The first player of South Asian heritage to lead the Western Hockey League in scoring recently inked a deal with the Vancouver Canucks and it’s likely he will make his pro debut in Abbotsford this fall.
Surrey’s Arshdeep Bains collected 112 points in 68 games for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels this past season, earning himself the Bobby Clarke Trophy as top scorer and attracting considerable attention from pro teams as a 20-year-old.
But it was the Canucks who seemed to tug at his heart. Bains cheered for and followed the team as a youngster, and as a 10-year-old saw Vancouver advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s probably the best thing a kid could dream of when they start playing hockey,” he told CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi. “For me to get the opportunity to play in my hometown, it’s super special.”
His journey wasn’t a typical one into the pros. Bains was passed over in both the WHL’s Bantam Draft and the NHL Draft. He was forced to earn his contract through hard work and arguably one of the measuring sticks in hockey for effort and perseverance is the Sutter brothers and Bains caught the eye of Rebels owner, president general manager (and two-time Stanley Cup champion) Brent Sutter.
Bains was invited to Rebels rookie camp after putting up an eye-popping 56 points in 22 games with the Valley West of the BC Elite Hockey League. Sutter said he saw Bains take steps every season to become the fully formed player he is today. He noted that Bains became stronger physically and matured in Red Deer.
“He certainly raised his level of compete over time and just got bigger and stronger,” he said. “He learned how to train the right way. I really felt last year early in the season that he was starting to take big strides. Everyone develops at different rates and some may take a little longer, but it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as you get there.”
Arshdeep Bains has been one of the WHL's most entertaining players for a few years now. Creativity, pace, playmaking, puck protection -- lots of reasons to believe he'll make it. https://t.co/4LjlBFQske pic.twitter.com/WSZ5dgcyYs— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 11, 2022
Bains production level continued to rise season after season in Red Deer. He scored seven points in 40 games as a rookie, increased to 18 in 63 as a sophomore and his third season he moved up to 51 points in 63 games. The pandemic season saw him evolve into nearly a point-a-game player at 21 points in 23 games.
Sutter said Bains committed himself to getting better.
“Whether it was off-ice training, his work ethic both on and off the ice, he became a real student of the game. He certainly put in a lot of time.”
Red Deer Advocate editor Byron Hackett saw firsthand Bains development. He covered the team as the newspaper’s sports editor throughout Bains’ rise. Hackett said the shy 16-year-old worked his way into a spot early and continued growing.
“Over the years he started to be a guy that would contribute more and more,” he said. “He began producing night in and night out but he wasn’t a game changer early on. He would contribute but this past year has been a whole different story.”
Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin announced today that the club has signed Surrey, BC’s Arshdeep Bains to an entry level contract.— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) March 11, 2022
DETAILS | https://t.co/a5uoyOprEa pic.twitter.com/vaVt9n1NMK
Hackett said Bains’ 2021-22 season is one of the most impressive he’s seen as someone who covered the Rebels and the WHL for years.
“From day one this season he was playing at a pace I’d never seen from a player before,” he said. “It was akin to how [Connor] McDavid looks like sometimes in the NHL. He was just so fast and so skilled and making plays at such a high pace.”
He said the chemistry between Bains and linemate Ben King was uncanny. The duo were first and second in league scoring this season. King is eligible to be drafted this year.
Hackett believes that playing under Sutter helped add an edge to Bains’ skill game.
“He’s a high-end offensive talent who can be creative and make plays but also isn’t afraid to mix it up,” he said. “I think his physicality is kind of a tribute to Brent who may have told him that if you want to make it to the next level you can’t just be skilled – you have to play a gritty game sometimes.”
Sutter said he thinks Bains has all the tools to be an effective pro.
“He’s a skilled player, he’s good along the boards and puck battles,” he said. “Very good one-on-one, has a good shot. He has become so much stronger, bigger and more mature since he came to us as a 16 year old. I’ve had many talks with him about the pro level and everyday is an important one. You can’t take days off and you have to focus. I know he’s looking forward to the challenge and I think he’ll hit it head on.”
Hackett said another attribute of Bains he’s seen in recent years is his willingness to step up and be a role model for the South Asian community.
“I think he realizes what kind of an impact he can have,” he said. “He’s sort of starting to embrace that role as a mentor and as a public figure in the community. I think that’s something that has become more and more important to him as he’s grown.”
Bains signed a three-year entry level deal with the Canucks on March 11 and it’s believed that he will get a chance to play significant minutes in Abbotsford this coming season.
Truly honoured & grateful to sign a contract with my childhood team the @Canucks It’s a dream come true. I would like to thank the @Rebelshockey for helping me reach my goal, thank you to my family, teammates, billets & @LiveSportsEnter for everything they’ve done. pic.twitter.com/vCWG1L0iCG— Arshdeep Bains (@20_bains) March 11, 2022