In this edition of Vancouver Canucks’ News and Rumors, we go over news from the team’s practice on Wednesday. The team iced a lineup during practice which is telling of where certain players will be playing. In the post-practice media scrum, the team had their captain Bo Horvat, defenceman Brad Hunt and Philip Di Giuseppe speak.
The Canucks held practice with their main group on Wednesday. The lineup the coaching staff put together gives an idea of where certain players (not all) will play heading into the season.
Head coach Travis Green noted the team has gone with a more veteran lineup this year than usual to develop chemistry with a few new bodies on the roster. The lines at practice will not be exactly the same once Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes sign their extension. Also, though Brock Boeser is lined up on the fourth line, that will not be the case once the season starts.
The first noticeable player is J.T. Miller centring the second line. The forward usually slots in on the first line left wing, but Green has decided to test him out at centre without Pettersson. There is a chance if the club does reach an agreement with the Swedish forward that Miller still plays at centre at times during the season. Near the tail end of the 2020-21 season, he played centre when the team was short on forwards. Placing him at centre allows Green to run three lines with one of his top players on each line. This could work well for the club with their talented group of wingers in Boeser, Tanner Pearson and Nils Hogalnder, Conor Garland and Vasili Podkolzin.
If the team decides to play Miller on the wing instead, they will still have a quality third-line centre in the newly acquired Jason Dickinson. He will provide the team with a quality two-way line, and from the looks of the lineup on Wednesday, Hoglander could start the season on his line. He has the right tools to be an effective winger for Dickinson and provide the Canucks with some much-needed depth scoring.
Brandon Sutter has been out for the start of training camp with some fatigue but has tested negative for COVID-19. With uncertainty surrounding when he will be back, Nic Petan is slated as the fourth line centre and could start the season on there. Additionally, Alex Chaisson, Zach MacEwen, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Matthew Highmore and Justin Dowling will be fighting for a bottom-six role and depth spots during the remainder of the preseason.
On defence, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman seem to be Green’s go-to pairing. Meanwhile, Jack Rathbone is playing with Luke Schenn and Hunt is paired up with Myers. It is likely the pairing of Ekman-Larsson and Poolman stay together to start the season. Meanwhile, the Rathbone and Schenn pairing seems to be a placeholder for Hughes and Travis Hamonic while they are still away from the team.
Myers is a lock to be on the opening day roster, but Hunt will be fighting for his role with Rathbone and Olli Juolevi. The battle for the left side of the third d-pairing continues between the three. For now, Rathbone seems to be the most likely option, while Hunt may start the season as a depth defenceman, and Juolevi could be sent to play in Abbotsford.
Hunt believes the competition between him and the two younger defenders should help all three of them improve instead of creating any animosity between them. The veteran is looking to help them learn while at the same time learn a bit from them. Lastly, if Hamonic returns, Schenn will be a depth defenceman on the team. If he decides to opt-out or retires, then Juolevi could be the depth defender while Schenn plays in the opening day lineup.
DI Giuseppe Believes He Is an NHLer
Di Giuseppe has had a good training camp so far. He did well in the bag skate, as well as the scrimmages. He has spent most of his pro career splitting time between the NHL and AHL but believes he has the abilities to play in the NHL in the long run. Throughout his six-year NHL career, he has played in 201 games, scoring 16 goals and posting 53 points with three different teams. The former second-round pick said he was a pure skill player while playing at the University of Michigan, but as he has progressed, he has developed the defensive side of his game.
Green had the forward slated in on the third line left wing. The combination of himself and Hoglander on Dickinson’s wings could give the Canucks a checking third line, which could pitch in offensively as well.
Horvat on Two Power-Play Units
With the addition of Ekman-Larsson and Garland, the Canucks will now be able to spread out the offence on both power-play units instead of loading up the first one. Horvat noted two power-play units will create competition between the two groups. He added a part of the reason the team was successful two years ago was that they had two good groups on the man advantage. Along with the two former Arizona Coyotes and the captain, the team also has Pettersson, Hughes, Boeser, Miller, Hoglander, Podkolzin and Pearson as offensive weapons.
Chaisson is on a player tryout with the team and has been successful on the man advantage in the past. Out of his 101 NHL goals, 32 have been on the power play, and out of his 202 points, 60 have been on the man advantage. If the team decides to sign him, he could be an option earlier in the season while the team waits for rookie Podkolzin to catch up.
Canucks Return to Play in Front of Their Fans
The Canucks will finally play in front of fans against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, Oct 3rd, at Rogers Arena. This will be the first time Rogers Arena will have fans attending a Canucks’ game since March 2020. In order to attend games, fans will have to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination before entering the arena.
On Wednesday, Horvat said how excited he is to be able to play in front of fans. The team played in front of fans in their 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames in Abbotsford on Monday. He noted it felt like they were playing in the NHL again, and the crowd’s reaction scared him the first time the team scored, even though the arena was at half capacity.
“I can’t say enough, it was awesome to be back in front of fans again,” Horvat told the media. “Can’t wait to have them back in building this season.”
Waiting on Hamonic and Preseason Continues
In other news, the team will find out what Hamonic’s decision is on Friday, Oct 1st. His decision is an important one as it will dictate what the team’s next move is. If Hamonic decides to return, the team will go on with the Pettersson and Hughes negotiations as is. If he decides to opt-out or retires, the Canucks will likely have to search for a replacement and use a bit of the newly acquired cap space to help them in the negotiations. The Canucks preseason continues with a game in Calgary against the Flames on Friday.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.