The chemistry has just begun and there's already been a reaction.
The Vancouver Canucks, made up of 60 players split into three groups, began practicing at Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler Friday, and it was rise and shine for Group A with ice time at 8:30 a.m.
Ryan Miller and Thatcher Demko were in net. Sven Baertschi skated with Bo Horvat and Borna Rendulic, while Jake Virtanen was alongside Cole Cassels and Mike Zalewski. On defence, Erik Gudbranson and Ben Hutton, who are projected to be starting the season together, skated as a pair for the first time.
To Gudbranson, the connection was instant.
"This was our first time and I thought it went really well," said Gudbranson. "He's a good hockey player, so it's a matter of figuring out each other's tendencies and how the communication is going to work. [Hutton] moves well, he's aggressive, he's full of juice being such a young guy and I'm excited to play with him."
Listening to Gudbranson, you'd assume he's a 33-year-old, 10-year NHL veteran with a Stanley Cup ring at home. He's not. He's 24 with 309 games under his belt, yet he oozes leadership and charisma well beyond his years.
So does Hutton, as a matter of fact. And he's only 23-years-old.
Side-by-side they look like veteran and rookie, when in reality they're both young bucks trying to solidify Vancouver's defence one practice at a time.
"I've got grey hairs coming in now and I do feel like I've been around a while," laughed Gudbranson. "I learned from some really great defencemen, so bringing good habits to the table and instilling them in Hutton is a responsibility of mine, especially at the stage he's in with his career. He's a heckuva hockey player and I'm going to help him out as much as I can and I expect that from him my way."
The pair spoke between almost every drill and Hutton explained Gudbranson was filling him with tips on how to use his stick, where to put his hands and how to control his hips during one-on-one battles.
"Little things that are refreshing when they come from a good guy like that," smiled Hutton. "Today we had a lot of one-on-one battles and I give him first star because I don't think he lost one of them. Whether I'm playing with him or not, a guy that wins his battles is someone you want on the ice and in the corner. If we are together and he's in the corner, maybe I can jump up and join the rush a little bit more."
Both laughed when asked if their pairing was meant to be, seeing as how they're Ontario boys. They actually shared mutual friends growing up.
Now they share a desire to keep the puck out of their end, chip in offensively and help thwart anyone doubting the Canucks chances at success this season.
"Every guy in this room knows what we have and what we can bring," said Hutton, not smiling. "Obviously we weren't happy with last year and that motivates us more for this year to come out with fire in our blood ready to prove people wrong."
After taking part in Friday's first ice session, Hutton, Jake Virtanen and Jordan Subban visited Whistler Waldorf School for a 30-minute Q&A. The 60-plus students gathered to quiz the Canucks didn't disappoint asking them about everything from how they fight through lows, to what they like to read and eat.
A few highlights included Hutton bragging about his Call of Duty kill-to-death ratio of 2.3, Subban winning over all the teachers by recommending Malcolm Gladwell books, and Virtanen telling the story of going from a disappointing finish with Team Canada at the World Juniors to playing alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin his next game and scoring the game-tying goal.
It's tough to say who enjoyed the talk more.
The players also delivered some new street hockey gear for the students before Virtanen got them all on Snapchat. If you're not following @Canucks on Snapchat, you're missing out!