Canucks prospects: The devil is in the details for Danila Klimovich

Coach Colliton calls from more from Danila Klimovich — and the prospect responds, while Jonathan Lekkerimaki snaps a skid and Tom Willander prepares for another big test

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It’s the latest edition of the prospects tracker, where we tally up the efforts of the Vancouver Canucks’ highest profile prospects:

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Danila Klimovich

Hockey is a team game.

Even for the most talented scorer, doing the right things and helping your teammates succeed are non-negotiables. They are the hallmarks of not only a professional player, but one who can be trusted when the game is on the line.

Until recently, Abbotsford forward Danila Klimovich hadn’t been doing those things. The 21-year-old, plucked out of Belarus with the 41st-overall pick in the 2021 draft, had been in and out of the lineup this season — injuries, scratches, you name it — leaving Canucks fans wondering where the ‘Klim Reaper’ was who scored 17 goals in 67 games just last season.

“Yeah he’s getting more opportunity, part of it is we’re missing some players, and that’s what you need sometimes to get in,” head coach Jeremy Colliton told Postmedia on Thursday, a day before a weekend pair of games at home against the San Jose Barracuda.

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“It’s what you do with it. What do you do with the opportunity? We’ve had some games recently where you can see more determination and a commitment to detail and it’s nice to see him rewarded for that with a couple goals,” said Colliton.

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“Having said that, it’s not about the goals. That’s not going to determine whether he plays or not.

“He’s getting an opportunity right now and it’s up to him to make the best of it.”

Colliton held up his end of the bargain on Friday, elevating Klimovich from fourth-line duty to play with centre Aatu Raty and Linus Karlsson — and Klimovich responded with his most complete game of the season.

He didn’t score in a tight 2-1 loss to the ‘Cuda, but the Pinsk product showed great connectivity with his linemates and nearly converted on a couple of his team-high six shots on net.

The game didn’t start well for Klimovich, who took a high-sticking penalty on his first shift. But he forced a turnover right as he exited the box, leading to the Canucks’ first shot of the game.

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Later in the frame, Klimovich was stopped all alone in front after forcing another turnover, then hit the post midway through the second period on a blistering shot on a 2-on-1 break.

Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence from Colliton was Klimovich’s inclusion on the power play, where the 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-shot forward impressed from the left half-wall, making decisive passes and getting his shots through, forcing scrambles in front of the net.

For a player whose all-around game looked shot just a few weeks ago, it was a welcoming sign that Klimovich is responding to the adversity he faces.

His head was up. The passes were crisp. And he was in the right spots on the ice to make a difference.

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Klimovich wasn’t as noticeable in Saturday’s 3-2 comeback win over the Barracuda, but didn’t do anything that’d warrant another slap on the wrist from his coach. He was responsible with the puck and stayed on top of his defensive assignments.

In a recent player profile video that aired during a television broadcast, Klimovich talked about his journey to the Fraser Valley from an unconventional hockey country, where you almost have to play individualistic hero-hockey to get noticed from scouts.

Klimovich did just that a few years ago when he scored six goals in five games for Belarus at the 2021 U18 world juniors to put his name on the map.

But this is the pros, where playing a 200-foot game is a prerequisite. Klimovich knows this, though it doesn’t always translate onto the ice.

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“My goals are to try to do what the coaches say to me … to be a good teammate. I want to (say) that I am in this place to be in the NHL,” he said.

When the Klim Reaper is at his best, he looks like he can be a deadly scorer in the NHL one day. He’s got all the tools: a powerful stride, quick hands and a heavy, accurate shot.

He’s also got a mean streak in his game and can throw the body, making him a unique prospect in the organization’s portfolio.

Abbotsford Canucks forward and Vancouver prospect Danila Klimovich celebrates after scoring a goal last season.
Vancouver prospect Danila Klimovich celebrates after scoring a goal for Abbotsford last season. Photo by Darren Francis Photography /Submitted

But when he’s off his game, it’s a whole other story — and Colliton and his coaching staff won’t settle for anything but a player’s best.

“We’re trying to prepare guys to play at the NHL level, so to take that step, you’ve gotta show you can do it here. And we’re trying to be a top team at our level and we’re challenging our players to show that they can help drive us.”

