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Sundin expects to play Wednesday against Oilers

by Mike G. Morreale

"I think I am ready and I am anxious to play, of course. I'm looking forward to getting back playing the game but, at the same time, I want to make sure I'm ready physically so I can stay in the lineup"
-- Mats Sundin

Following an eight-month layoff, Mats Sundin has finally declared himself ready for contact. Sundin said after Wednesday's morning skate that he plans to be make his debut Wednesday night for the Vancouver Canucks against Edmonton at Rexall Place.

"After two full practices with the team and then today, the body feels good and so I'm ready to go," Sundin said Wednesday afternoon. "It's not the perfect situation coming into the season like this in the middle of year, but it's a big challenge for me and I have to work every game to get to where I want to be so we'll see how it goes.

I think the only way to get to where I want to be is to start playing games and I'm not sure how much time it will take to get back to the player I was last year, but we'll play it shift by shift and continue playing in up-tempo practices. I have felt good in practice.

The 37-year-old veteran -- who has been skating between former Maple Leafs teammate Kyle Wellwood and left wing Mason Raymond the last three days in practice sessions -- actually worked out Tuesday with the Canucks before travelling with the team later in the day to Edmonton. According to the Vancouver Sun, he also participated in 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 drills in Tuesday's workout.

"I know that if I wanted to play, I had to take this approach and start playing at this point," Sundin said. "I've felt very welcomed coming into the group and feel very much a part of the team and we'll try to make the best of the situation.

"The sooner I get into the games, it will help my game in terms of playing games and getting up to game pace. It's going to be an adjustment period and hopefully that will go quick."

Sundin agreed to a one-year contract with the Canucks on Dec. 18 after six months of deliberation and nearly half a year after the Canucks' original offer on July 1 that would have made him the League's highest paid player.

As many as 11 teams expressed an interest in the nine-time NHL All-Star, who finished with 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games last season with the Leafs to lead the club in scoring a fourth-straight year. In the end, though, it was a battle between Vancouver and New York with the Canucks finally emerging victorious last month.

Sundin's teammates are looking forward to joining him on the ice in an NHL contest.

"It's fun to watch him and it's going to give us a big boost and a lot of confidence, for sure," said fellow Swede Henrik Sedin. "When you see him out there, you can really tell he's one of the top players in this League all-time."

"It's great he's finally here," said forward Pavol Demitra. "It's a huge game. Edmonton is playing great right now so if Mats can help us, it will obviously give us a little more jump. I think he came at the right time and definitely he came to the right place."

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault knows Sundin will be a huge boost for his club, which currently sits fifth in the Western Conference with 21 wins and 47 points. Vancouver trails Calgary by five points in the battle for the Northwest Division title.

"I'm anxious to see where he is and I do think once he finds his rhythm here, without a doubt, he's going to help us," Vigneault said. "We talked about a reasonable amount of ice time to get him going and I think he's fine with it. He told me at the end of the practice that he felt really well.

"I told him from what I saw on the ice the last two days, I thought he looked good. The only way to get him to the pace the NHL is right now is to put him in gradually and let him work through the little inactivity that's he had. Hopefully, it will be his first game of what we hope will be a successful run here."

At the time of Sundin's signing, Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis wasn't set on suddenly declaring his team 'championship-caliber.'

"I don't think I would be comfortable calling any team a contender other than San Jose and Detroit," Gillis said. "What we want to do is get in the playoffs and win round-by-round. For me, it's the process of how the team plays and the integrity it plays with. I know we will get results if we play that way."

The Canucks will pay a visit to Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Feb. 21 to face Sundin's former employer, the Maple Leafs. He admitted it will be strange donning a Canuck jersey after 13 seasons in Maple Leafs' blue and white.

"Of course, it's going to be a strange feeling," he said. "I think every player who has been traded or moved around realizes it's part of our game. It's a part of the business that sometimes is not that much fun, but I'm really happy to be a part of the Canucks."

Wellwood would like nothing more than to get Sundin into the game early and often if he plays Wednesday night.

"If I'm out there with him, I'll try to get him involved in the game early and get him excited," Wellwood told the Vancouver Sun. "Since it will be his first game, he'll want to feel the puck a bit and get in some battles. He was such a dominant player in Toronto and he can be a difference maker for us."

On Oct. 14, 2006, Sundin became the first Swedish player to score 500 career goals when he connected against Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff for a 5-4 overtime victory. He still holds Maple Leafs records in goals (420) and points (984).

At the conclusion of 2007-08, he was the second-longest active captain in the League behind Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. Sundin began his career with the Quebec Nordiques, the team that drafted him No. 1 in 1989, and was traded to the Leafs in 1994. The Nordiques sent Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a first-round draft pick in '94 (Nolan Baumgartner) to the Leafs in exchange for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a '94 first-round pick (Jeff Kealty).

Sundin scored 555 goals and added 766 assists during his first 17 NHL seasons. He has also posted 74 points in 83 playoff games.

Contact Mike Morreale at
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