Now, with training camp beginning today and the first NHL game of the season on the 19th, everything is back to normal. The same can be said about parts of the Vancouver Canucks’ potential lineup; with such a short season very few new players will come in as most NHL teams go with familiar line combinations.
“Obviously, we’ve got a veteran group, and hopefully we’ll be good to go,” head coach Alain Vigneault told Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun.
Although Zack Kassian, a gritty young forward who normally plays on the fourth line, practiced with the Sedins earlier this week, Alex Burrows will start the season with the twins. To put Kassian on the top line could be deemed too drastic, something that would take a while for the players to get used to. Burrows and the Sedins already know how to play together and play well off of each other. However, even if he did lose his spot on the top line to Kassian, Burrows would not be fazed.
“Well as long as we win… As long as we’re winning and the team is playing well, that’s all I care about,” he told canucks.nhl.com after a practice at UBC. “If Zack (Kassian) gets in there and plays well and it’s good for the team I’ll try to find another role.”
The biggest decision Vigneault has yet to make is who will take the role of second line centre, as Kesler is still out after shoulder and wrist surgeries. While it is good for himself that he has not come back yet (we all saw what happened last year when he returned to the team without fully recovering) it creates some complications for the Canucks. The two second line wingers will be David Booth and Mason Raymond; good players who have not contributed to their full potential or made a difference on the team the past year. Now they can either make it or break it.
“Mason has proven in the past that he can score and Booth has proven he can score at the NHL level,” Vigneault told The Province. “They’ll get an opportunity and if they don’t do it quickly enough we’ll have some decisions to make.”
If Booth and Raymond cannot step it up, the Canucks will need a strong centre on the second line to create a least a bit of a threat to the other teams. We do not know how quickly it will take Kesler to return to playing at top speed when he does returns either, having not played for so long; it will be good to know that the Canucks have another capable second line centre who can play at a moment’s notice.
The two players in the running for this role are Jordan Schroeder and Andrew Ebbett. Both played with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate team, the Chicago Wolves, during the lockout, but there is one big difference between the two. Ebbett has NHL experience – Schroeder has yet to make an appearance with the Canucks who drafted him in the first round in 2009.
“I just have to skate, use my speed, do what I do best and I think I’ll be all right,” 22-year old Schroeder said to the Vancouver Sun. “I have been playing all season and I think it is a bit of an advantage having 30 games under my belt. I’m in game shape.”
Schroeder has been playing some very good hockey for the Wolves, with nine goals and 19 points in 30 games. Ebbett has similar numbers, with seven goals and 21 points in 29 games. He would have played in the NHL more last year if it were not for injuries and is accustomed to the other team members of the Canucks and the way Vigneault runs the team, which gives him slight advantage over Schroeder.
“I played in Anaheim in the second-line centre spot, so if that is where AV (Vigneault) wants me to play I am happy to fill that role,” said Ebbett. “I think I have been playing well enough down there, have been playing centre and I am ready to do that.” The decision will be made by the end of training camp this week.
As for the third line, it presents no problems. The checking line of Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen will be a strong line.
Since Kassian will not be playing on the first line, his place will most likely be on the fourth, possibly with centre Manny Malhotra and Dale Weise. Kassian spent the lockout with the Wolves and will be well conditioned and ready to play and Weise just returned from playing hockey in Europe. Aaron Volpatti and Cam Barker are the Canucks’ extra forwards, who, when they play, will likely slot in on this final line.
Now for everyone’s favourite hockey scandal in Vancouver – the goalies. Vigneault has two very good goaltenders in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. While Schneider was pretty much guaranteed the role of the starting goaltender last year when Luongo trade talks began, Luongo has not gone anywhere yet, and Vigneault might as well use him while he still can.
“Right now, I have two top-end goaltenders, probably the best duo in the NHL, and I think I’ve shown in the past that I know how to use both goaltenders for the benefit of the team,” commented Vigneault. So why debate this when it seems that Vigneault has got the situation under his belt? No one should be surprised to see either Luongo or Schneider in net Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks.
The players helping out Luongo and Schneider in the back end are a strong group of defence. Players to watch for include the newest addition to the starting six, Jason Garrison, who has yet to play a game with the Canucks. As well, keep an eye out for youngster Chris Tanev. Whether or not he will be in the starting lineup is still to be seen, but he has proved that he can play at the NHL level and deserves to be there, so there is a high chance that he will be.
This veteran group, many of whom were in Vancouver in 2011 for the Canucks’ now infamous Stanley Cup run and loss to the Boston Bruins are hungry for more – even if the season will only last 48 games. After all, it’s not the number of games that determines what it is that they are playing. It is still hockey, and this is still the same Vancouver Canucks we left last year – so welcome back.