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Klimovich has two goals, two assists and a plus-5 rating in 17 games this season.

Abbotsford is 23-14-3-2 and in fourth-place in the 10-team Pacific Division.

Abbotsford Canucks forward Arshdeep Bains (centre) gets ready ahead of a game against the Colorado Eagles at the Abbotsford Centre on Sunday, March 12 2023.
Abbotsford Canucks forward Arshdeep Bains gets ready ahead of a game against the Colorado Eagles at the Abbotsford Centre on Sunday, March 12 2023. Photo by Darren Francis Photography /Abbotsford Canucks

Arshdeep Bains

He may be off to the AHL All-Star game, but not before one last contribution to the Canucks before his departure.

With Abbotsford trailing 2-1 late in the second period on Saturday night, there was Arshdeep Bains — flat on his belly — going all-out to slide the puck into the slot to defencemen Nick Cicek, who promptly scored.

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Bains had already registered a secondary assist earlier in the game on a Karlsson goal, giving the 23-year-old his 40th point (9G, 31A) in 40 games this season.

The Surrey product has come a long way since joining the team last season, said Colliton.

“We’re asking him to play a top role in all situations and that’s hard for a young player. He’s had a year and a half of pro hockey, so it’s asking a lot.”

Colliton said Bains, a 6-foot, 183-pound left-shot forward, has been especially consistent the last few weeks as he works with the coaching staff on two things: managing the game with the puck, and defending consistently enough to get the puck back onto his stick, where he’s at his best.

Bains, a former WHL scoring champion, said he’s honoured to represent his hometown team at the AHL All-Star classic, which kicks off Sunday with a skills competition, before a 3-on-3 round robin tournament on Monday.

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“To represent for the All-Star game for Abbotsford and the community here, it’s been pretty special,” Bains said in a video posted on social media on Sunday. “I think that it’s pretty rare that a guy that grows up in the hometown that he plays for in pro — it doesn’t really happen that he gets to play in the All-Star game so it’s been an honour.”

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Bains’s 40 points are tied for seventh overall in the league, 11 behind Texas Stars forward and B.C. boy Logan Stankoven, who was taken one pick after Klimovich in the 2021 NHL draft.

Word on Sunday afternoon was that Bains and other AHL All-Stars were experiencing travel delays getting to the event in San Jose.

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Bains is supposed to take part in a handful of skills competitions on Sunday, including fastest skater, pass and score and the breakaway relay. He wasn’t there for player introductions, just after 5 p.m. pacific. Neither was Barracuda forward Daniil Gushchin, who also played in Abbotsford the night before.

Bains did not take part in the fastest skater event.

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Jonathan Lekkerimaki

You can’t keep him off the scoreboard for too long.

Not when his shot is that elite.

Canucks top prospect Jonathan Lekkerimaki snapped a nine-game goalless drought on Saturday, scoring the overtime game-winner for Orebro on a power play snipe from his office on the left half-wall.

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“Great! Finally! It was a good position to go in there and shoot. There wasn’t much thinking, it was just shooting,” Lekkerimaki said post-game, with the 19-year-old handed player of the game honours for his one goal, two-shot effort in just over 17 minutes of ice time.

The goal was the 11th of the SHL season for the 5-foot-11, 172-pound sniper, leading all U20 skaters. Lekkerimaki’s 20 points in 34 games is also tops among junior-age players.

Saturday’s win was the second straight for Orebro, after being shut out in four of six games following a coaching change.

Orebro is four points above the playoff bar with 12 games left in the regular season. Lekkerimaki is expected to hop the pond and join the organization once his season is done.

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Sweden's Tom Willander reacts after scoring the 0-1 goal during the Group A ice hockey match between Canada and Sweden of the IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden on December 29, 2023.
Sweden’s Tom Willander reacts after scoring the 0-1 goal during the Group A ice hockey match between Canada and Sweden of the IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden on Dec. 29, 2023. Photo by ADAM IHSE/TT /TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Ima

Tom Willander

A tough stretch for Tom Willander and the No. 3 Boston University Terriers came to an end on Saturday with a 6-3 win over New Hampshire.

