VANCOUVER — Many elements lined up to get Jack Rathbone under contract with the Vancouver Canucks, not the least of which was the COVID-19 pandemic.
No college hockey this fall because of the pandemic and the ability to quickly burn off the first year of a three-year entry-level contract were among inducements for the defenceman to turn pro.
The 21-year-year-old American thinks he could be on a plane as early as Thursday to Vancouver, where he would have to isolate for 14 days before joining the Canucks at training camp.
"It's less nervousness and more excitement," Rathbone said Wednesday on a video conference call with media.
"You work every day towards trying to get to that next level. It's finally here. There's no level above this one so I'm really excited to get things going."
A fourth-round pick of the Canucks in 2017, Rathbone played for Harvard the last two seasons.
The five-foot-11, 190-pound rearguard from West Roxbury, Mass., totalled seven goals and 24 assists in 28 games as a sophomore.
Ivy League hockey has been suspended until at least Jan. 1 because of the pandemic. Harvard plans to bring just 40 per cent of underclassmen back to campus in the fall.
"I was pretty confident in my abilities to try and make the jump now, but I think there were a lot of factors with kind of the uncertainties of school, that going online and the uncertainty of whether college hockey is going to happen," Rathbone explained. "Those definitely played key roles."
A transition rule in the collective bargaining agreement extension that re-started the season allowed the Canucks to sign Rathbone on Tuesday during the short window to get it done following ratification.
"This is an exciting young player that's got a lot of skills offensively," Canucks head coach Travis Green said. "With the way the game is going, you need players like that."
Rathbone is not eligible to play for the Canucks when they travel to Edmonton later this month for the playoffs, but the rest of this season counts as a year on his contract.
The defenceman could become a restricted free agent in 2022.
"The second the CBA got signed off on, we were in talks with the Canucks immediately," Rathbone said.
"We went back and forth all the way leading up to when I signed yesterday. A little hectic, but starting to soak in a little bit."
He also had the option of unrestricted free agency next year if he chose not to report as a senior to Harvard.
Rathbone's experience at a pair of Canucks development camps, plus steady communication from Canucks director of player personnel Ryan Johnson and assistant Chris Higgins kept him interested in Vancouver.
"The comfortability factor and loyalty was a big piece for me," Rathbone explained.
"This organization has been great to me, everyone in it whether it was the two development camps, and with RJ and Chris being able to develop me whether it was video or a quick text to see how was I doing, it was a pretty good relationship and something I'm excited to see grow from here."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.