clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Canucks’ Top 25 Under 25 (2022 Edition): #4 Jack Rathbone

Jack Rathbone enters a pivotal 2022-23 season where he could be a big part of the Canucks’ defence.

NHL: OCT 30 Oilers at Canucks Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 again. The list includes all players born after April 15th, 1998.

All Canucks fans are familiar with the organization’s dearth of high-end defenders — both historically, and in the present moment.

Up until the arrival of Quinn Hughes, it can be said that the team has never had a truly elite defender. Heading into this season, one of the key storylines is how the defence will hold up. Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin are already taking some heat for not doing anything in the off-season to improve the back end.

It’s this context that makes Jack Rathbone such a pivotal member of the Canucks organization.

Unanimously regarded as the team’s top defence prospect, and at worst a top three prospect overall, Rathbone has been an overwhelming developmental success already. He was a fourth-round pick who played mostly high school hockey prior to being selected, and just after as well, opting to stay closer to his family. The fact that he has become a stalwart prospect is pretty remarkable — it’s hardly a conventional path to stardom.

Rathbone has steadily developed his game as a puck-moving, well-rounded defender, but his developmental trajectory has been interesting. He went to the NCAA after his high school hockey career, playing just 61 games across two seasons. Like many young players, the 2020-21 COVID season impacted him, as he played eight games apiece in the AHL and NHL, spending time largely on the taxi squad. Really, his first real pro year was last season, where he played 39 games with the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks (as well as nine in the NHL).

In Rathbone’s limited NHL stints, he hasn’t looked out of place, but he also hasn’t looked like a slam dunk NHLer either. It’s why, despite the fact that he’s probably a better player than others who played ahead of him, it was best for him to marinate in the AHL for a year, where he could be a go-to player and sand off the edges of his game. He scored 40 points in 39 games, so it’s hard to argue with that strategy.

Since then, he’s signed a two-year, one-way deal with the Canucks, and enters a pivotal training camp. Regardless of how things turn out, he’s already punched well above his weight as a fourth-round pick. Now it’s time to see how he lives up to his reputation as a highly touted prospect.

What’s Next for Rathbone?

There are reasonable arguments to be made for either keeping Rathbone around, or letting him dominate the AHL. Some organizations prefer making their players AHL All-Stars before making the jump full-time (a key example being Rutherford and Allvin’s Penguins clubs). You could argue he’s already done that, with his better than point-a-game scoring rate last year, but certainly there’s something to be said for playing more pro games, specifically for a guy who’s played so few over his career.

However, the Canucks also need quality players in the NHL, and on raw talent, Rathbone is almost certainly among their top six. Ideally, he’d slot in on a more sheltered bottom pair alongside a Luke Screen type, where he can take some risks in a fairly low-stakes environment. Having him ascend to a bigger role — second pair, or big power play minutes perhaps — is not out of the question.

At 23 years old, you have to weigh both the short and long-term benefits for Rathbone. Personally, I think he's ready for the spotlight full-time now, but his progress will be a big talking point here in the weeks ahead.

He’s young, but Rathbone may be one of the most important Canucks this upcoming season.