Now Nathan McIver (pronounced Mc-KEEV-er) is hoping he’s found a home in Vancouver.
And after moving east to west across this country to play the game he loves, the rugged 22-year-old defenseman is moving in a northerly direction – as in rapidly ascending the Canucks depth chart.
While his two preseason goals have him tied with Daniel Sedin
for the team lead, McIver hasn’t survived the first rounds of cuts based on his offensive contributions. And he’s not going to make the team because the Canucks believe he’s going to be the next Bobby Orr (his two goals match the number of times he’s scored the past two seasons down on the farm).
The former eighth round pick in 2003 is still with the big club because of his toughness and his willingness to do whatever is asked of him. And so far, in four exhibition outings, the 6’2”, 208 pound bruiser has been involved in four fights and has amassed 36 minutes in penalties. But he’s also +3 in the four games he’s suited up for.
So while his robust style of play earns attention and praise, McIver is also showing he has enough of a solid, simple game to now be, for the first time in his career, considered a legitimate NHL prospect.
“I don’t really care if I get noticed. I just want to go out there and don’t get noticed for the wrong things I do. I just try to play my game every game, keep it simple and play tough and physical,” he says of his style. “That’s always been my game. Whether it was in junior or in Manitoba or here, my game doesn’t change. I go out there, I’ve got to fight and I have to play tough. If guys are coming after me, I think that means I’m doing something right out there because I’m ticking guys off.”
While McIver may not be a favourite of opponents, he clearly has found an ally in Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault who has stated his desire to make his club a tougher team to play against. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say McIver has rediscovered the support of the coach since the two were together with the Manitoba Moose in the 2005-06 season.
“I remember in my first year in Manitoba, Alain told me that if I’m playing my game, trouble’s going to find me,” McIver says. “I think that’s what’s happening right now.”
But it’s not just trouble that’s finding the affable rearguard. His impressive preseason showing to this point has also landed him in the limelight as evidenced by the many cameras and microphones in his face after Tuesday’s practice at General Motors Place.
McIver got a taste of that treatment last November when he was recalled from farm for one game against Anaheim. The Canucks were shelled 6-0 by the eventual Stanley Cup champs and the rookie finished the night -3. As NHL debuts go, it wasn’t exactly the way McIver had scripted things. Still, simply getting the opportunity has fuelled his desire to stay and play at this level on a full-time basis.
“I came up for the one game, it wasn’t the greatest game, but still it was one of the greatest experiences in my life. Heading back after that first game, I kept thinking what a great experience it was and how much I enjoyed it. And I definitely put it in my mind that I wanted to be here next year and play some games here next year so it kind of drove me to work really hard this summer,” he says. “I definitely feel like I’m a better player. I improved my skating a little over the summer and I worked hard to improve my foot speed so I feel a little more confident. But mostly, it’s experience. I’ve got another year in the American League under my belt which gives me more confidence, so I definitely feel better this year.”
And clearly that hard work is paying off.
“Right now there’s a fight going on there and depending on these next three games and how it all unfolds, it’s the players performance that’s going to tell us who we’re going to keep,” says Vigneault about the battle for the final spot on his blueline. “We’ve got three more games here and we’ll have to see how McIver does, we’ll have to see how Edler does, how Bourdon does, and how McGillis does and their performance is going to dictate who’s going to stay and not stay.”
Nathan McIver may still be considered a long-shot to land a full-time job in the NHL at this point, but he’s getting closer every day. And every day that he remains with the big club, he feels more and more like he’s fitting in.
“The veterans are great here. When I came up last year, they all came in and said ‘hello’ and everyone talked to me. It’s the same at came here this year. This is my third year coming to main camp, so I’ve got to know most of the guys and I played with a few of the guys like Burr [Alex Burrows] and Kevin Bieksa
down in Manitoba so they’re good to me,” he says of settling into a comfort level in the Canucks locker room. “If I need help, if I need to know anything, I can always go ask those guys.”
And Kevin Bieksa
may just be the right guy for Nathan McIver to seek guidance from. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Bieksa was an unheralded rookie with a name people mispronounced who was groomed in Manitoba and worked his way to the big leagues with an aggressive style and a willingness to do whatever it took to play in the NHL.
Nathan McIver is hoping it’s his turn now. By this time next week, he should know.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org