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10 Burning Questions

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

The crystal ball gives you some things to ponder heading into training camp

It’s not quite a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenario, but with Vancouver Canucks training camp lasting only 48 hours, there’s no time for messing around.

The questions surrounding the Canucks aren’t as plentiful heading into this season as in years past thanks to the copacetic summer GM Mike Gillis had bringing in players. For that, we should all be grateful.

This season won’t be without drama though and a lot of it will play out between the start of training camp and the beginning of the regular season on Oct. 1.

Here are 10 questions to keep in mind heading into the start of camp and beyond.

Will Cody Hodgson earn a roster spot?

Although Hodgson didn’t participate in prospects camp because of back issues, he is expected to fully take part in Canucks training camp. This will be his second go-round with the big dogs and after almost making the team out of camp last year and you’d have to think his odds have only improved coming off a sensational junior year. Inserting this 19-year-old 2009 OHL Most Outstanding Player and the CHL’s Player of the Year, not to mention World U18 and World Junior champion, into the line-up would do wonders for Vancouver’s depth.

Can Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler pick up where they left off?

They certainly aren’t showing any signs of slowing down, that’s for sure. Both Burrows and Kesler have made substantial improvements over the past three seasons, so much so that this duo looks poised to become 70-point producers. Just as in seasons past, responsibility will increase for Burr and Kes as they establish themselves as elite players and if they can handle it, they’ll also take a leap in leadership. Once a Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen one-two punch, these gritty forwards proved last season that they’re just as effective apart – who knows what concoction would come of them being reunited…

Who will emerge as Roberto Luongo’s backup?

When former Colorado Avalanche netminder Andrew Raycroft was signed by the Canucks this off-season, Cory Schneider’s window of opportunity of becoming Vancouver’s main man shrank. When Luongo signed a lifetime contract in early September, the window was slammed shut so hard it shattered. This is Luongo’s team and will be for a long, long time and no one is questioning that, but he still needs a backup and both netminders make good suitors. Raycroft leads in NHL experience by a whopping 222 games, yet Schneider is six years younger and is seemingly headed into the prime of his blossoming career. This veteran vs. rookie battle could come down to who avoids the red light district during pre-season.

Does Alex Burrows remain the third Sedin?

I don’t have to tell you that Daniel and Henrik Sedin have some kind of weird twin sixth sense thing going on, there are hours worth of highlights to prove it. Before last season you’d have had a tough time finding anyone else participating in Sedin highlights, however. Anson Carter had his day and although Steve Bernier was brought in to fill the void in 2008, his tenure last long. The key to success turned out to be Burrows and after skating with the Sedins for the better part of last season, he’s expected to do so again this year. But maybe Mikael Samuelsson should be given consideration. The veteran’s experience could add wonders to an all-Swedish line. If Samuelsson is given a chance to skate with the twins and he falters at all, Burrows and his proven Sedin chemistry will be fused together again.

Which newcomers will impress?

Remember back in grade school when the new kids would be looked over and judged before most got to know them? With training camp numbers cut after just 48 hours, that’s the way it will be for the 16 newcomers (seven defencemen, seven forwards and two goalies). A few players, such as Mathieu Schneider, Christian Ehrhoff, Mikael Samuelsson and Andrew Raycroft, are proven commodities, but the likes of Michael Funk, Tanner Glass, Matt Pope and Marco Rosa are wildcards coming in. A lot of attention will be on these players, which works as a double-edged sword - it won’t take much to impress or disappoint.

Can Pavol Demitra regain his past form?

While many of the queries on this list will resolve themselves sooner rather than later, how Demitra comes back from off-season shoulder surgery will play out over the long run. The Slovakian forward will miss another eight weeks putting his return somewhere around the start of November. Flawless transition back into the line-up is as guaranteed as winning on the slots in Vegas, but if he does regain his form quickly, the question then becomes can he regain his true form. After putting up four 75-plus point seasons in five campaigns leading into the 2003-04 season, Demitra hasn’t eclipsed 65 points in the last five years. His 53 points in 2008-09 was the third lowest output of his career.

Who will emerge on defence?

It wasn’t as cramped in the Campervan that 86 Irish students squeezed into earlier this year to set a world record as it is on Vancouver’s defence. Fifteen players are throwing their hats into the ring to patrol the blueline this season and that number just doesn’t jive with the amount of spots available. GM Mike Gillis wanted to upgrade the defence and he did, it’s just not clear who that upgrade will be. Whoever survives training camp will have to earn it and the knowledge that there is plenty of depth available should keep players sharp. Only five defencemen appear to be locks heading into the season leaving a lot of wiggle room on the backend.

How much of a difference will experience make?

The X-factor is something few teams have and like a unicorn burger or quality Nicolas Cage movie, it’s near impossible to acquire. What exactly is the X-factor anyways? The Canucks believe it's experience and they added a lot of the kind that comes with having won the Stanley Cup this summer. Brad Lukowich has two rings and Aaron Rome has one while Mathieu Schneider and Mikael Samuelsson have each hoisted the Cup once. That’s four players with a combined five championships upping Vancouver’s total to five team championships. Priceless.

What have Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood gained from loss?

Bernier and Wellwood were content with how they performed last season, yet both headed into the off-season intent on improving as much as possible. Since each player is in the best shape of his life to start training camp, they clearly had some success. Bernier dropped close to 15 pounds in an effort to increase his mobility, while Wellwood is around 15 pounds lighter than last training camp where he was attacked for being out of shape. Hard work leads to confidence, which leads to better overall play, putting Bernier and Wellwood in a great position to have a bigger impact on the team this season.

What impact will Rick Rypien have?

Gone but not forgotten was Rypien last season. He started the year with two goals in five games only to then suffer a sports hernia that sidelined him for 70 games. Rypien valiantly battled his way back to appear in 17 games, including every playoff game, to finish the 2008-09 season. Was it noticeable? You bet. In addition to providing heaps of energy and bone rattling body checks, Rypien also chipped in on the scoresheet while playing alongside Darcy Hordichuk and Ryan Johnson. Thanks to Rypien, Vancouver’s fourth line was a dangerous unit in the post-season and if he can remain healthy this year, it’ll remain that way regardless of who he’s alongside.

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