Willander, the Canucks 2023 first-round pick, picked up a primary assist in the win, wristing a shot towards the net from the point, which was tipped in by Macklin Celebrini, the projected No. 1 pick at this summer’s NHL entry draft.

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Willander, who is skating on the team’s second defensive pairing after a month or so alongside the dynamic Lane Hutson (MON, Rd. 2, 2022), finished the game with one point, one shot on goal and a plus-1 rating.

BU now gets to face No. 1 Boston College — the team that beat them twice over the past 10 days — in Monday’s opening round of the 71st annual Beanpot tournament at Boston’s TD Garden.

The winner will face either Northeastern or Harvard next Monday in the Beanpot final.

BU has won the event 31 out of 70 times.

Willander, 18, has 13 points (3G, 10A) and a plus-13 mark in 23 games this season, his first in the NCAA.

Abbotsford Canucks' Vasily Podkolzin (92) scores on Laval Rocket goaltender Jakub Dobes (71) earlier this season.
Abbotsford Canucks’ Vasily Podkolzin (92) scores on Laval Rocket goaltender Jakub Dobes (71) earlier this season. Photo by Christinne Muschi /The Canadian Press

Vasily Podkolzin

You won’t see a bigger cornerman for Vasily Podkolzin than his head coach in Abbotsford.

That said, it doesn’t mean the 22-year-old Russian needs to be chucking his knuckles to be an effective player.

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“Yeah, I don’t think that’s something we’ll see from him on a regular basis,” Colliton said with a chuckle on Thursday, when asked about Podkolzin trading blows with big Bakersfield Condors prospect Raphael Lavoie two Saturday’s ago.

“I think, for him to play with that emotion, with that edge, is good. He doesn’t necessarily need to fight but his first shift after he came out of the box, he was a man possessed out there. He used that energy to propel himself to having an excellent game.”

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Podkolzin put up five points (3G, 2A) in those two games against Bakersfield, perhaps his best efforts of the season.

“He’s gaining confidence, gaining consistency,” said Colliton. “When he’s at his best, he’s involved physically and using his body, whether it’s being hard on the forecheck, finishing hits, winning 50/50’s, being hard to play against or taking the puck hard to the net.”

Colliton says the organization wants to see Podkolzin, the 10th-overall pick in 2019, be “a bull in the offensive zone, driving wide and taking it inside.”

“When he does that, he’s really effective. We’re just trying to help him do it more often because that’s what’s going to lead him to the NHL,” said Colliton.

This past week, Podkolzin had one primary assist in the two games against San Jose, with two shots on goal in each game.

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In Friday’s loss, the Moscow product made a terrific play in the first period, charging into the zone, showing patience with the puck before finding an open man in the slot to force a big save.

Podkolzin then had a big steal early in the second period, but the puck rolled on him as he was trying to get a shot off alone in front of the Barracuda net.

And in the third, Podkolzin was stopped by the goalie’s blocker on a point-blank chance at the top of the crease.

Podkolzin is playing well enough to warrant a call-up at some point, but all signs point to the organization not wanting to rush any of the top prospects in Abbotsford.

That means aside from Karlsson, who has driven back and forth from Vancouver to the Fraser Valley more times this season than some of the local overpass-smashing carriers, one should expect the other top young forwards — Podkolzin, Bains and Raty — to stay in Abbotsford and not join the first-place NHL team down the stretch drive.

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“The best way we can prepare guys to play and contribute at the NHL level is for them to be a driver for a top team at our level,” said Colliton. “So, we have guys who want to show they’re ready at the next level? The best way to show it is to be a difference-maker, to be a winner down here — and that’s the standard we’re pushing.”

Podkolzin has 13 goals, 13 assists and a plus-3 rating in 35 games this season.

Canucks pick
Edmonton Oil Kings’ Jalen Luypen (23) battles Seattle Thunderbirds’ Sawyer Mynio (43) during second period WHL Championships action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo by Ian Kucerak Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

Elsewhere: Left-shot defenceman Sawyer Mynio (2023, Rd. 3) had a nice two-assist, five-shot effort on Friday night for Seattle in a 3-2 shootout win in Victoria, but the bottom-feeding Thunderbirds lost big the next night against the division-leading Portland Winterhawks, dropping a 7-1 decision in which Mynio, 18, went a minus-4.

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