It's go time.
The Vancouver Canucks officially opened training camp Thursday morning at Rogers Arena with 60 players running the gauntlet through physical and mental testing, getting headshots and of course meeting the media.
Coach Willie Desjardins and general manager Jim Benning spoke with the media to kick off the day and both expressed excitement towards the upcoming season. Desjardins was asked, frankly, if it's reasonable to expect a straight-shot back to the playoffs after missing the post-season a year ago.
Desjardins is cautiously optimistic and knows there's work to be done.
"We have to get at least 15 more points, but I feel our group is ready to challenge," said Desjardins. "It was a tough year last year for lots of guys, who are really determined to take a step in the right direction. We don't know where Baertschi, Horvat, Virtanen and all those young guys are going to be, but they've trained hard this summer and with all that, it's a realistic expectations we're going to fight for a playoff spot."
The Canucks training camp roster is actually set at 66 players, but because of commitments to the World Cup of Hockey, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Jacob Markstrom, Luca Sbisa and Jannik Hansen will be noticeably absent. This, to Desjardins, opens things up for younger players to step up and get noticed.
"We have more depth at every position and I feel we're stronger at every position," said Desjardins. "In camp, when you have that number, the young guys get a chance and they get more NHL experience, which is great. A lot of our older guys don't need the exhibition games because they know the league, so the number allows for lots of challenge for spots."
Benning reported that as of Thursday morning there were no player injuries to announce, meaning the team goes into camp with a healthy roster. That, and the addition of new players, has Benning eager to drop the puck.
"I realize we have a lot to prove to ourselves, to each other and to our fans," said Benning, "but I am real excited about getting started here. We've added more depth to our group and adding Loui Eriksson, who I feel is a good player, a healthy Brandon Sutter, adding Erik Gudbranson; we've added some leadership in that room to help our young players along, so I'm real excited."
The team hits the road for Whistler Thursday, with on-ice sessions beginning Friday at Meadow Park Sports Centre. All sessions are open to the public.
THIS AND THAT - Thanks to Canucks media relations coordinator Alfred De Vera for the following notes, provided to media ahead of training camp.
FRESH FACES - 24 players will be embarking on their first training camp in a Canucks uniform. This includes a number of notable prospects including Thatcher Demko and Olli Juolevi, as well as newly acquired players Erik Gudbranson and Philip Larsen.
BY THE NUMBERS - This is the first Vancouver Canucks Training Camp for 36% of the players in attendance. The average age at camp is 23, the average height is 6-1 and the average weight is 193 lbs.
CAREER-YEARS - 2015.16 saw career-highs for a number of returning players including Bo Horvat (goals (16), assists (24), points (40), games played (82) power play goals (4), power play points (12), game-winning goals (4), OT goals (1) and shots (155)), Sven Baertschi (goals (15), assists (13), points (28), power play goals (2), power play points (7), game-winning goals (1) and shots on goal (107)), Alex Biega (games played (49) and assists (6)), Emerson Etem (points (15) and tying a career-high in goals (7)), Jacob Markstrom (games played (33), starts (30), wins (13), shots against (988), saves (904), and minutes (1,848)) and Jannik Hansen (goals (22) and game-winning goals (5)).
TRIPLETS - Through two World Cup of Hockey games, the top line of Loui Eriksson and Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have combined for four points (2-2-4). Signed to a six year, $36 million contract on July 1st, Loui Eriksson begins his first season in a Canucks uniform. Last season with the Bruins, the standout Swede finished second on the team in scoring and reached the 30-goal mark for the second time in his career.
CAN-NEV - Chris Tanev was one of two Canucks players to represent Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Championships. Tanev notched an assist and finished with a +8 rating to help Canada capture gold at the tournament. Fellow teammate Ben Hutton also represented Canada, registering an assist and a +3 rating in five games.
READY-SET-HUT - Ben Hutton embarks on his second Canucks training camp. He led all Canucks defencemen in scoring in his debut NHL season in 2015.16, notching 25 points (11-24-25). He also ranked sixth among NHL rookies in ice time (19:52 TOI/GP) and tied for seventh in rookie assists (24).
TROPHIES - Several newcomers to the Canucks training camp roster captured awards in their respective Leagues last season. This includes Anton Rodin (SHL MVP), Michael Chaput (Calder Cup Champion) Philip Larsen (KHL All-Star), Troy Stecher (NCAA Champion) and Thatcher Demko (Mike Richter Award). In addition to World Championship gold won by Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton, awards were also added to the trophy cases of Daniel Sedin (NHL All-Star) and Henrik Sedin (King Clancy Trophy) in 2015.16.
TRACING THE ROOTS - Before entering professional hockey, players on the Canucks roster took a number of different routes to get to the pro leagues. The league that most players played for before entering professional hockey was the WHL with 19. It was followed by College Hockey (14), the OHL (11) and the QMJHL (11). There were also a number of players that played overseas, including Sweden (7), Finland (3) and Russia (1).