After his rookie season with the Vancouver Canucks, it’s clear the left-winger made the right decision to opt out of his last two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to pursue a pro career because he’s fitting into the team’s constellation perfectly.
In his first NHL season Raymond was everything the Canucks expected and then some. He was fast, relentless and confident, not to mention enthusiastic, entertaining and hard-working. He was a highlight to a season that didn’t hold many for Vancouver, but he was just glad to be along for the ride.
“My biggest goal from the start of the year was to make Vancouver and I was happy to be able to spend the majority of the year there,” said Raymond, who wasn’t sure if he would fit into the scheme of things with the Canucks prior to the start of last season.
The Alberta product was impressive from the start of training camp and despite some minor juggling – he was sent down to the Manitoba Moose twice while the team tinkered with line combinations – he was with the team for the ups and downs of the season.
Looking back, he’s finally able to put the good and the bad of his rookie season into perspective.
“My first game was pretty special, I was very nervous so that really sticks out in my mind for sure. I’ll always remember my first goal as well. Those were huge for me because they were my first real milestones in my career; I’ve got that puck sitting up on a shelf.”
Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the first victim of Raymond’s pinpoint shot, although eight other netminders received the same treatment from the speedy winger.
He amassed nine goals and 12 assists in 49 games last season before the bad set in, that being a sprained MCL in his left knee that forced him to miss the last three weeks of action.
“It was tough. First and foremost, sitting in the press box is nowhere you want to be but it makes it even worse when you see your team struggling and you want to be out there helping them.
“It’s part of hockey and injuries do happen and unfortunately it had to happen to me.”
It was Raymond’s first real injury, hockey related or not, and luckily it has provided only minor pain while he’s been rehabbing his knee for the last two months. The prognosis looks good for the 22-year-old as he’s well on pace to be injury-free by training camp.
“At this point I’m quite pleased with how it’s come along, unfortunately, I had to miss the end of the season there but it’s good now. My leg is back to what I’d like it to be; obviously there’s a little room for healing yet, but for the most part it feels quite good.” LINDEN’S INFLUENCE
With his knee intact Raymond will be looking to continue to blossom on the ice come fall, but he’ll have to do it without his good friend and mentor Trevor Linden. The pair bonded last training camp, which naturally led to the sagacious veteran taking the unseasoned rookie under his wing. Who better to teach Raymond than ropes than arguably the greatest Canuck of all-time?
“Trevor’s a guy that’s been through a lot, he had a long career and still to this day I phone him and ask him questions and see how he’s doing, and if I need help in the future I’ll be calling him.
“He’s just a class act guy the way he carries himself and brings himself to the rink, works with anybody in the community, you name it. I just really thought he did a first class job in all areas.”
A bit of Linden’s popularity may have in fact rubbed off on Raymond this past season, as fans couldn’t get enough of the youngsters’ blog on Canucks.com, jerseys with his #21 became common at GM Place and he was even the benefactor of some great script writing on the TV show How I Met Your Mother
as he was mentioned in an episode. It seems Canucks Nation have also taken Raymond under their wing.
“Vancouver’s an amazing city to live in and to have the fan support that the Canucks have is great. They care, they really care, and I love playing in a city that had a sold out barn every night where everyone is yelling and screaming and they’re behind you all the way. They were something I was very impressed with last season.” THE BIG DAY
In addition to continual rehab on his knee and hitting the weights daily, Raymond has been spending his summer preparing to get married.
Dance lessons aren’t on the agenda for him, although maybe they should be as he finished last in a surprise rookie dance competition at the Canucks’ Dice and Ice benefit this past February.
“The nice thing about dancing at the wedding is that I can plan a little better for it, we were kind of caught by surprise at the benefit. I’m not nearly as nervous for my first dance as I was for the Dice and Ice.”
Regardless of past performance, Raymond is confident he’ll give his fiancée Megan a first dance to remember.
If not for injury, his first season with the Canucks would have been a truly memorable one as well. Yet Vancouver’s constellation wasn’t quite in line for a Stanley Cup run last season, but if Raymond’s star continues to shine bright in Vancouver, it might align for 2008-09.