The Vancouver Canucks finally got back on the ice as a full team for their first day of training camp on Monday. After the on-ice session where all but two regular Canucks skated in line rushes and drills, general manager Jim Benning, head coach Travis Green, and several players were made available to the media. There was plenty to be said, especially after such a long break between team practices. Almost to man, the sentiment was that “the pause” was like the offseason and that the qualifying round felt like another season was about to start.
I’m sure it did feel that way especially since they haven’t played games in any shape or form since the end of March. All I have to say is that it sure feels good to start writing about some actual stuff happening on the ice. So enough of the preamble, let’s get into some news and notes from the first-ever Canucks training camp held in the middle of July.
Boeser Is Not Going Anywhere
You knew it was coming especially when Benning was the first person to take questions on the Zoom call. Almost out of nowhere, rumours started flying on the weekend about the Canucks exploring trade possibilities involving young sniper Brock Boeser. A Twitter storm erupted and speculation ran rampant about the possible destinations and return for the star forward. It didn’t take long for Benning to quell the rumours though.
We’ve been happy with him since we drafted him…I don’t know where this stuff comes from. I have no intention of trading Brock Boeser.
So there you have it straight from the horse’s mouth. Now many people will probably say that Benning would never publicly admit putting a player on the trade block, but when a GM personally assures said player that he’s not getting dealt, then it’s probably true. Boeser himself thought it was pretty unusual to be hearing his name in trade rumours anyway, especially so close to the playoffs.
I’ve always been pretty honest with the media, and I feel like it’s really unnecessary, even the timing too I thought was pretty questionable…Last time I checked, the [NHL] Trade Deadline passed, and no one can get traded right now, so it’s pretty unnecessary, especially when we’re all here and getting ready for playoffs and hopefully to make a deep run.
Hopefully, Boeser can put all this out of his mind now and just focus on helping the Canucks win games. He looked really good on Monday and seemed to have an extra gear skating on a line with Tanner Pearson and captain Bo Horvat. He should also be extra motivated to play against his hometown team in the Minnesota Wild. We all remember what he did his first time around right?
Boeser already has previous chemistry with Horvat from his rookie season, so he should feel comfortable playing on that line. If that trio can generate some offence, that should lessen the load for the top line of Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Tyler Toffoli. Most likely they will also be the matchup line considering Green’s propensity for throwing Horvat’s line out against the opponent’s best players.
Ferland and Leivo Were Notably Absent
It was probably expected that Josh Leivo was not going to join the festivities on day one of training camp. Unfortunately, even with the long layoff, he is still rehabbing his fractured kneecap suffered against the Vegas Golden Knights at the end of December. Benning did say that he could still rejoin the team, but as of now he is still “unfit to play”.
Somewhat surprising was the absence of gritty forward Micheal Ferland who only played 14 games this season due to concussion issues. There were some positive signs before phase three began that he could be available to play in the qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild, but not seeing him on the first day of actual training camp has to be concerning.
Benning said Ferland was skating, and that he would come back soon, but like Leivo, was “unfit to play” at this time. As per NHL rules, he didn’t go into any more detail after that. Here’s hoping that it’s not concussion-related and that he can eventually return to the lineup because he would be a huge boon to the third or fourth line if he is able to conjure up the player the Canucks faced during the 2013 playoffs.
Canucks Are in Stand-By Mode With Rathbone
Another topic that was making the rounds on social media on the weekend was the contract status of top prospect Jack Rathbone. Monday marked the first day the Canucks could sign him to an entry-level contract that included the 2019-20 season. They now have until June 15 to get his signature on a deal before having to wait until the end of next season. As of right now, Benning has yet to hear from Rathbone’s camp about turning pro.
He’s got to talk it over with his family advisor and family and if he decides he wants to turn pro…He’s an NCAA player right now, we can’t reach out to him and talk to him but if he says to us that he wants to turn pro we’ll do what we need to do.Jim Benning on Jack Rathbone’s contract status
It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t turn pro and sign a contract, but it would muddy the waters a bit. The Canucks better hope that their positive contract history with NCAA players comes into play again, or they risk potentially losing him to free agency next summer. As I said in a previous article, that would not be in their best interest as they need a defenceman like him in their lineup for the future.
Canucks Training Camp Lines Were No Surprise
The Canucks took to the ice with a very familiar lineup. The lines and defence pairings were almost the same as their last game against the New York Islanders almost four months ago.
The top line seems to be set with Pettersson, Miller, and Toffoli as they had some tremendous chemistry playing together in the ten games Toffoli played with the Canucks. Zack MacEwen took turns skating on the right-wing, but he definitely won’t stay there when the games get going.
The second line of Pearson, Horvat, and Boeser could be a very formidable two-way line capable of shutting down opponents as well as generating offence. The third line also seems to be set with Jake Virtanen and Antoine Roussel flanking Adam Gaudette. Loui Eriksson also took turns in Roussel’s spot, but I expect the latter to suit up there when the puck drops on Aug 2.
Finally, the fourth line is an intriguing one with three defensively sound forwards in Tyler Motte, Jay Beagle, and Brandon Sutter. Beagle and Sutter can both take faceoffs, and they are quite good at it too. If Green ever needs another match-up line to take the pressure off the Horvat line, I think this could be it.
As for the defence pairings, Green seems to have gone back to the duos from the beginning of the season by pairing Tyler Myers with Alex Edler instead of Troy Stecher. The latter has been placed back down on the third pairing with Oscar Fantenberg. It will be interesting to see how long he sticks with that alignment considering the struggles Myers and Edler had at times during the regular season.
The one interesting part of this lineup was the presence of Jalen Chatfield instead of AHL-standout defenceman Brogan Rafferty in the primary group. However, if you look at the history of callups during the 2019-20 season, it was Chatfield, not Rafferty regularly getting a phone call. I suspect that will change if an offensive defenceman like (gulp) Hughes gets injured and can’t play in the postseason at some point.
Other Canucks Notes
- Benning will be part of the Phase Four group traveling to Edmonton
- Benning says there’s time for signing Hughes and Pettersson to second contracts (Canucks could have started negotiating with them on Monday)
- Boeser and Pettersson really like Gossip Girl and have designated themselves as a Blair and a Serena respectively
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks will take to the ice for day two of training camp on Tuesday as they continue to get ready for their series against the Wild on Aug 2. Green has indicated that their first scrimmage will be Tuesday as well. This should give us a good indication of what type of game shape the players are in right now. Hopefully, they all look good and are able to shake off the rust from the long layoff.
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.