The Vancouver Canucks are just about to wrap up their first week of training camp and there is plenty to talk about after just four days. On Thursday they had their first scrimmage and although live streaming was not allowed, Canucks Nation still took to Twitter and made comments like it was a regular game being played. That’s how hockey starved this market is right now. Brendan Batchelor, who does the play-by-play for Sportsnet 650, even attended the game and called it from his usual broadcast position which made it really feel like hockey was back.
Even though the players have not competed in a real hockey game in over four months, the energy and competitiveness were definitely there during the scrimmage. There was rust to be sure, but it was great to see the players get back into some sort of game action, even a simulated one against their teammates. Some Canucks were noticeable in a positive way while others clearly still need to work on their games. Hopefully, they can all shake out the cobwebs and be ready to go when the puck drops for real on Aug 2. With all that said, here are some takeaways from the first four days of training camp!
Eriksson & Beagle Look Ready to Go
Surprisingly, it’s two of the most critiqued veterans that have looked the most polished after four days of training camp. Loui Eriksson and Jay Beagle, who have both got their share of criticism since they joined the Canucks from the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals respectively, have made their presence known whenever they have been on the ice. Beagle will definitely get time on the fourth line during this unprecedented postseason, but Eriksson is basically fighting for his life as he’s not at all guaranteed any role on this team when play ultimately gets going.
Eriksson has a propensity to perform during practice and training camp, so this is no surprise. It will be interesting to see if head coach Travis Green is impressed enough to give him a chance to make a difference in a bottom-six that is very competitive right now. You have to give him credit though, as he’s not just gone through the motions during Phase Three. He’s come to camp in shape and is showing us a glimpse of why he was so highly rated going into free agency after scoring 30 goals with the Boston Bruins during the 2015-16 season. Despite all that, I really don’t see him usurping any of the players currently ahead of him on the depth chart. Though good on him for not packing it in, considering his place on the team right now.
As for Beagle, he has been unfairly criticized ever since he arrived in Vancouver. It has rarely been about his performance though, but more about the money he’s being paid as a fourth-line center. At $3.2 million AAV, he is one of the highest-paid depth players in the NHL and has not generated enough to justify his salary. However, his game has never been about the offence. His value comes from his ability to win faceoffs, play a gritty defensive game, and provide yeomen’s work on the penalty kill. Not to mention that he is able to up his game in the postseason, which he did numerous times during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship in 2018.
Like Eriksson, Beagle came to camp in tremendous shape and has looked faster than we’ve seen him in a Canucks’ uniform. He’s also been uncharacteristically offensive as well, as he’s scored twice, including a very apt tip on an Oscar Fantenberg shot in Thursday’s scrimmage. If he can add that offence to his game during the postseason, the fourth line will be that much more difficult to play against.
Boeser Appears Motivated Following Trade Rumours
Unlike many other players arriving at training camps across the NHL, Brock Boeser came to Vancouver amidst rumours that he was on the trading block. Even though they were immediately squashed by general manager Jim Benning, you have to think it affected him in some way. Fortunately for the Canucks, it appears to have motivated him, as he’s been one of the most prominent players on the ice in the last four days. He’s shown off his speed, playmaking abilities, and even his physical game too, which bodes well for a team trying to make some noise in the playoffs.
If Boeser can be a consistent threat playing on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, the Canucks’ top line of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli will be even more lethal. The Minnesota Wild will have to split their top defensive pair and checking line between two lines instead of one. That could be the difference between moving on and going home after just one week in the postseason.
Markstrom Rusty, Demko Dialed In
It was to be expected that Jacob Markstrom could take a few practices to get back into game shape. While it’s a little early to hit the panic button, he has not looked particularly sharp during this iteration of training camp. However, considering the amount of time he’s been off the ice and the MVP status he’s currently holding, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Scrimmages during practice are never like an actual game, so we probably shouldn’t read too much into his struggles so far.
That being said, his backup Thatcher Demko has come into camp looking confident and in control. During the scrimmage on Thursday, he only allowed two goals and was clearly the better of the two goaltenders. That probably won’t have any bearing on who Green starts in Game 1, however, as Markstrom is the de facto starting goaltender for the Canucks. Though, it’s great to see him on the top of his game because you never know what could happen during the course of the playoffs. He may need to be called upon if his counterpart starts to falter, especially if they get down early in their five-game series against the Wild.
Zack “The Big Fella” MacEwen Making His Presence Felt
Zack MacEwen had a bit of a coming-out party this season with the Canucks, scoring his first five goals in the NHL and establishing himself as a very real option for the team down the road. In fact, he may have a chance at a fourth-line spot right now. Brandon Sutter, Micheal Ferland, and Josh Leivo have already been designated as “unfit to play”, so if all of them cannot suit up in a little over a week, he could have a chance to be a difference-maker this postseason.
On Thursday, he scored a very nice goal off the rush by snapping a quick wrist shot past Markstrom and was a physical presence throughout the scrimmage as well. The energy, size, and forechecking pressure he provides could be just what the doctor ordered for the fourth line. His game is tailor-made for the playoffs, so maybe injuries to three bottom-six players could ultimately be a blessing in disguise for the Canucks.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
After a day off on Friday, the Canucks will take to the ice for another morning skate at 10:30 am and subsequent evening scrimmage at 7 pm on Saturday. I must say this is a rather smart idea from the coaching staff. By simulating an actual game day, the players can get back into a routine and be ready to go when the games start being played for real in August. It could make all the difference when the march ultimately begins for the Stanley Cup.
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.