As a part of the media scrum during prospects camp I got a chance to listen to what Gillis had to say, and talk to some of the prospects one on one, in particular with Matt Pope and Evan Oberg.
One thing that’s been floating around which has been subject of rumour more so than anything confirmed from the lips of Gillis, was the fact that the Canucks are in the market for a top four puck moving defenseman, and a top six forward. In the scrum when asked about if the Canucks were still looking to pick up any players from free agency he made sure to mention that a defenseman was on his list, if at the right price, however his implications and lack of mention of a forward, were that this year there’s going to be several spots open for the junior players to step up and make their mark. Looks like this is the way the offense is going to stay and it’s likely we’re going to see Hodgson make the team.
It seems that with Wellwood heading to arbitration, and the Canucks cap space being tight, Gillis intends to use as many of the young superstars that are ready in his lineup. While Gillis wasn’t upset over the fact, Wellwood had elected to go to arbitration, he stood by his guns stating that if players stepped up, they would make the team. That was then followed by his displeasure in the way Patrick White has developed as a prospect. It was nice to see him criticize someone else’s pick rather than giving him a free ride through.
He did speculate on Cory Schneider
and the feeling I got from his comments were that Schneider could likely be the backup for Luongo this season if he were to have another excellent pre-season like he did last season. The theme du jour was “If he/they impress, they will earn a spot on the lineup”. Cory’s future is in his own hands. As usual he neglected to do more than just speculate on the extension of Luongo and the return of Sundin stating that with both parties he had had “good talks”.
I have the feeling Sundin is done and won’t return to the NHL. He’s taking a few weeks off, and is getting married later this summer. The decline of Gillis’ two year option at the start of signing with the Canucks and now these added facts just seem to indicate he’s ready to move on. With that in mind Gillis said he would be more than happy to have Sundin back, however no way is he going to wait till game 42 again this year.
One thing that surprised me about the prospects was actually how small they are. This might be Gillis’ plan to go faster, and younger, it might also be because I’m 6-foot-4 210lbs and just a whole lot bigger than most of them. Heck Schroeder is a whole 8 inches shorter than me. To sum up the prospects it was clear they all wanted to be there. It was also clear how the players that have been to this camp more than once have been developing. Prab Rai is taking his sweet time, where as Anton Rodin the smooth skating Swede is taking full advantage of what’s coming his way.
Two of the newest guys, Pope and Oberg, provided me a little more insight into the prospect blue line. Oberg’s a smaller guy who’s the wheeling dealing defenseman, our blue line could use some more speed and while Oberg isn’t likely to make this year’s team, look for him on the Moose and in the next couple years on the Canucks blue line.
I like Pope. He’s got his head on his shoulders and knows his place. He was very collected, knew exactly what his role was going to be. He’s a big guy, he looks big without his equipment which means he’s even more monstrous on skates, but what I liked about the guy was he was willing to take whatever roll came his way. He said on the Moose he’d learned a lot and developed his game quite a bit in the last few months, but he know that while he played more of an offensive role on the Moose, he knew his role with Vancouver was likely to be an energy player, play physical and shut down D. Pope reminds me of Matt Pettinger. A 3rd or 4th line grinder with more size and just as much offense. If anything, he’s a Darcy Hordichuk that plays on the 3rd line and can get a few more points. I wouldn’t mind sometime soon seeing him on a line with Hodgson, or playing alongside some speedy youngsters like Raymond and Hansen.
Pope isn’t fully participating in the rookie camp because he’s rehabbing a hip injury, but he seems ready to make the next step and join the team. As far as bottom 6 forwards go the Canucks have a lot of depth so cracking that lineup won’t be an easy task. The Canucks depth also carries over right now to the blue line and with the exodus of Vaananen and Davison from the blue line there are #6 and #7 spots to be filled. The Canucks right now have more than enough blue line patrolmen to fill the spot and Gillis expects Baumgartner, Nycholat and some of the younger defenceman to step up and take one of those spots which indicates to me that it’s unlikely the Canuck are going to dip in and find a defenseman at a price they want unless they pick up at that top four defenseman through a trade. (There is always that Kaberle rumour...)