It’s been a difficult two years for Ethan Keppen since being drafted by the Canucks. He’s been inconsistent with the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League and had to battle a number of injuries.

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The Vancouver Canucks have decided not to sign 2019 fourth-round draft pick Ethan Keppen, making him eligible for this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Keppen is the only player chosen by the Canucks in 2019 without a contract. The Canucks would have needed to sign the 122nd overall pick by June 1 to retain his playing rights.

The 20-year-old Whitby, Ont.-born winger will become an unrestricted free agent if he isn’t selected in this summer’s draft.

It’s been a difficult two years for Keppen since being drafted by the Canucks, he’s been inconsistent with the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League and had to battle a number of injuries.

Flint was terrible in his draft year and Keppen was leaned on as a bit of a Mr. Everything for the Firebirds. He showed off good hands, good decision-making and a high energy level in his game. His one knock was his skating.

When he did play during that difficult 2019-20 season he bounced between the second and third lines and wasn’t a consistent contributor on special teams.

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And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and it was nearly a year before he played a game again as the OHL cancelled its season. Keppen would eventually suit up for the Utica Comets on an amateur tryout contract, recording a lone assist in seven games.

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Had he returned to Flint last fall it would have been with clear instructions from the Canucks, get back to the player he was in his draft year while improving his skating.

In hindsight, Keppen might have benefited from going over to Europe to play for a low-level professional team, or finding a team in the USHL to skate for.

But he wasn’t the only player in that boat and finding a spot when you’re just a mid-level prospect would have been difficult. ECHL veterans, players with several years of experience in pro hockey, were finding themselves signing with clubs in the German Oberliga, for instance, the third tier of German hockey.

Any fourth-round pick is a bit of shot in the dark, so at the end of the day it’s not a huge shock he’s gone unsigned, but he still was a player for whom the Canucks had hoped could develop.

Keppen spent three full seasons in the OHL with Flint, amassing 56 goals and 106 points in 185 games. He had 30 goals in 68 games during his draft year, the 2018-19 season.

Canucks prospect Viktor Persson playing for Brynas U20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season.
Canucks prospect Viktor Persson playing for Brynas U20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season. Photo by Nathalie Andersson /jpg

Coming to North America

Viktor Persson, the speedy defenceman drafted 191st overall last year from Sweden, was originally slated to join the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers this past season.

But the realities of COVID-19 meant that the seventh round draft pick was never able to get over to Canada, instead playing out the season in Sweden.

He suited up for three different squads, including both Brynäs’ junior and Swedish Hockey League teams and also for Strömsbro, a lower-level professional team.

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The Canucks hold his rights until 2024 and don’t have to offer him a contract until then. He doesn’t turn 20 until November, so there’s plenty of development time left for him yet.

In a text message this weekend, Persson told Postmedia that the plan remained for him to play in the WHL next season as a 20-year-old.

“We are slowly going back to a normal life here in Sweden,” Persson said. “I want to play for Kamloops next season, but we will have to wait and see if the virus allows me!”

He scored five goals and added four assists for the Brynäs U20s and went pointless in four SHL games for the senior team. In 11 games for Strömsbro, he scored a goal and added five assists.

Plášek close to signing

There are a handful of Canucks farmhands who will make the move from Utica to Abbotsford for the coming American Hockey League season, but the Abbotsford squad will have its first totally new player on the books very soon.

Karel Plášek, drafted in the sixth round (175th overall) in 2019, is expected to sign with the Canucks this week.

He played 44 games for Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga, scoring six goals and four assists. Plášek also played two games for Prerov in the Czech second division, scoring three goals.

Plášek, who turns 21 in July, has already played three full seasons in the Czech Extraliga. He played four games for Kometa Brno as a 17-year-old in the 2017-18 season.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction

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