The 2020-21 NHL season starts on Jan. 13, and the Vancouver Canucks will start their training camp on Jan. 3. Canucks fans had a few players to watch for at last year’s training camp. Rookie Quinn Hughes, returnees such as Jake Virtanen, and new additions in J.T. Miller, Tyler Myers and Micheal Ferland were some of the players watched closely.
Canucks fans have a few players to watch at this year’s training camp. The club lost multiple key players this offseason, meaning general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green will be looking for players to fill holes throughout the lineup. The organization released a list with 36 skaters and four goalies who will attend camp.
With the loss of Tyler Toffoli, the Canucks have an open slot in the top six. Their 2019 second-round pick, Nils Hoglander, has an opportunity to crack the team’s opening day lineup. Hoglander’s point per game (P/GP) has increased over his three seasons in the SHL.
Along with his top-end skill, Hoglander has improved defensively, which allows him to play on any line. The 2019 second-round pick will likely line up with Bo Horvat and match up against the opponent’s top players. The only concern for Hoglander is if he is ready to take on an important role, as it may hurt his development.
Hoglander may not be on the opening day roster for the Canucks, but he will be an option at some point next season and should be a part of the taxi squad. During the season, the Canucks will have a six-man taxi squad to replace the Utica Comets.
Virtanen is once again a player to watch at training camp. At last year’s camp, Virtanen was the only player who struggled during the bag skate and seemed out of shape. The 2014 first-round pick had an up and down 2019-20 season. He hit a career-high in goals (18) and points (36) but struggled in the playoffs, as he registered two goals and three points in 16 games.
Benning was not happy with Virtanen’s postseason performance, but still re-signed the forward for two years with an average annual value of $2.55 million. Virtanen will have an opportunity to redeem himself for his previous performances by showing up to camp in shape and ready to compete for top-six minutes to start next season.
The Canucks lost Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher this offseason, but traded a 2022 third-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Nate Schmidt.
The 29-year-old will play on the right side of the defence, likely with Alex Edler. Schmidt improves the D-group as he adds mobility. Outside of Hughes, the Canucks weren’t great at moving the puck from the backend.
“We’re really excited to be getting a player and person of Nate’s quality. We needed to address our defence and Nate checks a lot of boxes. He’s been a really good player in this league and he’s going to help our young guys and our team get better moving forward.”Benning said on the addition of Schmidt.
Jalen Chatfield, Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty and Jack Rathbone
Though Schmidt covers up to one of the holes left on defence, the Canucks will need one of their prospects to step in to cover up the other. Olli Juolevi, Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty and Jack Rathbone will be fighting for a roster spot throughout training camp.
Canucks fans have been waiting for Juolevi to play on the main roster since he was drafted in 2016. The first-round pick is expected to make the opening day lineup. Juolevi posted 25 points in 45 games with the Comets last season. Chatfield is also a candidate for the Canucks’ bottom pair next season and has spent the past three seasons with the Comets.
Rafferty and Rathbone are behind the other two and could play sometime during the season. Rafferty scored seven goals and 45 points in 57 games during his lone season with the Comet last season. Rathbone, the Canucks’ top defensive prospect, will likely play during the season.
Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby
Goaltender Jacob Markstrom was the Canucks’ MVP last season but joined the Calgary Flames through free agency. Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby will split starts during the 2020-21 season and will get an opportunity to show who will take up a majority of those starts. Demko ended last season on a high note, as he helped the club force a Game 7 against the Golden Knights, while Holtby had one of his worst seasons based on his .897 save percentage.
Training camp will be an opportunity for both of them to start the season off right and prove themselves. For Demko, he gets to prove his performance in the playoffs was not a fluke. As for Holtby, he can prove he still has the ability to perform at a higher level than he did last season. The veteran goaltender previously won a Stanley Cup and the Vezina Trophy with the Washington Capitals.
Other Players Have an Opportunity
The Canucks have other players who will get to prove themselves at training camp as well. Kole Lind, Will Lockwood, Jonah Gadjovich and Jett Woo are a few prospects to get an opportunity in the 2020-21 season. The forwards will be battling with Virtanen and Hoglander for a main roster spot, while Woo can establish himself with the four other defence prospects at camp.
Training camp will be a lot different than normal. There will not be any exhibition games this season, so all of the competition between Canucks players will be at training camp.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.