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Canucks ready for Schneider's ascension to No. 1

by Dan Rosen

Cory Schneider has been biding his time since being the Vancouver Canucks' first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.

It appears his wait is over.

Despite winning the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back seasons and going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, the Canucks are expected to have a major change at arguably the most important position on the ice this season. Schneider, 26, will likely take over for Roberto Luongo as the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver after signing a three-year, $12 million contract in late June.

Luongo, who is 33 and still has 10 years left on his contract, is expected to get traded.

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"Every chance I got to play in the past, I handled it as a No. 1," Schneider said when he signed his contract. "Every game in the NHL is pressure. Just being in the NHL is pressure. I don’t think the contract or the dollars or your role on the team adds more pressure."

The shift to Schneider is not a surprise considering his increased playing time last season (33 appearances, 25 wins), culminating with him taking over for Luongo in the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Canucks' season lasted only another three games as the Kings dispatched them in five, but despite losing twice Schneider posted a 1.31 goals-against average and .960 save percentage -- stats comparable with his regular season numbers, which included a 1.96 GAA and .937 save percentage.

Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis' next task is to deal with the Luongo conundrum. His first and best option is to trade him, but that hasn't happened as of Aug. 1. Gillis is looking for what he believes is a fair market deal, and he told that any trade involving Luongo will change the Canucks' depth chart at both the NHL level and the prospect level.

"We're listening," Gillis said. "We have been listening to teams that are interested in acquiring him. If we get what we think the value is there we'll trade him. I don't have a timetable. In fact, in hockey things can change in five minutes with one phone call. It's unrealistic to put a timetable on it."

Gillis is not revealing how close the Canucks are to trading Luongo, who reportedly has a preference to return to the Florida Panthers, for whom he played from 2000-06. However, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Gillis is not ruling out the potential of Luongo being with the Canucks when training camp opens.

"Yeah, there is a possibility," Gillis said. "In goal we're in very good shape."

They are because Gillis has confidence that Eddie Lack can be the backup to Schneider if (or, more likely, when) the GM trades Luongo. Lack spent the past two seasons in the American Hockey League after playing three professional seasons in Sweden. He's 24 years old and by all accounts ready to make the jump.

"We like to be patient with our young players, but I think another organization would have already given him a chance to play at the NHL level," Dave Gagner, Vancouver's director of player personnel, told "With our goaltending situation the way it's been we didn't really have to rush him. Now I think he's ready."

Ryan Kesler likely won't be ready to start the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in May. Kesler's absence would leave a huge hole on the Canucks' second line, one Gillis said could be filled by Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks' first-round pick in 2009.


Additions: D Jay Garrison, D Derek Joslin

Subtractions: D Sami Salo, D Aaron Rome, D Marc-Andre Gragnani

UFAs: C Sammy Pahlsson, RW Byron Bitz

Promotion candidates: C Jordan Schroeder, G Eddie Lack, D Yann Suave, D Kevin Connauton

Gagner said Schroeder was one of the Canucks' most improved prospects at the AHL level last season.

Gillis said he has no concerns about Kesler making a full recovery. He is expected to be back by mid-to-late November.

There are other questions about the Canucks' second line, which would play behind the usual top line of the Sedin twins and Alexandre Burrows.

Can David Booth return to being the scoring threat he was in Florida? He scored 31 goals in 2008-09 and 23 goals in 2010-11.

"It's totally realistic," Gillis said. "There is a period of time coming into a Canadian marketplace where there is an adjustment period. David went through that adjustment period. He understands what it takes to play here."

Is Mason Raymond, who overcame a serious back injury, ready to return to being a 50-point guy?

"At the end of the season we had some discussions with him where we were very, very frank," Gillis said.

Will Zack Kassian be good enough to crack the top six, as Gillis suggested is a possibility?

"He's got a complete skill set -- it's about him maturing and using it to his advantage," the GM added.

Even with the change in net, Kesler's rehab situation and the questions about the potential second-line wings, the Canucks appear in fine shape to again be a serious contender in the Western Conference.

In small snippets, Schneider has shown an ability to be a top-end No. 1 goalie. Leadership is not an issue with the Sedins, Kesler, Manny Malhotra and Kevin Bieksa. Gillis feels he upgraded on the blue line this summer by signing Jason Garrison to a six-year, $27.6 million contract. And Vancouver is expecting to see exponential growth from Christopher Tanev, who is likely slotted for the third pair with Keith Ballard.

"(The Canucks) present a great opportunity to win and that was more of a factor than anything," Schneider said. "I've really gotten to know my teammates and the staff and the city, and I really enjoy it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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