If 2020 had any semblance of a normal year, Jack Rathbone might not be a Vancouver Canuck today, but when the NCAA’s Ivy League cancelled their fall season, it left the defenseman in a precarious position.
The Canucks top blueline prospect had his second collegiate season cut short and had no idea when he would hit the ice again. That led him to finally put pen to paper with the Vancouver hockey club following months of tepid speculation.
Rathbone’s decision didn’t come down to the final minute, but it was close. The modified deadline for teams to sign entry-level deals hit July 15, but the Canucks got Rathbone’s signature before the window slammed shut. The defenseman now burns a year of his entry-level deal and will be joining the Canucks for Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return-to-Play but will be unable to participate in the Phase 4 Secure Zone.
In common cases, a mid-summer signing of a fourth-round selection would not encapsulate the interest of a fanbase, but Rathbone is no common case.
The cabinet of the Vancouver defensive prospects has diminished over the last 18 months with the ageing of Olli Juolevi and the blossoming of Quinn Hughes and its left Rathbone as the top prospect following his two years with Harvard University. However, 2020 was the final year the Canucks held the 2017 draft pick’s NHL rights, allowing the dreadful thought of Rathbone heading to free agency to dwell in the minds of Canucks management.
That’s not a worry anymore, he’s signed.
Although his skills could potentially land him in the NHL as soon as 2020-21, the Canucks are getting more than a player with Jack Rathbone, they’re getting an intelligent, family-based young man.
Following his draft year in 2017, Rathbone didn’t go to Harvard, he didn’t go to the USHL, rather he opted to stay home to aid his family while continuing playing for his prep-school team.
The youngest Rathbone, Teddy, suffers from autism and was just starting school at the time that Jack would have left for school- “He’s a big piece of my life, and I’m going, to be honest, it would be tough to leave him for seven months out of the year at this stage,” said Jack to the Boston Herald in 2017.
Jack’s help was also appreciated by his parents, especially Jason Rathbone, former New York Islanders draft pick who also spoke to the Boston Herald. “It could be as severe as Teddy having a seizure and Jack has been there to help him get on his side and deal with it. Or it could be as simple as going swimming with him. We’ve got a little in-ground pool in the back, and Teddy always wants to go swimming, and my wife and I can’t always be there. Jack is always willing to hop in the pool with him and be with him.”
The Canucks prospect returned to Dexter Academy for his draft +1 season and dominated the New England high school hockey scene. The following year, he joined Harvard, where he skated alongside fellow top prospect Adam Fox who has now completed his rookie season with the New York Rangers.
In year two, without Fox, Rathbone exploded for 31 points in 28 games and had scouts raving about his skillsets. “He’s an elite skater and has really high-end puck handling ability,” said a Boston-based scout to The Athletic. “For me, I think he had the best shot from the point in the NCAA.”
While on the ice the defenseman was dissecting opponents, he was studying at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions. Nobody gets an easy ride at Harvard University, not even a high-level hockey player like Rathbone. He’s shown an ability to balance hockey and a rigorous academic schedule while excelling both, and while he hasn’t completed his psychology degree, he’s proven that he is a multi-faceted young player.
It took some time to secure Rathbone, but the fresh-faced Vancouver Canucks now have one of the NHL’s most respectable and level headed prospects who ain’t too bad at hockey either. Although there is no certainty to when he’ll hit NHL ice for the first time, the former Harvard defenseman is one step closer to his NHL goal.