The games may not count in the standings, but pre-season never lacks in drama and this year's exhibition campaign is shaping up to be one of the most compelling in years for the Canucks. Here are five storylines that make this pre-season a must watch.
1. Welcome to China!
Having split squads during pre-season is not uncommon, but it is unusual for those squads to be on entirely different continents.
With one squad headed to China for a pair of contests against the Kings, and the other half remaining in North America for games in Alberta, how the roster gets split will provide insight on who has an inside track on making the opening night line-up.
With the China Games being a showcase NHL event, the travelling roster will likely be loaded with more established stars than a typical pre-season affair would have. Those players figure to be the ones who have an edge on making the opening night line-up.
Whether new head coach Travis Green is part of the overseas contingent will be a story in itself. Will Green choose to travel to China where there may be more distractions among the hubbub of being part of the NHL's first foray into the market, or will he choose to stay behind so he can have a better chance of watching and assessing the younger and bubble players?
2. The net assets
The Canucks figure to be set in goal once the regular season starts with their all-Swedish tandem of Jacob Markstrom and newcomer Anders Nilsson, but the pre-season, particularly the early portion of it, will offer fans a chance to see some of the other netminders in the system.
Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, the former a second round pick in 2014 and the latter a third round pick this past June, are among two of the most highly touted goaltending prospects in the league. Demko saw some pre-season action a year ago and is coming off a strong second half campaign in the AHL with the Utica Comets. DiPietro, assuming he advances following the YoungStars camp, would be making his NHL pre-season debut this September and is fresh off winning a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Catching a glimpse of them wearing a Canucks jersey and seeing how they fare against NHL snipers will be a highlight of the preseason.
However, before we get too caught up in the future in net for the Canucks, there could be a pretty good battle to watch in the present as well between the aforementioned Markstrom and Nilsson. While Markstrom figures to have the inside track on the number one job given his longer tenure with the Canucks, keep in mind both players have similar career numbers and neither has bona fide experience as a starter in the NHL.
3. The triplet auditions
Last season was hardly a banner year for Henrik and Daniel Sedin who combined for fewer than 100 points in a non-lockout shortened season for the first time since 2003.04. Having a revolving door of wingers wasn't the only reason for that but it certainly didn't help matters.
The wingers chosen to play with the twins this season will have a big say how the two bounce back. While the team does have some options worth revisiting - Markus Granlund being the strongest candidate given his breakout campaign a year ago - there will be more opportunities for auditions. Newly-signed veteran winger Thomas Vanek, who is three points shy of 700 career points, might be an early frontrunner but others including fellow newcomer Sam Gagner and youngsters Brock Boeser, Anton Goldobin and Reid Boucher should be afforded an opportunity to try out as well.
4. New kids on the block
Speaking of the youngsters, unlike the end of last season where the regular season was reduced to an open audition process, don't expect any of them to receive a free pass to begin this year. That means having a good showing will be essential to earning an opening night roster spot and even that won't be a guarantee (see Troy Stecher from one year ago).
The Canucks were busy during the off-season bringing in several veterans including Gagner, Vanek, Alexander Burmistrov, Vanek, Michael Del Zotto, Scottie Upshall and Ryan White. Those veterans, with the exception of Upshall and White who are on here on tryouts, will have an inside edge on a roster spot with all things being equal. That means there will be no guaranteed spot even for the kids with NHL games under their belts like Boeser, Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, Griffen Molino or Even McEneny, and it will be even tougher for those without any NHL experience like Jonathan Dahlen, Olli Juolevi or Jalen Chatfield to impress enough to earn a roster spot.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the prospective first-time NHLers is Jordan Subban.
At the AHL level working under the tutelage of Travis Green, Subban became an all-star. At the NHL level, however, he's barely had a sniff and that includes the previous three preseasons under former coach Willie Desjardins where he suited up for just two games combined. Given his background working with Green, is this the year the 22-year-old finally gets a legitimate look at training camp or is he going to fall victim once again to the numbers game?
5. Power Play Re-Newell
After watching their power play languish near the bottom of the league for the past two seasons, the Canucks reached into their past this off-season to bring back one of the architects of the most successful power plays in franchise history, Newell Brown.
While Brown does have a few familiar faces to work with - namely the Sedin twins and Alexander Edler - he'll mostly be trying to reinvent the wheel in his second go-around with the Canucks. That means a significant part of preseason will be dedicated to experimenting with man-advantage units to see what clicks.
The 'who' is just as important to the 'how' in terms of the way Brown reshapes the power play. Veterans like the twins, Vanek and Loui Eriksson may offer a safety blanket to a degree, but preseason will offer an opportunity to see how outside the box Brown is willing to get with his personnel to try and find the right pieces to turn the power play around.
The players on the bubble may want to keep this especially in mind. Being seen as a good fit on the power play might the difference between making the team and being on the outside looking in.