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2021 Canucks Top 25 Under 25: #6 Jack Rathbone

After an impressive showing in a brief professional hockey cameo last season, Jack Rathbone moves up to #6 on this year’s rankings.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2021 Edition of the Vancouver Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1997. Seven staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, Kent Basky, CanucksAbbyFan2, Markus Meyer, Noah Strang, Harsunder Singh H) and two outside writers (Daniel Gee & Cam Robinson) cast votes for the project.

It didn’t take long after they drafted Jack Rathbone for the Vancouver Canucks to learn that the most impressive part about him isn’t what he does on the ice. It’s not the fact that he went to Harvard University, scoring over a point-per-game in his last season there. It’s not the fact that he’s carved out a role on the team at just twenty-two years of age, beating out NHL veterans in the process. The most impressive part about Jack Rathbone is how he carries himself off the ice, the values he stands for, and his maturity at such a young age.

For most of the top prospects across the United States, their development path involves time in the United States Hockey League (USHL), with the best joining the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Many of Rathbone’s teammates played in this league including Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko. It’s the conventional path that has produced countless NHLers, but it’s not the one that Rathbone opted to take.

Rathbone made it clear to NHL teams during the pre-draft interview process that he wouldn’t be moving on to the USHL and instead would finish his time at the Dexter School, a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. His primary reasoning for his decision: the desire to stay close to his brother Teddy, who was around 8 years-old at the time and was diagnosed with autism when he was young.

The two are very close and Rathbone wanted to stay closer to Teddy even if it meant potentially shifting his NHL dreams to an untraditional path.

“His personality and the attitude that he brings to everyday life, he gives me a new perspective. He’s what drives me every day to be able to chase the dream of playing in the NHL one day because I know that he can’t. It’s tough to see.” said Rathbone to the Boston Herald in 2017, “But at the same time, to see him at a family skate at Dexter, and just bringing him out on the ice, just little moments like that to see how happy he is, it’s what drives me to become the best player possible.”

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone before making his NHL debut last season.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

By now, this piece of Rathbone’s background is well-known by many Canucks fans and his character is well-regarded, both inside and outside the organization. Now the only questions that remained were to do with what Rathbone could do on the ice and over the past few years he’s created much cause for excitement as a defenceman that isn’t afraid to jump into the rush, similarly to fellow Canucks American defenceman Quinn Hughes.

The On-Ice Impact

While hearing the story about Rathbone and his brother is heart-warming and reassuring that he has a good head on his shoulders, which hasn't been true of all recent Canucks draft picks, the harsh reality is that none of it would matter if Rathbone wasn’t up to par when he stepped on the ice. Professional sports are a cutthroat business and it’s not easy to make it in the NHL as a defenceman that stands under six feet tall.

Never one to worry about what others think, Rathbone has accelerated through the hockey ranks at impressive speed for a fourth-rounder. This season, he made the Canucks roster out of training camp, beating out former top-five selection Olli Juolevi and Brad Hunt who has appeared in games in eight different NHL seasons. Rathbone is only 22 years-old and had played a grand total of 16 professional hockey games before this year, eight in each the NHL and AHL.

Watch Rathbone play and the first thing that stands out is his skating. Even when he was at Harvard and was still a teenager there were scouts that graded his skating as NHL-caliber and he has only proven them right throughout his young career.

Alongside his skating, Rathbone is a strong passer and possesses a heavy shot, especially considering his size. This complete package helps him have a massive impact on every game offensively as he is dynamite from the backend. He fits the modern-NHL build of a defenseman as he can join the rush with his skating, spark an attack with a long stretch pass, and score from the point with an accurate shot.

Rathbone impressed during this past preseason as he showed off all those tools multiple times. No matter if it was scoring on a breakaway out of the penalty box, making a jaw dropping pass, or attempting to dangle through the opposite he constantly made impressive plays.

The question marks about Rathbone’s game have more to do with his defensive play, especially with what happens when one of his flashy offensive moves fails? It’s a similar issue as to what Hughes dealt with last year and a common problem for young defencemen who are offensively inclined.

Thus far Rathbone has done a good job of this but the 82-game NHL schedule can be gruelling and it will be interesting to see how he does over the longer timeframe. Managing the grind is a tricky puzzle for all young players to figure out and that will be true for Rathbone as well.

What’s Next for Rathbone?

As mentioned above, Rathbone won the training camp battle for the 3LD spot on the Canucks roster. He’s penciled in as an everyday player but Brad Hunt is in the wings waiting for coach Travis Green to sour on Ratbone’s risky style of play. Green is known to enjoy players who play a dependable, responsible game and those are not adjectives that always describe Rathbone.

Despite that, Rathbone has an opportunity this season to have a breakthrough season and establish himself as an everyday NHL player. His presence, alongside Hughes and newcomer Oliver Ekman-Larsson, gives the Canucks an extremely mobile left-side of their defence.

A strong season this year for Rathbone would involve him showing that he can be strong enough defensively at the NHL level while still retaining his offensive flair. This would establish himself as a crucial part of this Canucks core and a key part of future plans.