The Vancouver Canucks have put a lot of faith in the AHL’s Utica Comets to prepare their prospects for the NHL. The Comets provide a platform for the Canucks’ draft picks to grow as players and get their first taste of professional hockey. Some players have made major progress in the AHL, settling into the pro level quicker than others. For Jack Rathbone, making an instant impact is nothing new.
Rathbone joined the Comets in 2020-21 after two seasons at Harvard University, where he became a regular starter. Vancouver drafted the 21-year-old defenseman in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he did not want to make the jump to the NHL immediately and committed to Harvard instead. The decision to play college hockey was easy and rewarding, as he earned national recognition during his senior season. However, he cut his collegiate career short during the COVID-19 pandemic and opted to join the Comets to start a new chapter in his career.
Rathbone may have settled quickly into life with the Comets, but he is used to playing for different teams and adapting to new styles of play. He has five points (one goal, four assists) in his first four games with the Comets, impressing his coaches, teammates, and Canucks fans. Rathbone is slowly starting to convince Vancouver that he is worth a place on their roster.
Rathbone was born and raised in Boston, where he played hockey in high school. He chose to commit to college in his hometown to be close to his family, and settled into life at Harvard quickly, both academically and athletically. Playing alongside New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox during the 2018-19 season, the duo formed a dominant pairing, and Rathbone scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) and was second in rookie scoring that season.
Rathbone developed his two-way game during his sophomore year, producing a better points-per-game ratio. He had his best season in 2019-20, scoring 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 28 games. He planned to continue his career with Harvard, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to change his plans when the season was cut short. He decided to sign an entry-level contract with the Canucks to start working toward his NHL career.
Harvard’s program was beneficial for Rathbone’s development. He became a starting defenseman in his rookie season, later earning ECAC league honours. Yet, he knew he needed to play in the AHL if he wanted to develop his game further.
The Comets signed Rathbone in time for the 2020-21 season, and he has hit the ground running in the AHL. He picked up three assists on his Comets debut. Canucks fans paid attention to him and began to wonder how he would fit into Vancouver’s roster, especially because most of the Canucks’ defensemen are ageing and fans believe that he would be a younger option.
The Canucks need young players to help the long-term rebuild of their defence, and Rathbone should be a candidate to replace veterans. Alex Edler is 34 and has one year left on his deal, Nate Schmidt is approaching his 30th birthday, and Tyler Myers is in his early 30s. Quinn Hughes is the youngest defenseman on the team and is considered a key part of the Canucks’ overall rebuild. Rathbone can add to the new-look team because of his age and offensive presence.
Rathbone has made immediate impressions for every team he has played for, playing across different leagues and at different levels. His hockey talent came to light during his rookie season at Harvard University, and he proved that he could be a high-scoring defenseman. Canucks fans should feel reassured having him in their system, knowing that he will be one to watch in the future.