After back-to-back games versus the San Jose Sharks, with one overtime win and one regulation loss, the Canucks now find themselves without any regulation time goals, and the focus turns to how that can be rectified. There is no panic of course as we are dealing with a very small sample size at the start of an eight game pre-season, but certainly the team is looking to see which young player can add some offence as that would absolutely help separate him from the pack.
The battle that is the most intriguing to follow at this point, with the news that Chris Higgins is out for the time being with an injured foot, is about who can step in and play responsibly and effectively on the Canucks third line with Bo Horvat and Jannik Hansen when regular season plays begins in October.
Typically a team will try and replace a veteran with another veteran in such cases, but with a mandate to get younger, faster and perhaps bigger all at the same time, the spot is there for Brendan Gaunce to take. He will be challenged though as Jared McCann has shown some offensive prowess and a fighting spirit and Cole Cassels has been digging down and battling hard to prove he can play a complete game at the NHL level. Skill players like Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen will hope for another opportunity to show what they can do after up and down seasons in the AHL last year, and local product Jake Virtanen can’t be forgotten about as he has played with exuberance so far in camp.
The space for a younger player to make it on the blue-line is a little more finite. The Canucks top five will feature Edler, Hamhuis, Tanev and Sbisa, with the last spot going to Yannick Weber, who figures to be a fixture as well on the Canucks power play this season. That leaves Matt Bartkowski and Frank Corrado as the extra defensemen, with Andrey Pedan having an outside shot to make it further along. Not much in the way of surprises there.
With all that being said, the Canucks are in need of a spark this preseason. A bright light of young energy that will help elevate a stagnant game. The coaching staff is waiting to see which forward can play in the dirty areas, battle in front of the net, and stay there to take the beating necessary to score goals at this level. Any player that has that inherent in their game, which is where I’ll add Alexandre Grenier’s name onto the “who to focus on” list, will have an edge over those that want to play on the perimeter.
With home and home dates on the horizon with the Canucks new nemesis, the Calgary Flames, a great opportunity has become even greater for any younger player that will be in the line-up either night. A big hit will be bigger, crashing the net will seem more impressive, and scoring that elusive goal will have a larger impact when it’s measured up against a playoff rival that did the Canucks in with exactly that type of hockey in last year’s post-season. It may only be Exhibition games three and four of the year, but the results from the weekend could impact the race for a spot come opening night featuring the exact same Calgary club.