Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 once again. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1996. Five staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, CanucksAbbyFan2, Trevor Connors, Markus Meyer) and one former staff writer (Daniel Gee, Elite Prospects) cast votes for the project.
Never has an NHL management group showered so much love on a player that has 17 points in three AHL seasons.
However, there’s no doubt that Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning digs Jalen Chatfield’s game.
“He’s a lot like (Zack) MacEwen,” Benning told The Province. “He (Chatfield) is such a competitive guy that he’s going to figure out a way to be a good player in the league.
“He’s kind of a cross between Tanev and Stecher because he takes away time and space and has excellent mobility. He can get back and transition the puck up ice fast and he’s smart defensively. And he can be physical and get in your face.”
Benning was once described as “effective but rarely conspicuous” in a 1990 article from the Vancouver Sun. You could argue that Chatfield also fits that description rather eloquently.
If Chatfield makes it to the NHL, it won’t be because he’s the second incarnation of Quinn Hughes. That being said, The 24-year-old defender does possess a blend of mobility, physicality and sound positioning which gives him a chance of cracking the Canucks line-up at some point in 2021.
Oh, and those skills he possesses? Those just happen to be attributes that the Canucks desperately lack as a group on the back end.
Hughes and the newly-acquired Nate Schmidt can both skate for days, but there are certainly question marks on defence after those two. Alex Edler and Tyler Myers provide some physicality, but Edler lacks foot speed at 34 years of age, and Myers often found himself wandering out of position in his own end.
The erratic Jordie Benn is the only other “lock” on the Canucks back-end, so the opportunity is there for Chatfield (among other Canucks prospects on defence, of course).
The Utica Observer-Dispatch’s Ben Birnell has reported that Chatfield was a key member of the Utica Comets penalty kill last season, and he also showed a willingness to block shots. That’s an area where the Canucks need help after the departure of Chris Tanev in the offseason.
Also, for a defenceman who brands himself as physical, he was diligent about staying out of the penalty box, racking up only 16 penalty minutes last season.
For all the intrigue surrounding Chatfield entering the 2021 season, having him crack the Top 25 Under 25 list at #20 is pretty low for a young chap who could be playing NHL games next season. Is that an indictment of his quiet yet effective performance, or is this another case of Benning and the Canucks management overhyping this prospect?
What’s Next for Chatfield?
As mentioned off the top, Chatfield will be among four Canucks prospect defencemen fighting for a spot in the line-up in 2021.
However, Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone and Brogan Rafferty don’t quite bring the same skills to the table as Chatfield. Both Rathbone and Rafferty are more offensively-inclined defencemen. Also, despite the Rathbone hype (and we buy that here at Nucks Misconduct) he has still yet to play a game at the AHL or NHL level.
Juolevi is the most similar player to Chatfield in terms of defensive awareness and positioning, but he’s also a left-shot.
The most likely scenario is that Chatfield ends up in Utica, playing top-four minutes for the club. That being said, he’s impressed before in Canucks training camp. In 2017, he registered five points in two games. He’s also arguably the best penalty killer and shot-blocker of the group, and the Canucks need those attributes more than they need another offensive defenceman.
This all sets up for an intriguing 2021 for the 20th ranked player on our Top 25 Under 25 List.