“We’re hoping that we can get a defenceman signed through college free agency,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning on Monday. A day later, those hopes were affirmed, as they inked Princeton defenceman Josh Teves to a one-year contract.
That one year, incidentally, is this year. According to Benning, he could only be signed to a one-year Entry Level Contract because of his age. That means the 24-year-old Teves will become a Restricted Free Agent in the summer and will need a new contract before next season.
Teves will join the Canucks immediately and could actually make his Canucks debut before Quinn Hughes, who signed earlier this week but is recuperating an ankle injury.
As might be expected, Benning is high on his new signing.
“He’s a smart two-way defenceman; always makes good decisions with the puck,” he said in a phone interview with Province reporter Patrick Johnston. “A good passer. He’s a little bit older, so physically he’s mature.”
At 24, Teves should be hitting the prime of his career, but he’s always been a late bloomer.
“I went to a really academic-focused school in Calgary and it wasn't until later in life that I got into more competitive hockey,” he said back in 2015 before heading to Princeton. “I was cut from teams plenty of times, which made me just push that much harder to play at that high level.”
Teves didn’t even play Junior A hockey until he was 19, when he joined the Merritt Centennials in the BCHL. Before that, he played Junior B hockey at 18, and was still in Midget AAA in his draft year. That’s not the typical path of a high-level prospect with NHL aspirations, but he attracted the attention of Princeton University when he tallied 33 points in 57 games with the Centennials.
At Princeton, Teves quickly established himself as a key part of the Tigers defence and truly took off in his sophomore season.
“I’ve never covered a player who’s had a steeper or more incredible development curve than Josh Teves,” tweeted Jashvina Shah, who covered Princeton hockey when Teves was recruited. “Coming out of juniors, no one really wanted him that much.”
That certainly changed. In his junior year, Teves tallied 33 points in 31 games and attracted some serious NHL attention. The Canucks took interest, inviting him to their 2018 prospect development camp.
“It is such a neat story because he hasn't always been the top recruit or the best prospect,” said his Junior A head coach Luke Pierce. “He is a late-bloomer and nothing has been easy for him. He had to take the back roads to get to where he is and at the end of the day he reached the level he always wanted.”
While his production declined in his senior season, with just 20 points in 30 games for a struggling Princeton team, Teves still clearly had the eye of Canucks scouts.
Teves stands out thanks to his excellent skating, which helps him at both ends of the ice. He also has superb vision, which aided him in breaking the all-time assists record for a Princeton defenceman this past season, after already setting the single-season assist record as a junior.
Teves seems tailor-made for the modern NHL, with a game built on speed, aggressive reads, and attacking in transition.
“Our whole style is to jump into holes and create offense," said Teves last year. "We have been given a lot of space and opportunities, as defencemen, to jump into the rush and jump into plays. Obviously, playing with some pretty special forwards, they make it easy. If you give them the puck, they make you look good and it is a lot of fun.”
The Canucks now hope that his game will translate to the NHL and that he can be part of a new wave of defencemen that refreshes the Canucks’ blue line. They will be thrilled if Teves can follow in the footsteps of another Canuck defenceman that signed as a college free agent: Troy Stecher.