The Vancouver Canucks
continue to roll out their trade deadline acquisitions Thursday, with new defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani
playing his first game in a battle for first place in the NHL against the St. Louis Blues
As debuts go, there might have been easier outings for the 24-year-old, but he's eager to get going against a big, physical Blues team that comes in on a four-game road win streak and just one point behind in the Western Conference standings.
"I can hardly sleep I'm so excited to be here and might be one of the happiest guys on Earth right now," Gragnani, who was part of a four-player trade with Buffalo on Monday that also saw Zack Kassian
come to Vancouver, with popular rookie Cody Hodgson
and defenseman Alexander Sulzer
going the other way.
"It’s the best team in the NHL, so who wouldn’t want to play here?" said Gragnani. "It's probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my career. I'm extremely excited and proud to be here. … Everything is positive for me right now."
The Canucks hope that includes Gragnani's plus/minus rating. Along with a reputation for being a good puck-mover and a power-play specialist, the defenseman comes to town with questions about his defensive play. He was plus-10 in 44 games with the Sabres, but only played once the last five weeks, watching as a healthy scratch despite a breakout 7 points in seven playoff games last spring.
In Vancouver he will start on the left side of a third pairing with Aaron Rome
-- he practiced on the right side, where the Canucks have a shortage, but will move back over against the Blues -- and also man the point on a power play that has fallen out of first place after managing just one goal on 12 chances over the last five games.
"Obviously my first job as a defenseman is to play 'D,'" said Gragnani, who played one season for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault
as a 16-year-old in junior. "I'm going to try to bring a lot of energy, puck-moving, and a little bit of offense."