Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks)
Camps are now officially underway and the speculations of roster sports are already running rapidly through the sports media in hockey crazed towns. Put Vancouver near the top of that list, as the conversations are already underway with the top topics being about who will be the 3rd line center, which kids will make the team and who will provide the secondary scoring that the team desperately needs. Hence the focus of the 3rd installment of my Vancouver Canucks Preview segment, it’s all about the roster.
Let’s start with the easy one, Roberto Loungo is the #1 goalie, again. After a long and drawn out saga that lasted 2 years and consisted of the distractions surrounding a timeline of when Cory Schneider will take over as #1, followed by when will Loungo be traded, to the shock of the draft day that saw Schneider traded away for a pick – let me go on record and say, “It’s about time this story is put to bed, for good!”
Loungo is one of the best goalies in the world, he will be at the Olympics, he is the backbone of the Canucks success and he is an intense competitor with an enormous amount of pride. Vancouver fans better get on this guys back, for the right reasons, as he will be who carries this team to the promise land, if they have any chance at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The backup role is a little more intriguing this season, as there is a leading candidate in Eddie Lack, however, because of an injury last season and the recent signing of Joacim Eriksson, there seems to be a minor battle brewing and it will be interesting to watch and see how they both perform in the pre-season.
Preseason Report Card: A-
You can’t go wrong with a goalie of Loungo’s talent and for the diehard fans tracking the backups, both options have shown on a smaller stage that they can win, add in that they will only grow with the tutelage of a world class goalie as a teammate, and the future of the position looks to be stable.
The Canucks have already put their Top 5 d-men in ink on the depth chart and the real battle is for the final spot in the starting lineup versus being listed as #7 or #8. In my opinion, those 3 spots have names already penciled in and it is more of guess on who earns which spot is what training camp is going to determine. Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Jason Garrison, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev are the locks to start but the guys competing for the open spots include Andrew Alberts, Frank Corrado and Yannick Weber. I anticipate that they already have Alberts slotted in at #7 and are evaluating Corrado and Weber for the final starting spot.
Corrado made some noise last season with an introduction to the Canadian tryouts for the World Junior Championships, only to fall short and got sent home. But he did make a good enough impression to get on the radar and eventually earned some NHL playing time late in the season and even started in the playoffs. Corrado has already caught the eye of spectators with his powerful shot from the point, which was recently put on display during the rookie games in Penticton, BC earlier this month.
Weber comes to the Canucks from Montreal, where he struggled to keep a starting role after being touted as a solid defender with a booming shot from the point and the having the constantly immeasurable tag of having a “large upside”.
I predict that Weber will get the nod because he has a one way contract and that the ease of moving Corrado up and down from the minors with his two-way contract. If Corrado does impress and outperform his competition, I would fully expect the Canucks to carry 8 defensemen on the roster to start the season.
Preseason Report Card: B-
The defense core is intact from last season and they will have the benefit of not having a revolving door behind them. I expect this to sure up some of the issues the group had last season as they can get in a rhythm with their starting goalies preferred style of play and communication methods and I believe the continuity of the unit will improve as a result. The challenges will be that they need to be more physical, they will need to show the new coach they can block shots, stay healthy and on the offensive end of the ice, they will need to get the puck through on the powerplay, something that haunted the team last year.
Much like the defense, the Canucks have a core group of players that have been together for a while and are the main group of players that helped take this team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Daniel Sedin and Henrick Sedin are back and if the reports are accurate, they are attempting to get pen to paper on a contract that would allow them to retire as Canucks. Since inking their last contract, the Sedin Twins are number 2 and 5 in the NHL for overall points scored during that span, a luxury that Canucks fans seem to under appreciate at times and take for granted.
Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen will be back as the heart and soul players on the roster. Kesler needs to make it through the season without a major injury, as the last 2 seasons have plagued the aggressive 2nd line center, which has caused all kinds of secondary scoring issues for the team. Alex Burrows will be back with the Sedin’s for the majority of the season. No matter how many times he is moved around to help spark other players or to increase the teams energy on other lines, the chemistry he has with the twins is the best on the roster. Other teammates will get their shot with the twins but when the Canucks are playing their best hockey, Burrows is on that top line. Jannik Hansen was the teams 3rd highest point producer last season, behind the Sedin brothers. Hansen, has continually improved every year he’s played in the NHL and has earned the praises of the Canucks faithful through his tenatious efforts and utilization of his speed on every shift. If Hansen ever develops a finishing touch, he will be a 30 plus goal scorer but right now he is the most effective 3rd line player on the team.
