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Jack Rathbone Is Making His Case In The Canucks' Blueline Battle

Jack Rathbone fully intends to begin the season with the Vancouver Canucks. All he's got to do is earn it.
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The Vancouver Canucks opened their preseason schedule on Sunday with a pair of losses to the Calgary Flames in split-squad action. They dropped a 3-2 decision in overtime at Rogers Arena and were shut out 4-0 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Vancouver is embarking on an intriguing experiment this fall, potentially moving Quinn Hughes to the right side on a pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The move was Hughes' idea and if it works, it helps to fill an organizational need. The dynamic blueliner also feels it could make him even more effective.

"I've played right a lot growing up," Hughes said Saturday at the Canucks' training camp at Whistler. 

"Actually, I think it's a little bit easier defending off the rush because on the left, instead of reaching, you can just poke-check on the right. I think there are more things that are easy than hard."

Hughes also sees offensive advantages.

"Sometimes your feet are moving more on that side and ... you can get to the net a little bit quicker. So we'll see. The reason I wanted to switch is because I think that I was more dangerous on the right side, maybe."

If the switch sticks, that'll open up a defensive roster spot on the left side. Ekman-Larsson and Travis Dermott should have two positions locked up, and it looks like the key battle for that third spot will be between rookie Jack Rathbone and veteran Danny DeKeyser.

Both played on Sunday in Vancouver, and coach Bruce Boudreau seemed impressed with Rathbone's performance.

Playing on a pairing with Luke Schenn, Rathbone led all Canucks with 25:45 of ice time. 

"I thought he got better as the game went along," Boudreau told the media. "He started to look a lot more comfortable out there, so I think it was very positive, what I saw from him."

The 23-year-old, who played two seasons at Harvard before turning pro, finished Sunday's game with nine shot attempts and three blocked shots. In a penalty-filled contest, he saw action on both special teams, including 8:00 of power-play time.

"When you're a good puck-handler, you're a good puck-handler," Boudreau said. "When you gain confidence, I thought he made some really good reads on the power play from the point. 

"You know why he was one of the leading scorers in the American League from defense. So it's a pretty good sign for us."

Rathbone has played 17 NHL games over the last two seasons, posting one goal and two assists. Last year, he put up 10 goals and 30 assists for 40 points in 39 games with the Abbotsford Canucks. His 1.03 points per game were fifth-best among AHL defensemen.

Though he's still waiver-exempt this season, Rathbone said Sunday that he came to camp with every intention of starting the year in Vancouver.

"Everyone's goal, coming in here, is to make the NHL club," he said. "I don't think anyone's goal is to just have a good five days of fun and skate around a little bit. You come here to make the 23-man roster. That was my mindset all summer."

On Sept. 9, the Canucks added another defensive option to their mix when they signed veteran left-sider Danny DeKeyser to a professional tryout contract. The 32-year-old has 547 games of NHL experience as a steady defender, all with the Detroit Red Wings. His effectiveness has slipped over the last couple of years, following back surgery in December of 2019.

In his Canucks debut, DeKeyser played 17:20 on Sunday, including 6:00 on the penalty kill. He finished with three shot attempts, one hit, one giveaway, and three blocked shots.

"I don't care how many years you play the league, he looked a little nervous to me," Boudreau assessed. "It's the first time, I'm sure, he's ever been on a PTO. But he's a big body, and I think he got a little bit smoother after the first period."

Boudreau was measured when assessing DeKeyser's chemistry with Myers.

"I'll have to look at the tape a little bit more, but I thought they weren't great," he said. "It's the first time and they played a lot of minutes, probably more minutes than they would normally play during the regular season."

So after Game 1, it's Advantage: Rathbone in Vancouver's battle of the blue line. But the evaluation process is far from complete.

During training camp, Boudreau said he'd try to work Rathbone into Vancouver's lineup for as many as six preseason games. Expect DeKeyser to stick around for a while, as well.

On a team day off Monday, the Canucks announced that winger Brock Boeser will miss the next three-to-four weeks after undergoing hand surgery due to a training-camp injury. The club also announced its first eight roster cuts, leaving 51 players in camp.

Preseason action resumes Thursday at Rogers Arena when the Canucks host the Seattle Kraken.

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