The diminutive Jack Rathbone was trying to beat big odds.
The Vancouver Canucks were trying to beef up their back end and add more depth.
General manager Patrik Allvin continued his connection with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday morning by prying right-shot defenceman Mark Friedman, 27, and centre Ty Glover, 23, away from his former NHL club. In return, the Penguins get Rathbone, 24, and right winger Karel Plasek, 23.
“I would like to thank Jack for all the time he spent with our organization and always pushing hard when competing for a spot,” Allvin said in a statement of the club’s 2017 fourth-round draft pick who has played just 28 games at the NHL level.
“It has been a tough couple of years for him and this will give him a fresh start. The two players coming back in this trade will add to our depth as we continue to look at ways to improve our organization.”
For Rathbone, proving that an NHL club could sport two smaller defenders on any night — especially with Quinn Hughes quickly establishing himself as a budding star — was going to be a tall order. He could skate and his passes were crisp, but defending at the NHL level was a challenge.
And so was career adversity.
In successive AHL seasons, he was hospitalized overnight after absorbing devastating hits. And despite a shoulder injury, concussion and COVID-19 diagnosis, his resolve to become an NHL mainstay never wavered.
“It’s a fast game and things like that happen,” Rathbone told Postmedia. “You hope that it doesn’t happen more than it has and my dad joked that hopefully I’m building up some pretty good karma here the last couple of years.
“I feel like I’ve rolled with the punches and it definitely hasn’t been the easiest thing.”
Rathbone watched teammates get recalled by the parent Canucks and was often the subject of trade rumours and speculation on how the NHL club can fit two smaller defencemen into an NHL lineup. But he just played on.
Rathbone’s 40 regular-season points (10-30) in 39 games during a remarkable 2021-22 season showed a willingness to prove he could be a prime franchise prospect, perhaps a second-unit, power-play quarterback at the NHL level. He had the numbers to make the AHL first all-star team that season
His 1.03 points-per-game and 19 power-play assists were fifth among AHL defenders.
Friedman split the 2022-23 season between the Penguins and their AHL affiliate the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. The Toronto native, who was a 2014 third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, had three points (1-2), 15 penalty minutes and a +2 plus/minus rating in 23 NHL games last season. At the AHL level, he produced six points (1-5) and 19 penalty minutes in 24 games.
In 65 career regular season NHL games split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound defenceman has collected 12 points (4-8) and 49 penalty minutes. Friedman has also appeared in six career playoff games with the Penguins with one point (1-0) and a +3 plus/minus rating.
Glover collected 12 points (7-5) and 15 penalty minutes in 49 games played with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. Prior to his AHL career, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward spent two seasons in the NCAA with Western Michigan University, where he recorded 32 points (13-19) and 58 penalty minutes over 63 games.
The Salford, England native originally signed an entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an undrafted free agent.
More to come
Recommended from Editorial
Canucks Game Day: Will Elias Pettersson have another points spree against Philly?
Canucks: Thatcher Demko is wired to play a lot, but less could mean more
Canucks prospects: A perfect week, from Podkolzin on down
Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the news you need to know — add VancouverSun.com and TheProvince.com to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.
You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.