Fame isn't always the best measure of talent. Sometimes all it takes is ice time and a little confidence to transform a prospect or minor leaguer into an NHL standout. Just ask Alex Burrows, who parlayed a mid-season audition with the Canucks into an inspiring 43-game run to finish 2006.
That said, there's no better place for an aspiring prospect to make the jump into the NHL than training camp. With budget restrictions and new rule changes that encourage up-tempo hockey, opportunities are more abundant than ever.
Here's the first in a three part series looking at a few players who could barge their way onto Alain Vigneault's opening day roster with a strong showing up in Vernon.
It was late on the second day of the 2003 training camp. Brandon Reid, already a fan favorite following a seven-game call up the previous season, poked a puck over the centre line in breakaway drills. Reid charged directly in on goal, feigned a wrist shot, and pulled up to a near dead stop. Cutting to his backhand, he casually flipped the puck up over the sprawled goaltender and under the bar. A packed Greater Vernon MultiPlex erupted. It was a display of pure skill, and exactly the stuff that prompted Vancouver to draft the undersized pivot in 2000.
Despite a strong camp dotted with flashes of 50-goal brilliance, Reid didn't make the roster to start the year and began his third professional season with the Moose. He went on to lead Manitoba with 19 goals and 58 points, but managed only three games with the Canucks.
After the lockout, and two seasons playing over in Europe, the 25 year-old, 5'9" centre, is back in Vancouver determined to claim a roster spot. Drafted 208th overall by the Canucks in 2000, Reid signed a new contract with Vancouver this June.
Reid's size was the big limiting factor early in his career. The new NHL rules play right into his strengths. He's screaming fast, tenacious, and could feather a puck across five lanes of rush hour traffic. His experience playing right wing won't hurt him any, but his biggest challenge will be using his formidable gifts to his advantage up in Vernon.
Stan Smyl says:
"He's an offensive-minded player who's very creative with puck. Brandon backs people off with his speed and opens ice for his linemates. The new rules in the NHL should help his game."
The 23 year-old defender with the slick skates was the unheralded body coming back in the Roberto Luongo deal. Much of the media considered him a throw-in. Not so.
Krajicek was Florida's first round pick (24th overall) in 2001 for a reason. The 6'2", 185-pound Czech native possesses all-star potential. In fact, Krajicek was named Best Skater, Fastest Skater, and Best Offensive Defenceman in the OHL Eastern Conference in the 2003 OHL coaches poll.
He logged 67 games with Florida last season scoring twice and posting 16 points, but played on a ghastly Panther blueline and had to compete for ice time against other developing rearguards like Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn.
There are no dissenting opinions when it comes to Krajicek's potential. He's big, he can move, and he's tremendously gifted with the puck. Like all young blueliners, Krajicek's defensive game will only improve with experience - something he hopes he can do at the NHL level this season with the Canucks. Packing a little more clay on his 6'2" frame would help him manage some of the bigger forwards in the Western Conference, but at 23, Krajicek's's still filling out. Size will come with time.
Krajicek's biggest weapon is his offensive instinct. He has power-play quarterback potential and excels at firing long passes out of his own zone. All eyes will be firmly fixed on Krajicek up in Vernon.
Rypien still remembers the shot that did it. It was New Year's Eve in Minnesota and the Canucks were trailing 4-3, needing a win to keep pace in a tight Northwest Division race. Fighting to hold a patch of ice in front of Manny Fernandez, Rypien turned away from his check and took a point-shot in the ankle. He hobbled to the bench, and in that instant his first NHL season came to a painful close. It lasted just five games, most of it spot duty on the fourth line with Trevor Linden and Ryan Kesler.
Short as it was, Rypien, who went undrafted out of junior hockey and had to sign a tryout contract with the Manitoba Moose in 2005 just to get a look at professional hockey, opened eyes. While Rypien may have surprised a few Canuck fans with his scrappy game, it didn't exactly catch any Regina Pat fans off guard. Rypien was Named Team MVP, Most Popular Player, and won the Molson Molson Cup Award based on three-star selections in his final year of junior.
More Claude Lemiuex than Mario, Rypien's never been a big scorer. He tallied 51 points in 63 games with the Pats in 2004-05, and 15 points in 49 games with the Moose in 2005-06. What he does bring is grit, evidenced by his 122 penalty minutes in his first professional season with the Moose. Rypien's got pride and never-say-die attitude. Nobody knows this more than Alain Vigneault who coached Rypien last year in Manitoba.
With his ankle fully healed, Rypien will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement up in the Okanagan.