathbone to spend a few more weeks in the minors, maybe until around the time of the trade deadline, and then he could come back up to the NHL to finish out the season. 

Should the Abbotsford Canucks wind up in the playoffs, Rathbone should be sent back down to get some post-season experience and maybe a long playoff run to get more games under his belt, not to mention the deeper the playoff run, the higher quality the opposition will be every night. 

However the rest of the year shakes out for Rathbone, it will likely be his spot to lose on the third pairing coming out of camp next season. Both of us at are very high on Rathbone and think he can become a very important piece on this Vancouver Canucks team for years to come, it is just a matter of when that happens.