The Canucks are done playing games with their prospects. Literally.
Canucks fans found out months ago that there would be no Young Stars Classic in Penticton this year. The popular prospect tournament had just two teams participate last year, as the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers chose to stay in Alberta and pit their prospects against each other. So, last year’s “tournament” wasn’t really a tournament at all: just two games between prospects for the Canucks and Winnipeg Jets, as well as a two-game series between CIS teams the UBC Thunderbirds and Alberta Golden Bears.
Now it seems that the cancellation of the Young Stars Classic, which generated an estimated $2 million per year for the city of Penticton, goes a little further: the Canucks prospect won’t be playing any games against other NHL teams in September.
That’s a surprise, since as recent as one month ago, the Canucks were telling a different story. With no Young Stars tournament, the Canucks were expected to travel to Alberta to play the Flames and Oilers as the culmination of their prospect training camp.
#Canucks will not replace Young Stars this year. Will play rookie games vs Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta. Still to be determined whether in one central location— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) April 30, 2019
Instead, the Canucks will run their prospect training camp from September 7th to 10th at Rogers Arena. Perhaps they’ll play some intra-squad scrimmages, but fans won’t get a chance to see how the Canucks’ prospect pool stacks up against other teams.
It’s a disappointing announcement, as the Young Stars Classic was one of the few chances for fans to see the Canucks’ prospects before they make the NHL. With limited opportunities to watch those prospects play in junior hockey, the AHL, or in Europe, getting to see the prospects play in Penticton, even if just on the Canucks’ Facebook Live stream, was invaluable.
Canucks’ GM Jim Benning explained the rationale to The Province’s Patrick Johnston.
“We’d have more invitees than players,” said Benning. “That’s because of many of our prospects playing in Europe or college.”
That makes a certain amount of sense. Will Lockwood, Tyler Madden, and Jack Rathbone won’t be at the Canucks’ prospect training camp, as their school year will have already begun. That will also be true of any players the Canucks pick at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft who are headed to college.
The Canucks will also have a few prospects in European leagues that potentially wouldn’t make it to camp, like Linus Karlsson, Artem Manukyan, and Toni Utunen.
That still leaves Quinn Hughes, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Mitch Eliot, Jett Woo, Michael DiPietro, Matthew Thiessen, and however many prospects from the 2019 draft that can make it. That’s not a full lineup, but it would still mean at least as many prospects as invitees. In any case, seeing invitees play against other prospects seems like a good way to evaluate which invitees deserve a longer look at camp or even a contract.
Johnston even questioned whether the decision to forego prospect games was a cost-cutting measure rather than a hockey decision.
“There was only one team in the NHL last September that did not ice a prospects team: the Florida Panthers,” wrote Johnston, and he noted, “There was an audit of all team operations this past season, even on things like community programs which cost the team little, looking for savings.”
The Canucks also announced their post-draft development camp schedule, with open practices taking place on June 25th to 27th at UBC’s Father Bauer Arena. Oddly enough, there’s no mention of a prospect game at this camp either.
Over the past couple years, the Canucks have concluded their development camp with a summer showcase game at Rogers Arena, giving fans a chance to see the newest members of the prospect pool in action. A couple years ago, it gave fans their first taste of Elias Pettersson’s sublime skill and Adam Gaudette’s gritty two-way game. Last year, Quinn Hughes and Petrus Palmu got fans talking.
If there’s no summer showcase game this year, that will be very disappointing. It was a great way to send fans into the off-season with some positive vibes about the future of the team.