The Canucks will be patient with their prospects by not bouncing them between various leagues, says the GM of the AHL Utica Comets, Ryan Johnson.
The priority is to advance a player when he is ready to sustain a long and ideally permanent stint in increasingly higher leagues until breaking in — and staying put — at the NHL level in Vancouver.
This was the consistent message from the AHL GM in an interview on Sportsnet 650 about numerous players, including Elias Pettersson in the Swedish Hockey League and Nikolay Goldobin, who was called up the the Canucks yesterday for the first time this season, as well as Comets goalkeeper Thatcher Demko and defencemen Jalen Chatfield and Guillaume Brisebois.
Although 19-year-old Pettersson leads the SHL with 11 goals and 29 points in 22 games for the Vaxjo Lakers, the GM preached patience as the forward builds muscle on his still slender six-foot-five, 165-pound frame.
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“It’s very easy for us to see the success that he’s had very quickly over there and try to now almost fast-track him and get overly excited about it – and trust me, we are – but we have to be very patient with it and put him in the best scenario for success over here,” said Johnson, who doubles as the Canucks director of player development. “We want him to come over and make a big impact. We want to put him in the best position for success and if that’s keeping him over there for another year, that’s two off-seasons and another year of play against men and refining his play over there. That won’t be the end of the world either.”
As for feedback on the ice, Pettersson is being coached to be a 200-foot skater, said Johnson. “They’ve really pushed on him to use his sense and use his skill but use it at a higher pace and force him to get moving in all zones of the ice.”
As for Goldobin, the question remains as to when the 22-year-old will make this season’s debut for the Canucks now that he’s been called up from Utica. After the Russian skater was humbled by not making the team following training camp, Johnson said he has been impressed by his commitment and work ethic.
“The way he’s listened to the constructive criticism and the little weaknesses in his game that we all feel he needs to get better at, which is his puck pursuit and his puck compete, his wall play. The way Travis Green plays the game, he wants you getting your feet moving and getting north, and when Nikolay gets in trouble, he wants to make those cute puck plays to the middle of the ice and, as you guys know, in the NHL those end up inthe back of your net more often than not,” he said, noting the offensive contribution and increasing time on the power play. “He’s paid attention to those details.”
Still, the plan to be patient remains similar to that for Pettersson.
“We didn’t want to see him have three or four good games to reward him. We wanted to see a big block of games put together where he understands that when he comes up to the NHL, that will be what will either keep him here or inevitably have him go back down and that’s been my message to him all along,” said Johnson. “You don’t want to be a guy that just gets up and plays a game and comes back. You want to get your game to the place where you go up and you never come back.”
And since Jake Virtanen is part of this broader conversation about prospect development, the analysts said he needs to play simple, straight-forward hockey. And they made their point to the tune of Lionel Richie.