No, he’s not Mats Sundin, but the announcement that Pavol Demitra has signed in Vancouver will certainly bring smiles to the faces of Canucks fans – even if his arrival has been gossiped about more freely than the Madonna/A Rod affair.
The 33-year-old Slovak comes to Vancouver with 13-seasons under his belt and 281 goals. That certainly won’t hurt the Canucks' cause, especially after both Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison moved on last week.
Demitra isn’t the gritty, physical forward who will barge his way to the net and create a firestorm in the oppositions crease, and coming off a 15 goal, 54 point season in Minnesota, a few might wonder if he still has the speed and skills to excel at the finesse game. Mike Gillis, who represented Demitra before becoming the Canucks’ GM this spring, says he sees plenty of upside in his most recent acquisition.
“We saw a premium forward who could play all three forward positions,” said Gillis. “He’s coming off a season that wasn’t his most productive, but he’s been a consistent point guy throughout his NHL career.
“He’s a guy I know well – I know his character well, I know his personality - and I felt that as we were moving along here, we wanted a player that could play multiple positions at the forward spot. It seemed like a proper fit.”
Demitra agrees. Gillis has promising high-tempo, aggressive hockey, and thus far has stocked his team with exactly the type of players who can play that game. After two years playing tight-checking hockey in a defensive-orinted Minnesota system, Demitra is aching to throw off the reigns.
“I know what I can do and I can definitely do more than I did in Minnesota. We played so much defence and it was working, but my first year every time I played wing I scored many goals, but when I played centre I always had to stay back. I know what I can do and I know I can score much more and have more points,” he said.
It’s not just the hockey and the possibility of lining up alongside players like Sundin or Sedin, Demitra says he just likes the city.
“I was discussing everything with my wife and my family and I was looking for a place where I can be happy and where I like the hockey style. My wife checked out the city and we liked everything about Vancouver.”
Gillis said while he was interested in Demitra from the outset, both sides proceeded with caution before signing anything official.
“I think Vancouver was his [Demitra’s] first choice, but it was tough, there were other teams involved. We have taken our time on a lot of different fronts trying to analyze this team and put the pieces together, and obviously we’re in a bit of a holding pattern with Mats [Sundin] because we want to keep that space available.”
“We’re constantly exploring as many options as are available and there are a number of teams that are talking about trades, but those probably won’t happen till later in the summer when cap numbers get sorted out.”
Gillis said for all Demitra’s enthusiasm and offensive prowess, he won’t guarantee a top-line spot once the season kicks off.
“Who plays with who is going to be Alain’s decision in October and I’m sure that will change throughout the season… at the end of the day it’s his call.”
For his part, Demitra says he’d prefer to play wing with more physical forwards, something he didn’t get a chance to do in Minnesota.
“I played my best hockey when I was in St. Louis and I played with guys like Keith Tkachuk and Scott Mellanby,” Demitra explained. “They always want to be the best. I like the guys that drive the net and work hard and get me the puck in the slot so I can make plays.”
| Davison |
The Canucks also announced Thursday that they have signed free-agent defenceman Rob Davison to a one-year deal.
The 28-year-old defender from St. Catharines, Ontario, split last year between San Jose and Long Island where he had two points in 34 games, but 53 penalty minutes. In 195 career NHL games Davison has recorded three goals, 13 assists (3-13-16) and 270 penalty minutes.
“I think our guys need support and I think that when you play those tough teams in the west, you need players who can meet those challenges, and Rob is clearly one of those guys,” said Gillis, who represented Davison as a player agent before becoming the Canucks GM in May. “He has good upside, he’s a great guy [who is] good in the dressing room, and he adds an element we were looking for.”
Last season the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defender dropped the gloves with the likes of George Parros, Riley Cote, Nick Tarnasky, and Aaron Downey. Gillis says that although Davison has filled a depth role as a stay-at-home, tough defenceman, he’s certainly capable of playing his way up the blue line.
“That all depends on what happens in the next little bit. Rob I know quite well and I think he needs an opportunity. He’s a tough, physical, big, defenceman, but he played 22 to 23 minutes when he got traded to the Islander last year.”
“He’s a solid, solid guy, and we had him targeted for some period of time and it just turned out that it worked out.”
Davison earned a small peice of hockey lore last season scoring "The Goal
" on Vesa Toskala as a member of the New York Islanders.