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Canucks' North American prospect update as NCAA season starts to roll

November 22, 2020, 2:51 PM ET [152 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With nothing new on the NHL's return to play plan since we heard about the players' feelings of betrayal — and the Holtby family's tortoises now safely on Canadian soil — I guess that means it's time to start exploring what the Canucks prospects are up to.

Since I went deep on Vasily Podkolzin a few days ago, let's shift the focus back to North America, starting with the 2020 picks.

When we last checked in on winger Jackson Kunz, he'd come out of the gate with a first-star performance in his first game of the year with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. Now five games into their season, Green Bay has an impressive 3-1-0-1 record to lead the Eastern Division. Kunz has cooled off after his two-goal debut, now with 3-1-4 in those five games.

Green Bay appears to be a little porous defensively, having given up 20 goals in five games. But it's a bit of an apples-and-oranges situation when looking at the standings, with some teams having played far fewer games as a result of Covid-19 challenges.

Kunz played on Green Bay's top line but was held pointless in the Gamblers' 4-3 shootout loss to the Chicago Steel on Saturday.

With U.S. Thanksgiving approaching, their next game is a rematch with the Steel on Wednesday, then they'll host the U.S.A. Under-18 team on Friday.

Meanwhile, 2020 fourth-rounder Jacob Truscott's University of Michigan team is on a tear. The freshman defenseman, who turned 18 in April, has yet to pick up a point, but Michigan is 4-0 in its first two weekends of action, and has outscored its opponents 18-4 overall.

Their first weekend against Arizona State wasn't even close. This weekend, Michigan — ranked sixth in last week's national U.S. college hockey rankings — edged No. 13 Wisconsin 5-2 and 2-1 in overtime, on the road.

The Wolverines' next games are Friday and Saturday, back in Ann Arbor, against Notre Dame.

Playing on his off side on Michigan's third pair last weekend, Truscott did make a nice play that led to a goal on Friday.

The Michigan roster contains some big names — 2019 first-rounders Cam York and Johnny Beecher, 2020 first-rounder Brendan Brisson and second-rounder Thomas Bordeleau, and potential 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power also on defense — celebrating his 18th birthday today (Sunday). He's already 6'5", and important enough to Michigan's team that coach Mel Pearson refused to release him to Team Canada for the World Junior camp. And with a goal and six assists in his first four college games, a draft-eligible freshman from Port Moody named Kent Johnson is currently tied with his teammate Bordeleau for the NCAA scoring lead. Wow.

Should be a tremendous environment for a local boy like Truscott, who hails from Port Huron, Michigan, to learn and grow.

As for the North American prospects from the 2019 draft, there's a lot of limbo.

Fourth-rounder Ethan Keppen is still 19, so he could return to the Flint Firebirds if and when the OHL starts back up — with or without bodychecking. And if U.S.-based teams are somehow allowed to play in the OHL. Lots of questions.

Keppen did have a good showing in an age-group tournament back in late September:

As for 2019 fifth-rounder Carson Focht — he was drafted in his second year of eligibility, so he's 20 now. He's also still unsigned. He had a good season last year in Calgary, so in a normal year I'd expect that he'd be inked to an entry-level deal and be finding his way in the minors. The AHL is currently aiming for a start date of Feb. 5, and Canucks assistant general manager Chris Gear told Patrick Johnston of The Province on Friday that the Canucks' take on the minor-league situation remains unchanged — as one of three Western Canadian clubs with U.S.-based AHL affiliates, "they’d prefer to have five or six players based in Vancouver who are technically assigned to the Comets, but allowed to practise and train with the Canucks."

I would imagine that group would hew pretty closely to the extras that we saw at summer training camp — with a couple more spaces open on the back end after the departures of Tanev, Stecher and Fantenberg, with only Nate Schmidt coming in, and possibly two slots up front with Tyler Toffoli and possibly Micheal Ferland out of the mix — and Jayce Hawyrluk also now in the mix for a roster spot.

From that summer group, forward Justin Bailey and defenseman Jalen Chatfield remain unsigned, as RFAs. Tyler Graovac is an unsigned UFA.

2019 sixth-rounder Jack Malone is now officially SOL for this season. He was getting ready for his sophomore season at Cornell, but that's one of the eight Ivy League schools that cancelled all of its winter sports programs for the year on Nov. 12.

Apparently some players in those situation are transferring or finding other opportunities. No word yet on whether Malone would consider walking away from his Ivy League education for a chance to find a place to play hockey.

As for 2019 seventh-rounder Aidan McDonough, with any luck, he'll get a chance to start his season next weekend. Hockey East got two games completed this weekend, between UConn and Massachusetts.

McDonough's Northeastern squad is looking to kick off its season with a home-and-home against UMass-Lowell on Friday and Saturday.

Finally, going back to the 2018 draft class:

Second-rounder Jett Woo is basically in the same limbo as his WHL teammate Carson Focht, looking for a chance to start his pro career in the AHL.

And seventh-rounder Matthew Thiessen is looking to get back into the net for a sophomore season at Maine. After having the first two games on their schedule postponed this past weekend, they'll be looking to take another crack this weekend with games scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the University of Connecticut.

Freshly signed NCAA players Will Lockwood (3rd round, 2016) and Jack Rathbone (4th round, 2017) are also sitting in limbo, waiting for pro hockey to get back in action.
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