Rule one for Kevin Bieksa and the rest of the defense corps this season: do not get injured.
Bieksa, who has been a key member of the Vancouver Canucks’ core group of veteran players for a while now, has the title of assistant captain and offensive capabilities that he could put to good use; but only if he stays off the injured list.
Last season featured Bieksa as one of the Canucks’ highest scoring defenders, with 44 points. He is not merely a defender; Bieksa has shown through his odd rushes and his strong shot from the point that he can contribute offensively too, something the Canucks may need help with during the absence of David Booth and Ryan Kesler, who are injured.
“I think our top three were the highest scoring defensemen in the league combined,” Bieksa told the Vancouver Sun, “so there’s no reason we can’t do it again. I think your defence has to contribute these days because it is so hard to score goals and there is such an awareness around the league for teams to be responsible defensively. You need that second, third wave coming. We did it last year and we will be looking to do again without sacrificing in our end.”
However, Bieksa did not play on a team during the lockout, the effect of which has yet to be seen concerning players all over the NHL. Instead he stayed in Vancouver and trained with other members of the Canucks who also remained behind. He kept busy, organizing a charity game for Canucks fans in October; he considered organizing a second had the lockout continued. This situation is just one in which Bieksa has used his leadership skills and initiated something. It will be important for him to take advantage of his title of assistant captain to help the rest of the team succeed, especially if the Canucks have to use younger and less experienced players.
Besides staying off the injured list, Bieksa could also avoid the penalty box more. Known for his physical and aggressive play, Bieksa had the second most penalty minutes on the Canucks last season with 94. Every time he is off the ice and unable to play is a disadvantage for his team. Bieksa can still be physical and aggressive (in fact, he should be to set the mood and an example for other players) without spending so much time in the penalty box.
Despite the current injuries and shortened season, Bieksa and the Canucks are remaining positive.
“We’re confident,” he stated. “We know that injuries are going to be a huge part of the season and if guys happen to go down we have confidence in a number of guys, three or four guys, to step in and fill that void.”
With new Canuck Jason Garrison starting off the season paired with Alex Edler, Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will play together to round out the Canucks top four defenders.
“It still feels a little bit surreal that we’re back playing hockey and we’re on the verge of playing our first meaningful game in a long time,” Bieksa told canucks.com, “so it’s exciting, there’s some nerves.”