Mike Gillis has emphasized size this off-season, both in the entry draft and in the free agent market. Only one of the Canucks’ draft picks this year was under six feet, the Swedish twin Pathrik Westerholm. Indeed, the GM went off the board in the 3rd round to pick the 6’5″ Alexandre Grenier and followed that up with the 6’4″ Joseph Labate in the 4th round. In free agency, Gillis signed the hulking 6’5″ Byron Bitz and sizeable 6’3″ Mark Mancari. Add in Alexander Sulzer and Steven Pinizzotto at 6’1″ and you can start to see a trend: Gillis wants the Canucks to get bigger. It’s ironic, then, that it’s the smallest summer acquisition that might have the biggest impact next season.

Other than the veteran Marco Sturm, diminutive Ebbett is the Canucks’ acquisition with the most NHL experience. At 5’9″ and 174 lbs, Ebbett is far from imposing, but he is, rather, a proven NHL center with 145 NHL games in his career. Byron Bitz? He’s only one year younger than Ebbett, but he has only played in 87 games. Mark Mancari? 36 games at the age of 26. Alexander Sulzer? 27 and 62 games. Steven Pinizzotto is 27 as well, and has yet to play in the NHL.

With Ryan Kesler questionable to be ready for the start of the season, the Canucks will need one more center in the lineup. While this is a massive opportunity for Cody Hodgson to show that he’s exactly that, Ebbett, too, is an experienced NHL pivot, more than capable of stepping into a depth role in the bottom rotations.

Of course, these others signings may have a longer term impact. After all, once Kesler returns, Ebbett is likely to find himself on the Chicago Wolves. Bitz and Mancari are likely candidates for the wings of the fourth line, though they’ll be in competition with Victor Oreskovich, Aaron Volpatti, and potentially Todd Fedoruk. But Ebbett has skill and experience that makes him an excellent depth option for the Canucks.

Ebbett has been a fantastic scorer in the AHL, using his speed and touch to good effect, and the Wolves will be thrilled to have him, but he has also been an effective player in the NHL. His peak was in 2008-09 when he scored 32 points in 48 games with the Anaheim Ducks while skating on the third line, but he has mainly found a home on fourth lines, where scoring has been harder to come by and his size is more of a liability. But, as a stopgap measure in case of injuries, Ebbett’s experience will come in handy.

Consider what happened when Manny Malhotra got injured last season. With Maxim Lapierre stepping up to the third line, the Canucks were stuck with inexperienced rookies Alexandre Bolduc and Cody Hodgson or an out-of-position Tanner Glass to fill in at center. Without an experienced center, the fourth line barely saw the ice in the playoffs. Bolduc averaged only 3:38 in time on ice per game, while Hodgson averaged only 6:45.

Obviously, in the best case scenario, the Canucks face no injuries down the middle, particularly heading into the playoffs. Still, having a dependable failsafe option is important. Kudos to Mike Gillis for replacing the departing Alex Bolduc with a more dependable player.

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6 comments

  1. The Bookie
    August 10, 2011

    Wow. I didn’t realize Bitz was that big. Great news if he’s good enough to become a 4th line regular.

    And if he’s one year younger with 58 less games played, that could even out this season.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      August 10, 2011

      I agree. I have high hopes for Bitz. But depth at center is arguably more important.

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      • Rituro
        August 10, 2011

        I remember watching Bitz during his days as a Nanaimo Clipper. Hearing that the Canucks had signed him made me all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia.

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  2. The Bookie
    August 10, 2011

    Definitely agree about having more depth at center.

    On that note, I read somewhere that Huggins originally played C.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      August 10, 2011

      We’ve mentioned that a few times. It’s an option, and I think it played a large role in the Canucks’ decision to keep him. But I don’t think they want to use him at centre — if they do, it means there are unwanted injuries or performance issues with the natural Cs.

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  3. SteveB
    August 11, 2011

    “I remember watching Bitz during his days as a Nanaimo Clipper. Hearing that the Canucks had signed him made me all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia.”

    Me too, it’s cool to see BCHL players make it to the Show.

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