On paper, the Canucks look set at center. Henrik Sedin has an Art Ross and a Hart trophy to his name. Ryan Kesler is a Selke winner and a Hart-calibre centre himself. Manny Malhotra is the second-best faceoff man in the league and widely regarded as the rightful Selke winner. Maxim Lapierre was arguably the best Canuck in the Stanley Cup Final, and ably filled in for Malhotra during his absence. Furthermore, with good reports coming from the Cody Hodgson camp and Andrew Ebbett penciled in as veteran(ish) insurance, you’d think the Canucks would have no interest in extending a tryout contract to Steve Begin, as reported by Canucks Army via RDS earlier today.
That said, the game isn’t played on paper, and there’s far more uncertainty down the middle for the Canucks than most realize. Henrik Sedin, following in the footsteps of Sami Salo, was the latest Scandinavian Canuck to suffer a lower body injury (hip) during a pickup game. His return to Vancouver has been delayed to rest and recover. Ryan Kesler, too, is in hip recovery mode after undergoing surgery that may cause him to miss the season opener (although it’s definitely helping his Twitter skills).
There are questions all down the depth chart. Manny Malhotra’s vision remains a concern, and Maxim Lapierre is well-known for performing in the playoffs and disappearing during the regular season. At this point, you can’t count on either. Even the good reports about Cody Hodgson remain to be proven, and Andrew Ebbett’s a bubble guy.
In short, bringing in another veteran centre might be a good idea, and Steve Begin’s a good choice.
Begin, a natural centre whose 53.4 faceoff percentage in 09-10 was 19th in the NHL and whose 539 career penalty minutes indicate some real grit, would fit in well with this team. He’s only 33 years old and he can provide leadership and depth at a position that drops off steeply after the top four guys. Even if all four play well from October on, an injury to either Lapierre or Malhotra means the Canucks will be tending a fourth-line center graveyard in a hurry, just like last season. With Begin, the Canucks would have a backup for Malhotra, both as the defensive faceoff guy and as the prerequisite bald dude.
Furthermore, Begin won’t struggle for motivation to beat Boston. Like Byron Bitz and Marco Sturm, Begin’s last full season was with the 2009-10 Bruins. One hopes the Canucks are aware that the 2010-11 Bruins, not the choky 09-10 group, are the team to ape. I assume Gillis is bringing these guys in because he feels that, after being kicked to the curb by last year’s Bruins, they might fit in well with a roomful of guys that hate Boston too. Either that or he’s planning to make Peter Chiarelli look stupid by winning the Cup with guys he spurned.
Anyway. Begin will be an interesting player to watch come training camp.
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