Even though the offseason was only two months long, it probably seemed like a lifetime for hockey fans. Thankfully, training camps have begun in earnest and the regular season is now only weeks away. The Vancouver Canucks kicked off their camp with two groups skating back-to-back on Thursday and after an offseason full of speculation, we finally have some new stuff to talk about.
I was at training camp for the first time as a member of the media, it was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to the next two days. Here are a few things I walked away with from Day 1.
Green’s Bag Skate Returns With a Vengence
Ever since Travis Green became head coach of the Canucks, his bag skates have become a barometer for conditioning and fitness. As much as you don’t want to read into the results, you do anyway. There were standouts in Nils Hoglander and Phil Di Giuseppe who blew away the competition and Danila Klimovich who held his own in his first NHL training camp, but there were also players who lagged behind too.
If you were on Twitter Thursday morning, you probably heard a lot about Ekman-Larsson’s performance at the bag skate. He was definitely bagged afterward (pardon the pun), but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt as Green’s training camps are notoriously hard on players. He emphasizes work ethic and conditioning, and Ekman-Larsson was just not ready for it. Olli Juolevi also looked exhausted as he collapsed onto the ice and stayed down for what seemed like forever. Needless to say, the bag skate struck again this year.
Podkolzin Was Noticeable…Again
Fresh off his superb performance at Rookie Camp, rookie Vasily Podkolzin looked good once again, this time skating with the big boys. Deployed on a line with veteran J.T. Miller and newcomer Conor Garland, he didn’t look out of place as he skated hard in his drills and showcased his hard, accurate shot on multiple occasions. If he continues on this upward trajectory, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be in the Calder Trophy conversation and the end of the season.
When it came time for the bag skate, Podkolzin and Miller were step for step as the leaders in their group. Conditioning was definitely not a problem for the Canucks’ future dynamic duo. Oh right, Podkolzin was also one of the last players off the ice as he joined future Abbotsford Canuck, Jarid Lukosevicius in gathering up all the pucks at the end of practice. Character and hard work are just in his nature, period.
Debut of New Line Combinations and Defence Pairings
|Nils Hoglander||Nic Petan||Brock Boeser|
|Conor Garland||J.T. Miller||Vasily Podkolzin|
|Tanner Pearson||Bo Horvat||Zack MacEwen|
|Phillip Di Giuseppe||Jason Dickinson||Alex Chiasson|
I already mentioned the intriguing line of Garland, Miller, and Podkolzin, but there were other lines that were unveiled on Thursday as well. Hoglander was NOT seen with his normal centerman Bo Horvat, but with Nic Petan and Brock Boeser. Petan was taking Pettersson’s usual spot beside Boeser and looked solid while doing it. When he was signed earlier in the offseason, everyone was penciling him in on the top line in Abbotsford, not Vancouver. If he impresses the brass in training camp and the preseason, he might parlay that into an opening night roster spot.
Horvat was reunited with his old friend Tanner Pearson who has played with him almost exclusively since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Zack MacEwen joined them as their winger and could have the inside track on two of the fourth-line spots that are currently available with Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter missing from the lineup.
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||Tucker Poolman|
|Olli Juolevi||Tyler Myers|
|Jack Rathbone||Luke Schenn/Viktor Persson|
As expected, Green paired his two newest defencemen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman together. They will likely be the matchup pairing going into the regular season and probably will log a lot of minutes on the back end for the Canucks. Despite their history of mediocre underlying stats, they looked very good as a pairing on Thursday. Yes, it was practice and against their own teammates, but they seemed to read well off each other. They also made a couple of solid defensive plays on a few of the drills.
After mentoring a young up-and-coming defenceman in Quinn Hughes the last time he was in a Canucks uniform, Luke Schenn is taking on a similar role with Jack Rathbone. He was seen regularly talking with the young defenceman as they executed their drills and could be the same calming influence for him that he was for Hughes back when he was a rookie.
Emptying the Notebook on Day 1 of Training Camp
- Despite being 5-foot-9, Connor Lockhart battled hard on Day 1 with a number of bigger forwards and never came away as one of the losers. Continuing his impressive run at Rookie Camp, he should be interesting to watch in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season.
- Ditto for Tristen Nielsen, who had good jump in his first NHL training camp. As Vancouver Giants’ fans will tell you, that’s just par for the course for the undrafted winger.
- After signing a PTO contract with the Canucks on Wednesday, Alex Chiasson debuted on a line with Di Giuseppe and Jason Dickinson. With his 101 goals and 202 points in 564 games on his resume, he will be given every chance to earn a contract for 2021-22. Injuries to Motte and Sutter should help his cause too.
That’s a wrap for Day 1 of Canucks Training Camp. The fun continues on Friday as the same two groups will take to the ice for Day 2. The Hockey Writers will be there to bring you all the action, as the countdown continues for the start of the preseason on Sept 26 against the Seattle Kraken.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.