When things are going well, injuries are transformed from setbacks into opportunities. With several starters presently out of the lineup, three rookies from the Vancouver Canucks have been given a chance to play and are making the most of their time on the ice.
One of those rookies, Lee Sweatt, scored the game winning goal in his first NHL game — on his first career shot — in the Canucks’ 2-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. Head coach Alain Vigneault will likely implore him to shoot more often. In fact, Sweat’s stats auger well for him earning more ice-time (earning a plus-2 in over eight minutes of ice time).
Sweat isn’t the only Canucks defenseman to be auditioning for a permanent roster spot. Christopher Tanev, who was signed by the Canucks as a free agent last summer, has adapted well from the college game to the NHL, having played in the last five games for the Canucks and picking up an assist along the way.
Not to be outdone by his fellow rookies, Sergei Shirokov also scored in his first NHL game in the Canucks’ 4-3 OT loss to the Colorado Avalanche last Wednesday. Shirokov has been able to find the back of the net with regularity in the AHL, leading the Manitoba Moose with 16 goals this season prior to his call-up, and could potentially provide some secondary scoring which the Canucks have been lacking in recent weeks.
With Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Alex Bolduc, Aaron Rome and now Alex Edler all expected to be out of the lineup for at least a couple more weeks, it should provide the team’s coaching staff and GM Mike Gillis with an extended look at the depth in their system prior to the trade deadline, which is nearly a month away. While playoff series are typically not won by role players on the third and fourth lines or bottom defense pairings, their contributions at both ends of the ice have tipped the balance of a series in countless past playoff matchups.
From the little they’ve seen from Sweatt, Tanev and Shirokov, management has to be happy thus far. However, the defense corps now seems to be particularly understaffed after today’s announcement that Edler might be out long-term. Unless the enigmatic Salo can find his way back into the line-up soon and stay healthy, it will likely force Gillis to look to the waiver wire or make a trade for a defenseman with some NHL experience in the next few days.