For all the talk of power play defencemen heading into the draft, it took until the fourth round for the Canucks to finally select their first blueliner, taking three forwards and a goaltender in the meantime. But when they finally selected a defenceman, they made one of their most intriguing picks of the draft.
Jack Rathbone is a smooth-skating, puck-moving, powerplay-quarterbacking defenceman, exactly the type of player that Jim Benning said he was interested in drafting. He has significant potential, but, as you might expect from a fourth round draft pick, there’s a caveat: he did all that skating, moving, and quarterbacking in high school in the US, making it difficult to judge where he stands in comparison to his peers.
Rathbone intends to return to Dexter School for his senior year, instead of heading to the USHL to face a higher level of competition. That might be a reason for concern for the Canucks, but there’s no reason to doubt Rathbone’s commitment to hockey, as his biggest reason for heading back to high school is laudatory: he wants to stay close to his 8-year-old brother Teddy, who is autistic.
“He’s a big piece of my life, and I’m going to be honest, it would be tough to leave him for seven months out of the year at this stage,” Rathbone said in an interview with the Boston Herald. “He’s probably my best friend.”
So Rathbone will return to Dexter for one more year and continue to help his parents in the day-to-day care of Teddy, then head to Harvard to play in the NCAA the following year. It’s no surprise that Rathbone is seen as a high character guy and there’s a reason he’s the captain at Dexter.
On the ice, Rathbone has a tantalizing set of skills. A scouting report from SB Nation’s College Hockey is effusive with praise, saying, “He’s a one-man breakout with terrific vision and excellent passing skills…He has an absolute cannon of a one-timer...Overall, he’s an excellent puck-moving defenceman who can impact a power play in a major way.”
It’s always hard to judge a player’s points in high school hockey. For instance, there’s a 17-year-old defenceman at Naperville Central High who scored 71 goals and 104 points in 27 games this past season. That dwarfs Rathbone’s paltry 35 points in 27 games, but it’s all about context and competition.
Rathbone was playing in New England Prep Hockey, which is at a significantly higher level than most other high school leagues across the US. Rathbone was second in points-per-game among defencemen in New England, behind only Reilly Walsh, who went 81st overall to the New Jersey Devils. That said, it’s a pretty significant gap between Walsh, who scored 30 goals and 69 points in 30 games, and Rathbone, who had 16 goals and 35 points in 27 games.
One concern for Rathbone is his size, as he’s just 5’10” and 165 lbs. He uses his mobility to evade forecheckers and uses his excellent balance on his skates to surprise opponents in puck battles, but his ability to battle along the boards and in front of the net against larger forwards will be tested in the NCAA on his way to professional hockey.
Rathbone’s skating is his best attribute, but he also boasts excellent decision-making, which helps him know when to jump up in the play.
It may have taken a while for the Canucks to draft an offensive defenceman this year, but when they did, they swung for the fences, taking a high-risk, high-reward player, who just might have the potential to be a steal. Combine that with his character and leadership and you have a solid mid-round pick.
Also, he has one of my favourite names of the draft.