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Canucks busy on first day of free agency

Forward Sam Gagner, defenseman Michael Del Zotto, goalie Anders Nilsson among signings

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks were busy Saturday, signing five new players and re-signing another on the first day of NHL free agency.

Vancouver signed free agent forwards Sam Gagner (three years, $9.45 million) and Alexander Burmistrov (one year, $900,000), defensemen Michael Del Zotto (two years, $6 million) and Patrick Wiercioch (one year, $650,000), and goaltender Anders Nilsson (two years, $5 million), and re-signed forward Anton Rodin (one year, $700,000) before he became a free agent.

 

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It was a surprising amount of activity for the Canucks, who are starting a rebuild after finishing 29th in the NHL, but general manager Jim Benning said he didn't want to hand jobs to a deepening pool of prospects.

"We wanted to add experienced players to help with the development of our kids," Benning said. "These players are still relatively young, they add speed and skill, and it will help with the competition for ice time and jobs. Now our young players have to earn spots."

Del Zotto and Gagner will also be counted on to help a power play that finished 29th (14.1 percent) last season and 27th (15.8 percent) in 2015-16.

Del Zotto, 27, has 189 points (47 goals, 142 assists) in 484 NHL games, including a career-high 41 with the New York Rangers in 2011-12. He had 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 64 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014-15 but had 13 in 52 games in 2015-16 and 18 in 51 games last season, his third with the Flyers.

"The biggest thing in free agency was the opportunity for me, being able to get back to more of an offensive role that I didn't have the last couple of years," Del Zotto said.

Gagner, who turns 28 on Aug. 10, had NHL career highs in points (50), power-play goals (eight) and power-play points (18) in 81 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. His 18 goals tied his previous NHL high from 2011-12 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Video: Canucks sign F Sam Gagner to 3-year deal

Gagner is a center but can play either wing and as a right shot should fit with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin on the top power-play unit in Vancouver. 

"There's never really any promises when it comes to ice time, but I see a lot of similarities to the Columbus situation last year," Gagner said. "The opportunity to be a leader and come to a team with a lot of really good young players knocking on the door and some older veterans that didn't feel like they had their best year and there is a lot to prove."

Nilsson, 27, replaces goaltender Ryan Miller, who signed a two-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks despite attempts by Vancouver to bring him back.

"We talked contract," Benning said of Miller, "and at the end of the day he made the decision to be closer to his family and got that opportunity with Anaheim, so we wish him well."

Nilsson, who was 10-10-4 with a 2.67 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Buffalo Sabres last season, will compete with fellow 6-foot-6 Swede Jacob Markstrom for starts in Vancouver.

Video: BUF@CBJ: Nilsson extends pad to deny Quincey

Wiercioch, who turns 27 on Sept. 12, provides depth on defense after Luca Sbisa was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21 and Nikita Tryamkin returned to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Burmistrov and Rodin each was signed for his offensive upside after the Canucks scored 364 goals over the past two seasons, 29th in the League.

Burmistrov, 25, had five goals and nine assists assists in 26 games with the Arizona Coyotes after being claimed off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 2. 

"He has shown good offensive potential," Benning said.

Rodin, 26, had an impressive preseason with the Canucks last year but was limited to three regular-season games because of a knee injury that required surgery.

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