Canucks sign college standout Akito Hirose to entry-level contract

Canucks sign college standout Akito Hirose to entry-level contract
Minnesota State's Akito Hirose (2) and St. Cloud State's Kevin Fitzgerald (28) watch the puck during the third period of an NCAA men's Frozen Four hockey semifinal in Pittsburgh, Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Vancouver Canucks have signed free-agent defenceman Hirose to a two-year, entry-level contract, the team announced Wednesday.

The Vancouver Canucks have added another college signing to their roster, inking free-agent defenceman Akito Hirose to a one-year, entry-level contract on Wednesday.

Hirose, 23, had four goals and 23 assists in 38 games with Minnesota State University this season, his third in the NCAA.

The six-foot, 170-pound blue liner from Calgary said he chose to sign with the Canucks because the team showed a strong interest in him.

“I think there’s some opportunity,” he said after practising with the team Wednesday. “And you never know how many chances you’re going to have, even to play in the NHL. So that was a big factor.”

Hirose tallied seven goals and 61 assists and amassed 40 penalty minutes over 104 college games.

Before heading to Minnesota, where he studied marketing, the defenceman spent four seasons with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL where he put up 20 goals and 103 assists over 208 regular-season games.

Adding a defenceman with Hirose’s skill set is an important move for the Canucks, general manager Patrik Allvin said in a statement.

“Akito is a strong skater and he has put up impressive numbers on both sides of the ice in the NCAA and BCHL,” he said. “We feel that our coaches and development team will provide him with the help and support he needs to start his pro career off in the right way.”

Hirose’s older brother, Taro, has played 58 National Hockey League games after signing with the Detroit Red Wings out of college in 2019.

Wednesday’s move marks Vancouver’s latest college free-agent signing after the club inked Western Michigan University centre Max Sasson to an entry-level deal on Sunday.

The 22-year-old American had 42 points in 38 games in his sophomore season in the NCAA.

The Canucks also signed 23-year-old forward Aidan McDonough to a two-year, entry-level deal earlier this month.

McDonough led the Northeastern University Huskies with 20 goals and 38 points in 34 games in his fourth and final NCAA season.

He made his NHL debut in Vancouver’s 4-2 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday.

Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said the trio of former collegiate athletes will get a glimpse of what it takes to play in the NHL over the next few weeks.

“It’s really learning for them,” he said. “It’s the game, obviously … but realizing the pace of practice, how do you recover after, how do you eat, how do you sleep? Just what the pros do to get to that level. That’s really why they’re here.”

Hirose said he’s thankful for the opportunity.

“Whether I get in the lineup or not get in the lineup, I’m just happy to be here and happy to learn and grow under this great development staff,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.

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