The Vancouver Canucks’ 2021-22 regular season starts on the road in Edmonton on Oct 13th against the Oilers. Before the regular season starts, the team will hold their training camp in Abbotsford from Sept 23rd to Sept 25th. Training camp will be followed by a seven-game preseason from Sept 26th to Oct 9th. The team announced its 54 player roster for their 2021-22 training camp on Wednesday.
Last season, the Canucks entered training camp with higher expectations for their team. Since there were quite a few roster changes to the team, there were a few players to watch out for, including rookie Nils Hoglander, new addition Nate Schmidt and Jake Virtanen. Hoglander may have been one of the biggest highlights of training camp, as he started on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. He went on to have an impressive and exciting rookie season. Meanwhile, Schmidt looked promising in training camp but had a disappointing regular season, and the team traded him to the Winnipeg Jets in the offseason. Virtanen received a two-year contract extension and had an opportunity to seize a top-six spot with Tyler Toffoli’s departure. Instead, he failed to do so and was on leave from the team after sexual misconduct allegations against him. The Canucks bought him out in the offseason.
This year, the team is entering with the hope they can bounce back to the team fans saw in the 2019-20 season. They finished the 2020-21 season last place in the North Division with a 23-29-4 record. General manager Jim Benning has been busy this offseason, trading and signing multiple players to improve the roster. Benning still has to sign his two cornerstone players in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. Still, the Canucks have a few players to watch this season, from the new players acquired to the rookies making their NHL debut.
Vasili Podkolzin was the player to watch at rookie camp last weekend and will be one of the players to watch throughout training camp. The Russian is making his first appearance at a Canucks’ training camp since being drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft. He can one day be a top forward on the team and is key to the organization’s future success.
Over three days, he will have an opportunity to show exactly where he fits in on the lineup. Podkolzin will likely play in the middle-six, with a chance of being a winger on Horvat’s line. Since being drafted, he has been seen as the ideal linemate for the captain as he brings a two-way style that fits Horvat. His teammates have already expressed just how good the rookie is looking leading up to training camp.
Podkolzin has an opportunity to join the likes of Brock Boeser, Pettersson, Hughes and Hoglander in making an early impact on the team. A good showing at training camp could lead to another Calder Trophy for a Canucks rookie.
Conor Garland & Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The highlight of the Canucks’ offseason has been the trade to add Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Both players are expected to play a crucial part for the club next season. Garland is the player in the trade people are mostly excited about as he has the potential to be a quality top-six forward for the team. He is expected to start the season on the second line with Horvat. Training camp should give a better idea of how well the two play together. He could be on pace to posting career numbers with his new club.
As for Ekman-Larsson, he was the controversial part of the deal with the Arizona Coyotes. The former Coyotes captain joins the team with a $7.260 million cap hit for the next six years. Although he may not have played as well as his contract would suggest over the past few seasons, the Swedish defender can still bounce back with the Canucks. A fresh start, along with the opportunity to win with a young and promising core, is something that excites the veteran defenceman. Training camp will give an idea of where Ekman-Larsson stands at this point in his career and if the new start in Vancouver has motivated him.
“It’s a great fit. That’s why I wanted to come here. I really like the team. I think all the young guys are going to be in their prime, and we’re going to have a chance to win. That’s what it’s all about.”Ekman Larsson on coming to Vancouver.
Both players allow the Canucks to have two power-play units instead of one. Along with Podkozlin, Hoglander and Tanner Pearson, Green now has options for the man advantage.
Jack Rathbone, Olli Juolevi & Brad Hunt
Green noted during Wednesday’s media availability he sees Jack Rathbone, Olli Juolevi, and Brad Hunt fighting for the third pairing left defenceman spot. He added the player who plays the best out of the three will earn the spot.
Although Rathbone is still a rookie entering the 2021-22 season, he played in eight games last season, scoring a goal and posting three points. He also posted nine points in eight AHL games with the Utica Comets last season. Rathbone is the least experienced out of the three, but he brings offensive upside and skates well, which allows him to recover well when he is backchecking.
As for Juolevi, he played in 23 games last season, scoring two goals and posting three points. He is great at moving the puck and was useful for the Canucks in a limited third-pairing role. At 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, he is the biggest out of the three defenders and uses his size and strength while battling for the puck. His biggest weakness is his mobility, as he tends to get burned on the rush and has a hard time turning around fast enough.
Hunt is entering his ninth NHL season. Through 191 games, he has scored 19 goals and posted 59 points. Out of the three, the veteran defenceman might be the best player defensively, something the Canucks could use. His signing this offseason seemed to be a depth signing, but Green has thrown his name in as someone who may start the season on the blueline.
Benning stated Tyler Motte had an upper-body injury and had surgery during the summer. The forward will not be skating with the main group of players during training camp, and Benning is not sure if he will start the season or not. With Motte’s absence, multiple depth forwards will have an opportunity to play on the team’s fourth line to start the season.
Players with NHL experience in Justin Bailey, Phil Di Giuseppe, Justin Dowling, Matthew Highmore, Zach MacEwen and Nic Petan are likely candidates to fill in on the fourth line. Jonah Gadjovich played in one game last season and is a player who can squeak into the lineup through training camp. William Lockwood played in two games last season, and similar to Gadjovich, he could steal a spot on the fourth line.
The Canucks also signed Alex Chaisson to a professional tryout contract on Wednesday. He has scored 101 goals and posted 202 points through 564 NHL games.
Canucks Training Camp Kicks Off 2021-22 Season
After a disappointing 2020-21 season and an eventful 2021 offseason, the Canucks’ 2021-22 season kicks off with the start of training camp. Last season, Hoglander was a player to watch and emerged as one of the shining lights in a tough season for the franchise. Meanwhile, Schmidt looked promising but struggled to play well throughout the season. From the start of Podkolzin’s NHL career to the start of Garland and Ekman-Larsson’s time with the Canucks, there is a lot to watch at training camp.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.