Expectations are undoubtedly low for the Vancouver Canucks entering the 2016-17 season. That being said, this has been one of the most competitive Canucks preseasons in recent memory.
Many of the young Canucks on the roster have come to play this preseason. Ben Hutton, Bo Horvat and Brenan Gaunce among others have been flying around the ice. Jake Virtanen has also looked good in limited action, while Richmond, BC native, Troy Stecher, has grabbed everyone’s attention.
Head coach Willie Desjardins and company have some tough decisions to make before the beginning of the regular season. General manager Jim Benning previously stated that he wants to keep eight defencemen on the roster. The logjam of forwards in the bottom six might have Benning rethinking that decision.
With an eventful preseason in Vancouver, here are five of the biggest surprises from the first few weeks of Canucks action.
With the Canucks missing their entire top line and Jannik Hansen up front for the majority of the preseason, Benning signed James Sheppard, Tuomo Ruutu and Jack Skille to professional tryout contracts. Two of the three former first-round picks, Ruutu and Skille, have battled their way into the conversation for a roster spot.
The 33-year-old Ruutu has shown some surprising foot speed after an injury-riddle 2015-16 season where he suited up for only 33 games. Despite his impressive showing, he is behind Skille in the PTO derby.
I wonder if Jack Skille ever causally mentions during conversations that he was taken four spots ahead of Anze Kopitar
— Mike Halford (@HalfordTSN) October 4, 2016
Skille spent last season as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, playing a career-high 74 games. He wasn’t re-signed after registering 14 points during the season, and not much was expected after he signed a PTO. However, Skille brings a high energy game, perfectly suited for the fourth line. He finishes his checks and has driven to the net throughout the preseason.
His effort is likely not enough to earn himself a contract, but in a less competitive preseason, Skille would probably have a contract by now. At the very least, he left Canucks management with a tough decision to make.
Stecher came into Canucks training camp as a relative unknown. Unless you were watching some University of North Dakota NCAA hockey games, you likely haven’t seen Stecher play until now.
Canucks management raved about Stecher during July development camp, and during the annual Young Stars tournament. Canucks fans are finally starting to see why.
Stecher blew everyone away with a goal and two assists in his first preseason game. He was responsible in his own end and showed incredible offensive instincts.
It has left many fans wondering if Stecher has outplayed Philip Larsen for an NHL job. Although Stecher has been the better of the two players, it’s tempting to let him play big minutes down in Utica. Stecher said on TSN 1040 that he would look forward to playing under Utica Comets head coach Travis Green if he was sent down to the minors.
Rodin Is Ready
There was a lot of intrigue surrounding Anton Rodin coming into Canucks training camp. The reigning Swedish Hockey League MVP came to camp without playing hockey since he suffered a gruesome knee injury in January.
No one would have been shocked if Rodin started off slow in the preseason. However, his strong preseason is a pleasant surprise, and he looks poised to start the regular season in Vancouver.
He has shown some finish in the preseason, scoring two goals off of beautiful feeds from Horvat and Stecher. The Canucks could really use Rodin to step up and provide secondary scoring for the league’s second-worst offence from a season ago.
Nikita Tryamkin hasn’t had a dream preseason for the Canucks. The 22-year-old Russian-defender passed a 13-game litmus test towards the end of last season. He spent the majority of the summer training in Vancouver and appeared to be in great shape entering the preseason.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated to any on-ice success for Tryamkin this preseason. He has looked hesitant and slow in his on-ice decision making. He clearly doesn’t belong in the Canucks top six, and would benefit from ample playing time in the minors.
Can the Canucks convince him to go down to Utica? A clause in Tryamkin’s contract states that he can bolt back to the KHL if the Canucks try to put him in the minors. If they decide to keep him in Vancouver, he could be spending a lot of time in the press box.
Etem Losing a Spot
It’s hard to blame Emerson Etem for his sluggish preseason after his wife recently gave birth to the couple’s first child. This must be a moment of ultimate highs and lows for Etem, who is fighting for his job with a plethora of other Canucks forwards.
Related: Emerson Etem Remains a Wild Card
Etem was thought to have a leg up on a roster spot heading into training camp, but he’s now on the outside looking in. Forwards such as Gaunce, Skille. Rodin, Granlund and Virtanen have put Etem on the outside looking in.
Despite playing up and down the lineup during the preseason, Etem hasn’t gotten into a rhythm with any line. He was the Canucks leading scorer over the last five games of the regular season. He has good foot speed, a good shot, and gets to the dirty areas to score. However, in the preseason, he has spent too much time skating around the perimeter and isn’t creating any chances for himself.
The offensive talent is there, and it’s possible Canucks management gives Etem the benefit of the doubt heading into the season. If not, he could find himself out of a roster spot.