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.
There’s nothing suspenseful about Toni Ututen’s game. The real suspense is whether he’ll be a part of this team by the time we roll out this list next year.
Vancouver owns the diminutive defensive defenceman’s right until June 1st, 2022. If they don’t sign him to an entry-level contract by that date, then Utunen will no longer be considered a part of the Canucks organization.
As of writing, the odds are likely no more than 50% that he signs with the Canucks by then.
Utunen has largely been a third pairing or spare defenceman during the last three seasons playing in Liiga (Finland’s top hockey league). He’s known for his ability to play a safe game, although he did chip in with his first ever playoff goal in Liiga action back in April.
Here’s what our CanucksAbbyFan2 had to say about Utunen during his end of season analysis.
“Utunen’s game was never about him putting points on the board. He was drafted as he was viewed as a defence first specialist who is reliable in his own end and can make a good first pass. Still he probably needs to produce more offence than he has in Finland to play in the NHL.”
It’s hard to disagree with Rob there. While Utunen is a safe player, the fact that he’s both small and produces no offence doesn’t bode well for his NHL future. Even someone like Troy Stecher was able to produce a moderate amount of offence at lower levels before making the jump to the NHL.
What’s Next for Utunen?
If Utunen could play in an elevated role during this upcoming season, that would bode well for his future as a hockey player, whether that’s in Finland or North America.
Utunen recently signed a two-year with the Lahti Pelicans, joining current Canucks prospect Lukas Jasek and former prospect Petrus Palmu. The fact that he signed a two-year deal could signify that he plans on remaining in Finland, although a ticket to Abbotsford isn’t completely out of the question.
He’s also started playing on the right side with regularity for the Pelicans in preseason action. Utunen has also seen time on the “top pair,” although the 21-year-old has still only averaged about 15-16 minutes per game. If he can establish himself on the right side, that should make the Canucks noticing considering their lack of depth in the pipeline at that position.
Utunen will be in competition with three other Finnish defensive prospects on the Pelicans: Topias Vilen (#129th in 2021 by New Jersey), Matias Rajaniemi (#183rd in 2020 by the Islanders) and Mikko Kokkonen (84th in 2019 by Toronto).
While there’s been promise that Utunen can take a step forward this season, it’s unclear whether it will be enough to earn him an ELC from the Canucks.