With the constant injuries the Canucks faced this year, the freshman class wasn’t afforded the luxury of a strategy game, instead they relied on their instincts and natural abilities. Injuries to Sami Salo
, Kevin Bieksa
, and Brendan Morrison, to touch on just a few meant a chance for eight young Canucks to step up and make the right moves.
What’s been most impressive is that the first year Canucks have not only been filling in, but have been playing big minutes and making immediate impacts. This year, their experience ranged from one game to 75 games, and totalled 215 games between eight players – sixth most of all teams in the NHL. Though none are more than 25 years of age and still have to deal with some rookie initiations, not one played the pawn on the Canucks chessboard.
After starting the season with a hip injury, Alexander Edler
, played two games with the Manitoba Moose before being recalled October 15.
“Alex Edler was our seventh defenceman in training camp,” said former Canucks GM, Dave Nonis. “He ended up being the only player to play 72 games and almost 22 minutes a night and did an outstanding job at it. He was fantastic.”
Edler stuck on the big club’s roster and with a blueline plagued by injuries, logged more games than any other Canucks d-man this year.
“Oh really?” asks Edler, who wasn’t aware of his feat. “I guess I’ve been lucky that I’ve been healthy and with all the injuries [to our team], I haven’t had any so that’s probably why.”
But it’s more than that. At just 21 years old, he’s got poise and skill beyond his age and it’s didn’t go unnoticed. While he maintains a quiet demeanour on and off the ice, he has turned heads around the League, earning a spot on this year’s YoungStars roster, featuring some of the best young players.
“It was great to go there – we didn’t really get to play that much – but just to get elected to [the team] was an honour.”
Through 75 games, Edler registered 20 points (8-12-20), logged over 21 minutes a game, and maintained an impressive plus-minus rating all year. Mason Raymond
accumulated his share of frequent flyer miles in 2008, having been recalled and re-assigned six times. That’s enough time to figure out his strategy to checkmate his position on the team.
“Having been up and down it’s mentally tough for sure but again,” said Raymond. “It’s part of the game and something you learn to deal with but hopefully you don’t have to be doing that next year and spend the full year here.”
He didn’t make the return trip to the Canucks affiliate since his last recall January 16th and has since scored six goals in a 26-game span before suffering his first serious injury in mid March against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Raymond made the decision to leave college after two years in Minnesota, where he scored 46 points in 39 games in his sophomore year with the Bulldogs. With the Canucks ironman, Morrison, sidelined after wrist surgery, Vancouver looked to Raymond to provide an offensive spark. Leading all Canucks rookies with 21 points (ranked 23rd in scoring amongst all NHL rookies), Raymond didn’t shy away from the challenge.
“With all the injuries, there was a real great opportunity for us young guys to step in and play. I think a lot of us played well.”
Luc Bourdon started the 2006-07 season with the Canucks, playing nine games before he returned to play his over-age year in the QMJHL. But he didn’t go back without learning a few things from the NHL.
“When I went back to junior, I was a 19 year old, probably the oldest guy on the team,” said Bourdon. “So I had to take on a lot of responsibility and making sure I was playing good on ice and show a good example.”
He did exactly that. Upon his return to Moncton, he was traded to Cape Breton, where he showed critics why he is a first round draft pick, garnering 13 points in 16 playoff games with the Screaming Eagles.
Bourdon joined the Moose for five playoff games last season to add to his professional repertoire. He started the season with Manitoba and split the season between Vancouver and Winnipeg.
With pressure from critics and expectations from within, the 21-year old hasn’t let any of it get to him, especially upon his first recall with the big club after the unforgettable night November 1st against Nashville.
“I think it was hard to have to try to fill their shoes but I decided to do a simple job while I was here.”
There was a huge learning curve and not a lot of time to learn but Bourdon hasn’t let any of it get to him. He knows what he has to do to play well and continue on his uphill climb towards solidifying his spot on the Canucks roster.
“I think the biggest thing I learned is just to play a simple game, trust your partner, and trust your teammates and do a good job. When I was younger, my biggest problem was just running around trying to do everyone’s job but then I started doing just the little things and it’s served me well.”
It’s been a season full of adversity and opportunity but knowing how to make the most of the latter is what separates the best from the rest. Now that the rookies have a year under their belt, it means they’ve survived their year of rookie rituals but more importantly, they’ve got a great freshman year to show for it and the Canucks have a promising foundation for the future.
So, in a game where strategy and instincts are equally vital, and whether it’s hockey or chess, having the right pieces puts you in a much more comfortable position.