Unfortunately, the words preseason and training camp always seem to go hand in hand with the word injury. The Vancouver Canucks know this all too well as they have had to deal with them every preseason, especially when it comes to Brock Boeser. When the puck drops against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 12, he will not be in the lineup for the second-straight season opener, this time after suffering an injury to his hand in Whistler. In fact, it was significant enough to require surgery and a rehab period of 3-4 weeks.
Coupled with the undisclosed injury to Ilya Mikheyev, who got hit awkwardly into the boards in the first preseason game against the Calgary Flames, the Canucks could be down two top-nine forwards when the season opens in a few short weeks. Nils Hoglander figures to fill one of the spots after a strong camp, but that still leaves room for potentially one more if Mikheyev has to miss the opener as well.
That begs the question, could Danila Klimovich or Linus Karlsson actually make the Canucks’ opening night roster as a result of these injuries? They certainly have both made a strong case through the Young Stars Classic, training camp and one preseason game so far.
Klimovich Looks Ready to Showcase His Skills in the NHL
After a somewhat underwhelming season in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he put up only eight goals and 18 points in 62 games, Klimovich appears ready to have a sophomore surge in 2022-23. Arguably one of the best prospects in the entire Young Stars tournament, he stood out amongst not only his peers but also players with a much higher draft pedigree. His playmaking shone the most as he made several NHL-caliber passes to his linemates – one, in particular, that would have made Henrik Sedin take notice.
Feeding the puck through several skates and sticks is what the former Canucks captain did time and time again throughout his career and Klimovich did it with relative ease on that Tristen Nielsen goal. Yes, it was against young defencemen and forwards still learning their craft, but that shouldn’t take away from how brilliant that pass was.
Needless to say, Nielsen has been impressed with the “Klim Reaper” for some time now as he played alongside him in Abbotsford last season. “He’s so deceptive, he’s got the hardest wrist shot I’ve ever seen and every once in a while he’ll have the goalie thinking he’s shooting then just slide it over, really skilled.”
Klimovich’s next challenge is impressing the Canucks’ coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the opening night roster. While the path is still a rocky one, it got a little smoother with the injury to Boeser and the day-to-day status of Mikheyev. If the latter is indeed out for the beginning of the season, could fans see Klimovich alongside Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko to start the 2022-23 campaign? It’s definitely possible considering the other options are Hoglander and a fourth-liner like Curtis Lazar, Jason Dickinson, Dakota Joshua or Sheldon Dries.
Unfortunately, Klimovich’s first chance to make an impression in the preseason didn’t go very well. Even though he had two shots on goal and a glorious scoring chance that Dan Vladar got a toe on, the coaching staff won’t like that he gave the puck away at the blue line which eventually led to the 2-0 goal by Cody Eakin. If he can rebound from that performance with more talent around him, he might still have a chance to win a spot in the lineup come opening night.
Karlsson Also Appears to Be NHL-Ready, May Be More So Than Klimovich
Another young forward hoping to stand out in the preseason is Karlsson, who like Klimovich turned heads in both Penticton and Whistler. Walking away as one of the top scorers at the Young Stars Classic with three goals, he was noticeable in every game with his shot, playmaking and overall two-way skillset. He even got the attention of his projected head coach Jeremy Colliton who will take over behind the bench in Abbotsford this season.
He makes little plays, he’s not just a shooter. He thinks the game well and it is just a matter of finding a way to get himself into that half of the rink where he’s super dangerous.
Part of the same split squad that lost 4-0 in Calgary, Karlsson saw 16:39 of ice time where he had two scoring chances, one high-danger chance and two shots on goal. Impressing fans and media alike on Twitter with his quick shot, he definitely looks the closest of all the prospects to being NHL-ready at this point.
Karlsson might also have a better chance than Klimovich at sticking with the big club since his defensive game is more well-rounded. With either Conor Garland or Vasily Podkolzin potentially moving up to play with Pettersson or J.T. Miller, there could be a spot on Bo Horvat’s line which requires more heavy lifting defensively. Nonetheless, his performance so far in training camp and the preseason has given coaches and management something to think about.
Who Will Seize the Opportunity?
With two preseason games in the books, the Canucks have five more on the schedule for Karlsson and Klimovich to impress the coaches enough to earn a spot come Oct. 12. It will still be tough with the amount of experienced forwards in camp, but that doesn’t mean one of them can’t force their way onto the roster in spite of that. We’ve seen it before with Tyler Motte, Peter Schaefer, Adam Cracknell and others who had long odds coming in only to see their name on the final lineup card going into the season. Hard work usually pays off and with the skill and top-nine potential both of them have, they have as good a chance as anyone to grab one of those open spots if Boeser and Mikheyev are not available against the Oilers on opening night.
Advanced stats were taken from Natural Stat Trick
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.