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Higgins' new nightmare

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Canucks newcomer Chris Higgins went from one nightmare to another.

As a member of the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames and most recently the Florida Panthers, over the last six seasons, Higgins had the displeasure of facing Vancouver six times and he dreaded it on each and every occasion.

The troubling thing now for Higgins, a 27-year-old New York product who was acquired from the Panthers during Monday’s trade deadline in exchange for Evan Oberg and a 3rd round pick in 2013, is that he’s still nursing a injury and is unable to suit up with his new squad.

"It’s kind of a nightmare getting traded to a team and you can’t play right away, but hopefully I can fill in right away," said Higgins, as he met with media for the first time in Vancouver.

Higgins broke the thumb on his right hand blocking a shot against the Atlanta Thrashers on February 25th and a timetable for his return is still up in the air.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is hopeful Higgins could join Vancouver on their upcoming five-game road trip to at least practice with his new mates, if not make his debut.

Until then, Higgins will continue to soak in everything that has transpired since Monday. Just over 48 hours ago the forward was a member of a team entrenched in a nine year post-season drought, now he's part of a team on pace to finish its 40th anniversary season with the most points in franchise history.

You guessed it, the trade was a welcomed one for Higgins.

“Obviously if you’re being moved to a team, this is the team you want to get moved to,” said Higgins, who had 23 points in 48 games in Flordia this year.

“It’s a nightmare playing this team throughout the year and it seems like they give a lot of teams a lot of trouble; obviously they have a lot of skill and they work pretty hard. It’s a great opportunity to come in here and get a win.”

The opportunity is there for the taking and it’s one that, based on past spring performances and familiarity with the team, he will make the most of.

In 61 career games in the month of March, Higgins has scored 21 goals and picked up 17 assists for 38 points, all yearly highs. He’s followed that up with 10 goals and four helpers in 21 April games and in 12 post-season contests with the Canadiens in 2007-08, Higgins had five points (3-2-5) to sit seventh in team scoring.

As far as Higgins getting to know his new mates goes, he can cross a few off the list already.

Higgins and Ryan Kesler represented the United States at the 2003 World Junior Championships in Nova Scotia with Kesler finishing second in team scoring behind Zach Parise, one point in front of Higgins.

Keith Ballard is also familiar with Higgins as the pair donned American sweaters a year earlier at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Czech Republic.

Ballard, for one, isn’t worried about how the new guy will be assimilated into the Canucks dressing room.

“I saw from day one this team is so welcoming and I felt immediately comfortable,” said Ballard. “It always takes time to adjust to the city or to even find your way around the locker room, it’s a pretty complex set-up here, but the guys are great. I’ve been on a few teams and in most locker rooms hockey players are good guys.”

On the ice, under heightened expectations, Ballard also believes Higgins will thrive.

“I think he’ll fit in here very well. He’s a very versatile player, he’s obviously got a lot of offence ability, he scored a lot of goals in Montreal there and then had a couple of years where he didn’t score as much, but he’s a guy that it’s there and if the right situation comes and he finds the right chemistry, he can be very good offensively.”

Where exactly Higgins fits into the scheme of things remains to be seen. The coaching staff has always said that the best players will play and if Higgins, or fellow newcomer Max Lapierre for that matter, earns his stripes, he could see minutes down the stretch.

“I’ll probably start out pretty low on the totem poll because how do you argue with a team that’s first in the league, so I’ll have to earn my minutes and I have no problem doing that, obviously they’ve got a lot of skill on this team and they work hard," said Higgins.

“It’s going to be difficult to earn those minutes, but I’ll try my best.”

That’s exactly what Higgins was brought in to do.

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