Chris Higgins, David Booth, Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder are in a season where they need to prove their worth. Booth has been a bust since arriving from the Florida Panthers in 2011 and after scoring only one goal all of last season and being injured multiple times in his short stint with the club, the power forward needs to step up or ship out this season.
Higgins, has been a solid performer when healthy and his biggest hurdle this season will be avoiding injury. If he can stay in the lineup then the Canucks 3rd line will have two fast wingers in Higgins and Hansen to support the unknown 3rd line center.
Kassian needs to show improvement and signs of the player that is expected to be this team’s modern version of Todd Bertuzzi or Cam Neely. The lofty expectations attached to Kassian’s career come because of who the team traded away to get him, Cody Hodgson. Hodgson just inked a new 6 year deal in Buffalo, which will only increase the microscope on Kassian in the eyes of the fans.
Jordan Schroeder has yet to live up to the expectations set against him on his draft day. Billed as a second line scorer that was supposed to be the second half of a young scoring threat that included Hodgson, however, he has yet to show any consistency in the AHL and has not taken full advantage of his opportunities with the big club. It is now his time to wipe the slate clean with the new coach and fresh eyes but ultimately he needs to show that he is ready to be a mainstay in Vancouver or he may be one of the early season bargaining chips for Mike Gillis.
And then there is the rest of the group vying for a spot. Brad Richardson is a reasonable 4th line center to replace the departed Maxime Lapierre and is an overall upgrade in talent, apparent leadership and he has a Stanley Cup ring from his time in LA. The trouble the Canucks face is, are they going to require him to stretch his talents and play as the 3rd line center, as there is no clear cut choice at the start of camp. Dale Weise, Mike Santorelli and Tom Sestito are in tough and will be trying to earn their time on the ice. All three are quick skaters and Sestito and Weise add some toughness but what will set them apart from one another will be their ability to show the hockey skills required in today’s NHL. I give my nod to Mike Santorelli but this battle will be fun to watch throughout training camp.
Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen and Hunter Shinkaruk are the young guns waiting in the wings to take the spots of veterans not earning their stripes. Unlike previous years, there is some excitement around the youngsters. Gaunce is a big center that has the potential to earn that 3rd line job but the question will be around his defensive abilities. At the rookie camp, it was reported that he played better as a winger when the coaching staff started juggling the lines up after a lackluster start in one of the games. I don’t feel Gaunce is ready to take the leap this seasons but I expect him to get a long look and be challenging for a roster spot next season.
Horvat carries the weight of being the man that was drafted as a result of the Schneider trade. The fans have already put the pressure on him to perform and I feel they will be expecting too much too soon from the young prospect. However, I foresee Horvat being on the Canucks throughout the year, challenging for the 3rd line center job and he will be a draft pick that the fans will be excited about having on the roster for years to come.
Jensen will be in tough to crack the regular roster this season but he is a promising prospect that appears ready to step in if Booth falters or falls to another injury. I expect Jensen to start in the AHL but will be the first call as the injuries appear throughout the season and depending on whom he steps in to the line up to replace, he will make it tough on the management team to decide on if he should be sent back down to the minors.
Shinkaruk is a little smaller of a player but an exceptional talent. I haven’t seen enough of him to gauge if he will make the team this season but if all the reports out of the rookie camps are accurate, if he doesn’t make the squad this season the odds are he will be in the running for next season. He is the one rookie I am intrigued to learn more about as he has been under the radar with all the hype surrounding Bo Horvat.
Preseason Report Card: C
With so many unknowns and until some of the questions are answered by the play on the ice, it is hard to give a higher grade. If the likes of Kesler, Booth and Higgins are all healthy and producing then the Canucks secondary scoring should be taken care of and the team will be tough to beat night in and night out.