After three days of training camp, which included a grueling bag skate, several practices, and two scrimmages, the Vancouver Canucks are ready to start the preseason. That’s where the real evaluation begins. Practices are not games, no matter how many scrimmages you try to pack into it. You get to know a player by how they compete in a real game situation against opponents that are not their teammates.
With all that said, there were still players that stood out over the three days and in turn, made strong cases for roster spots come opening night. Here are five that caught the eyes of not only the media but the fans that were finally in attendance at Abbotsford Centre.
With jobs available on the fourth line, Will Lockwood came into camp on a mission to grab one of them. Ever since he stepped onto the ice on Day 1, he’s been one of the most noticeable players on the Canucks. Showcasing his speed, physicality, and quick hands along the boards, he is exactly what this team needs on the fourth line, especially with Tyler Motte out of the lineup.
Lockwood put a huge exclamation point on that fact when he lit up veteran defenceman Luke Schenn on Saturday. Despite being 5-foot-11, 172 pounds, he dropped the much bigger 6-foot-2, 229-pound blueliner on his butt. He’s solid and he knows when and where to lay a hit. Not to mention he’s also lightning quick on the forecheck and one of the fastest forwards the Canucks have on their roster right now.
I was watching the game afterwards and had a little realization — maybe my speed is where it needs to be. I’m always looking to improve it but it’s nice to know that I’m at a spot where I can create some separation at this level.Will Lockwood
Since his days with the Michigan Wolverines, Lockwood has shown the potential to be a very effective bottom-six forward. He’s fast, physical, and knows the exact moment to throw a hit. He also has the hands and hockey IQ to score some goals too. After his performance at camp, the sky’s the limit on his ceiling.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Another forward battling for a bottom-six role is 27-year-old Phil Di Giuseppe. Formally of the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, he was kind of on the outside looking in coming into training camp. It was Matthew Highmore’s name penciled in on most lineup cards, not him. I had Zack MacEwen taking that spot in mine before training camp began, but now that I’ve seen him in action, my stance has changed.
Di Giuseppe has showcased his speed, playmaking, and shot throughout camp as he made a great pass on Alex Chiasson’s goal in the scrimmage on Saturday and was one of the leaders in the infamous bag skate on Thursday. He was noticeable during the drills too, making quick passes to his teammates and snapping pucks by Jaroslav Halak and Mike DiPietro. Skating primarily on a line with Jason Dickinson, it appears head coach Travis Green is looking at him for a third-line role. With the tools he’s shown so far, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Like I said after Day 1, Vasily Podkolzin is ready to compete with the big boys in the NHL. In the days since then, all he’s done is confirm that statement. He’s big, powerful, and can shoot the puck with authority. He’s also shown that he can play with established NHLers and complement their skills in the process. Aligned throughout camp with veterans J.T. Miller and Conor Garland, he hasn’t looked out of place. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you would think he was a veteran as well.
Podkolzin has even let his leadership bleed through too. On Friday, he helped gather up the pucks at the end of practice, and on Saturday, he was the last player from his group to leave the ice. Dedication, work ethic, and character. Those are just three of the words that describe the talented forward who has quickly become a fan favourite in Vancouver. It should be exciting to see what else he has in store for them when the preseason gets going on Sunday.
Danila Klimovich saved the best for last. Not to say he wasn’t good during Days 1 and 2, but Day 3 was at another level. He didn’t score during the final scrimmage, but he did hit two posts with his violent shot and wowed fans with his slick hands and seemingly limitless creativity. Already known for his willingness to try anything offensively, he made several moves that you could only classify as out of this world. Just take a gander at the play below, and try not to get excited at the prospect of seeing him in Vancouver for years to come. He’s going to be a human highlight reel, and that’s not an exaggeration.
Before camp, Klimovich was seemingly destined for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). It’s a lot murkier right now, as he’s already caught the eye of Green.
Big kid, skates well…I don’t want to go into names too thoroughly, I know how that can get, but it’s probably been four or five guys today I thought played well.Travis Green (from ‘Canucks’ prime picks Podkolzin, Klimovich impress on the ice, in Russian and English’, Vancouver Sun, 9/25/21)
If Saturday’s scrimmage is any indication, Klimovich is ready for the pro game in the AHL. If he continues the Klimovich show in the preseason, the Canucks might think twice before sending him to Rouyn Noranda.
Jonah Gadjovich led the Canucks in scoring after two scrimmages with two goals in back-to-back days. Both were scored in his office a few feet from the crease, a place he’s gotten quite proficient at scoring goals from. His skating has looked better too, which has been a weakness of his ever since he was drafted. His size, physical game, and ability to score in tight would be a welcome addition to the fourth line as the Canucks do not have anyone in their lineup that plays like him.
Gadjovich only has one NHL game on his resume and he ended up fighting fellow rookie Connor Mackey not long after his skates hit NHL ice for the first time. From that and his history in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), he is clearly willing to drop the gloves to stick up for a teammate. Again, something the Canucks don’t have much of on their roster right now. He has done everything possible so far to earn a spot, now he has to continue it in the preseason against players that are not in a Canucks uniform.
Emptying the Notebook at Canucks Training Camp
- Nic Petan was noticeable in both scrimmages as he continued to center Nils Hoglander and Brock Boeser. If Elias Pettersson is not signed soon or Brandon Sutter is not ready by opening night, he will find himself on the roster when the season gets going on Oct. 13.
- If Abbotsford Canucks’ fans weren’t excited about Jett Woo before, they should be now. He made quite the impression on the faithful in attendance on Friday with his intense physical game as he left at least two forwards searching for his number. One of them was none other than the Big Russian Vasily Podkolzin. If he continues that game into the regular season, fans will be chanting “Woo!” almost every night.
- Olli Juolevi came into the 2021-22 season with high expectations. Unfortunately, he’s already entered his coach’s dog house after a less than stellar bag skate and mediocre training camp overall. In his last media availability of training camp, Green had this to say, “I don’t think he did himself any favours.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the head coach. If he doesn’t ramp it up in the preseason, he will either be on waivers or boarding a plane to another city.
- The highly-anticipated bout between Juolevi and Jack Rathbone has been a KO in favour of Rathbone so far. His offensive skill and hockey IQ are at a pro level. He just needs to get more consistent in his defensive game. Though considering Juolevi’s performance, that may be enough to win him a spot in the starting seven.
That’s a wrap for Canucks Training Camp. The fun continues on Sunday as the preseason finally gets going against the Seattle Kraken in Spokane, Washington. The Hockey Writers will be there to bring you all the action, as the countdown continues for the start of the regular season on Oct.13 against the Edmonton Oilers.
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.