Through three exhibition games – and yes, it’s only three exhibition games -- the Vancouver Canucks have shown that all the talk prior to training camp about organizational depth appears, indeed, to be true.
For the better part of a decade, the Canucks – and in turn Canuck fans -- really haven’t had ‘that player’ down on the farm to keep an eye on. They haven’t had that one guy who had people talking at the American Hockey League level. They haven’t had a player who had the hockey world waiting to see how he’d fare when he got the call to the big leagues.
It looks now like the Canucks have a handful of those players in Cory Schneider
, Mason Raymond
, Michael Grabner, Jannik Hansen
and Alexander Edler
. And since there’s still another week of the preseason to go, it’s not out of the question that one or two of those fellows could show enough to start the season with the big club. But it’s also quite likely that when the big-league team is at full health, all of those youngsters will find themselves on the farm at some point this season.
And make no mistake (although they may not see it this way) -- that’s a good thing. Let them go down and establish themselves as big-time players, capable of dominating games at the AHL level. Neither Hansen, nor Edler, looked out of place with the Canucks last season and both played, and played regularly, in the playoffs. But both are just 21-years-old and barely a year removed from junior hockey.
Raymond and Grabner both joined the Manitoba Moose after their college/junior seasons last year so both are still rookie professionals And Schneider opted to forego his final year of college when he signed with the Canucks in the summer, so has yet to play a pro game. It’s not as if any of those players can feel they’re being punished by having to play in the minors.
Instead, all should be excited about what the Canucks appear to have going in Winnipeg. One of the things the Canucks have done well in recent years – and particularly this off-season – is stock up on farmhands who look to be able to play the game at the NHL level. Brad Moran, Jason Jaffray, Greg Classen, Josef Balej, Juraj Simek have all shown well at times in training camp and in the limited preseason action to this point. It’s not a stretch to suggest that any of those players could see some time with the big club depending on the situations as the season unfolds.
For years, when the Canucks put in a call to the farm, it always seemed it was one of Lee Goren, Nathan Smith, Tyler Bouck or Brandon Reid who’d be on the first flight from Winnipeg. Now, all of those players were loyal soldiers and gave it everything they had when given their chances. But none of those was the kind of player fans in Vancouver would be charting on a regular basis, checking the box-scores and the point parade to see how they were faring on the farm. And all of those players appeared to have reached plateaus in their careers.
The Canucks look to have done what good teams do, cutting ties with a number of the players who’d been in the system for too long and trading others who didn’t fit in the organization for whatever reasons -- Fedor Fedorov, F.P Guenette, Joe Rullier , Jesse Schultz and Jason King were dealt for the likes of Ryan Shannon, Zack Fitzgerald, Colby Genoway and James Sharrow – in an effort to unearth players who’ve slipped through the cracks in other organizations.
So as the preseason moves along and Alain Vigneault tries to figure out what’s best for his Vancouver Canucks, it’s also an interesting study to see what Scott Arniel will have to work with on his Manitoba Moose roster. For the first time, in a long time, it seems Canuck fans will have many good reasons to keep a close eye on what’s going on in Winnipeg all season long. And this year, when the Canucks recall a player from the farm, there’s every reason to believe he won’t be coming in to simply plug a hole at the NHL level, but he could very well come in make some things happen.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org