Hockey is finally back. The 2014 Young Stars Tournament in Pentiction, British Columbia marks the unofficial beginning of the hockey season. From September 12th through 15th the best available prospects from the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames face each other in a round robin tournament to kick off each team’s training camp. The tournament is a fabulous showcase for prospects to begin to garner a name for themselves and for fans to get their first glimpses of their team’s youngsters in a professional hockey environment.
Tonight the Vancouver Canucks began the tournament facing off against the Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks boast arguably their most talented prospects group in the franchise’s history as they enter the tournament with six 1st round picks and a plethora of intriguing players. However the Canucks were hard hit by injuries and illness resulting in four Canucks prospects including both of Vancouver’s 2014 first round picks (Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann) to miss the tournament.
The game tonight was won by the Edmonton Oilers’ prospects in a 4-3 affair that saw a lot of tentative play and youthful mistakes as the players began to shake off the rust from the off-season.
The Edmonton Oilers dominated the first half of the game with a 14-2 shot count at the end of the first period which saw fantastic goaltending from Canucks camp invite Austin Lotz. The Canucks rallied towards the end of the second period and managed to force an overtime with a 3-3 score on two goals from Curtis Valk and a goal from Dane Fox. With less than four minutes left to go in overtime Oilers prospect Mitch Moroz scored his second goal of the game to win the contest for Edmonton.
Is a problem quietly brewing in the Canucks’ system?
A subject that’s becoming something of a controversy among the Canucks’ faithful became glaringly obvious during the game. The Canucks haven’t drafted a defenseman in the 1st round in ten years and haven’t drafted defense in the 2nd round in seven.
Entering the tournament with no defensemen drafted above the 4th round the Canucks backend noticeably had difficulty adapting to the professional game as there were several turnovers, defensive miscues and difficulty transitioning out of their own zone. However Canucks prospect Jordan Subban stood out with slick skating, puck handling and offensive acumen. The 19-year old Subban drew comparisons through the course of the game to playing like his Norris trophy winning brother PK Subban.
Canucks offense led by unlikely suspects
The Canucks’ forward group turned in a fair showing tonight as camp invite Curtis Valk scored two goals and put together an impressive showing. Valk managed to impress while playing an unfamiliar position at center and anchoring the third line.
The Canucks also received an impressive showing from Canucks’ free agent signing Dane Fox who scored a goal while displaying an impressive shot and the ability to get it on net from anywhere in the offensive zone. Fox drew a lot of praise from Canucks’ fans who describe his game as being a combination of Steve Ott and Brett Hull.
Canucks’ 2013 1st round picks Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk both turned in decent but fairly quiet performances. Shinkaruk who’s received a lot of attention for his skillset and personality has arguably the most tantalizing potential of any prospect in the Canucks’ system.
Tonight was Shinkaruk’s first game since 2013 as he battled injuries last season. The 19-year old Shinkaruk showed flashes of his potential with a few nifty passes in the offensive zone, good defensive play on the penalty kill and surprising chirpiness towards a much bigger Oilers’ team. But it’s clear Shinkaruk is still working through a good amount of rust while trying to find his timing and game at a higher level. One also has to question his durability at the pro level given his size and the nature of his game.
Bo Horvat had a quiet but efficient game displaying his hockey intelligence. The 19-year old worked as the top line center and on the first unit of both the power play and penalty kill. Horvat displayed a mature defensive game and veteran positioning. Canucks fans are still waiting to see the depth of Horvat’s offensive game and just what his potential upside is. But at this point it looks like he could comfortably handle bottom six minutes in the NHL without looking out of place.
Western Hockey League invitee impresses in Canucks’ debut
One of the biggest standouts tonight was Everett Silvertips goaltender Austin Lotz who saved 29 of 33 shots. The 19-year old camp tryout suppressed an impressive barrage of Oilers’ offense in the first period and kept the Canucks competitive throughout the game. Lotz was an excellent goaltender in the Western Hockey League last season winning 33 games for the Everett Silvertips and played a decent game tonight for the Canucks.
The next game for the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 Young Stars Tournament is Sunday September 14th at 2:00 PM against the Winnipeg Jets. The game will once again be streamed on Canucks.com
Bubba Lackey enjoys writing about hockey. Bubba Lackey is a doctor of journalism and a master of the Anaconda Vice. You can read more of Bubba Lackey’s ramblings at http://www.bubbalackey.com