By now, you’re probably aware of the positives about having the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL team just 66 kilometres down Highway 1 from Rogers Arena. It was a decision and investment made by ownership in 2021 with the team midway through its 3rd season in the Fraser Valley.

Having the Abbotsford Canucks so close gives the club an option to move players up and down quickly and allows for conditioning stints in the AHL when an NHL player is coming back from injury or just hasn’t played very much in the NHL. It has also provided the opportunity for certain players to practice during the week in Vancouver and then get game action in Abbotsford on the weekend.

Linus Karlsson is taking advantage of the opportunity to skate with the NHL club and be there for depth if the team needs a forward, while also being able to play in games with Abbotsford when both teams are at home – or when the NHL is on its All-Star break and the Abbotsford Canucks have a pair of home games over the weekend.

Speaking on the value of proximity, Linus Karlsson acknowledged one of the benefits.

“I haven't played many games right now but the practices and the pace are things I’m getting used to. Then, I can bring it to Abbotsford and keep playing well down there. My goal since I came here [to North America] is to play in the NHL and it's nice to go up [to the NHL] and see the speed,” said Linus Karlsson, who is in his second year playing pro hockey in North America after seven years of pro hockey in Sweden.

“We can send him down to play, then he comes right back up,” said Tocchet about Linus Karlsson. “There might be some other guys that we've talked about who might get a taste to come up even just to practice. I love that. Let’s get them practicing with us for two days and they might not even play a game but then they can get sent back down and have the experience. I think it's valuable for the franchise to have the ability to do that.”

Structure is a bit of a cheat code of how the players can adjust to the NHL in a hurry. Knowing where to go with the puck once it hits your stick is a critical skill that is needed in the NHL, and a big difference from the AHL, where you tend to have a bit more time and space.

“A player gets up here and they can look at the pace and go, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve got to do’,” said Tocchet. “I'm a big believer in that thinking. It just helps the whole organization. Then, the guy goes back down with a little bit of juice in his body thinking ‘Man, I just got a couple of practices with the big club, I might get my chance’. We want them to know what we want from them and I think Jeremy Colliton preaches to them about what we’ve talked about up here.”

Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton has experience in multiple pro leagues including four seasons in the Swedish Allsvenskan league, three seasons in the AHL, and even four seasons in the NHL. He shares parallel values to Tocchet when it comes to practice habits.

“I think your practice preparation becomes your game reality,” said Colliton. “Ultimately, you’ve got to do it in the game, but it's the guys who are prepared to do the little things with or without the puck and that starts in practice. It's up to us as coaches as the week goes on to put the players in situations where they're preparing themselves. And they have got to take advantage of it by practicing hard and committing to those details so that when the game starts, they're ready and ready to do those things.”

“They both focus on small details of the game -- they're both really good coaches,” said Karlsson about Tocchet and Colliton. “I really like them both. They are good at giving the details of how they want us to play. That's really nice to have at both levels.”

Colliton has been enjoying the opportunity to help develop NHL players in the AHL, but he’s also focused on his team playing the right way and building a winning environment. As much as we talk about structure, pillars, and habits here in Vancouver – you’re seeing that echoed down in Abbotsford. 

The leading voice on setting those standards in Abbotsford is GM Ryan Johnson.

“We have an expectation of how we want to practice,” said Johnson. "It's a blueprint that we've talked about with all of our prospects. Practice habits are something that Rick Tocchet really values."

Johnson has been pleased with the play of his AHL team this year and is confident that when the NHL team comes calling for a player – they will have a guy who is prepared and eager to step in and assist the Vancouver Canucks.

“My confidence level is extremely high,” said Johnson when asked how he feels if Vancouver needs to make a call-up. “It's something that Patrik [Allvin] and I have talked about. We've got all the confidence in the world about getting these guys in when we are going to have to call on them and we’re confident that they will be very comfortable with that because of the process that we've taken making sure that their focus is on the right things here in Abbotsford.”

The Canucks have been mostly healthy this season but the confidence level in the organization is high on their options if a call-up needs to happen for a long-term fix. There’s a lot of talent down on the farm and they are being taught the lessons that they will need to follow as a road map to success in the NHL.

For many young players, NHL success is due to the work that you put in before you arrive. That’s the focus in Abbotsford and the fact that the team is just down the highway.

There are still many doors to explore with the proximity of the AHL club. Conditioning stints like the one that Mark Friedman went through in mid-January.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface with what the AHL team can do for the NHL club. What we do know is that when those players are a short drive away from Rogers Arena, the ability to make moves at critical times is a competitive advantage for both clubs.