Six storylines to follow at Canucks training camp

Well, thank heaven that’s over. I don’t know about you, but I found the NHL lockout absolutely excruciating. It’s a relief to be able to write about actual hockey-related things on this hockey-related blog.

Speaking of which, there are a whole bunch of hockey-related things that are going to be happening in the next little while. As soon as the NHL’s fancy new CBA gets ratified by the players, training camps will kick off and last for a week or less. Then the season will start. That’s not a lot of time and it’s likely that a metric whackload of stories will happen in a very short span of time.

To get you prepared for all of the craziness that’s about to ensue, here are 6 storylines to watch for at Canucks training camp.

1 | Who the heck is going to centre the second line?

Just how injured is Ryan Kesler? It’s hard to tell, but it seems certain he won’t be ready for the start of the season. That means the Canucks have a conundrum at the core of their second line.

Jordan Schroeder seemed to have the inside track on the job at the start of the season and it’s possible he still does. He is scoring at a slightly higher pace than his previous seasons in the AHL and he has been praised for his attention to the defensive side of the ice. That said, he’s still just 5’9″ and has yet to play a single game in the NHL. It’s frightening to consider the Canucks relying on Schroeder long-term if Kesler is indeed out for as long as his agent thinks he will be.

Another short-term option might be Andrew Ebbett, who has more points with the Wolves than Schroeder. Ebbett has shown tremendous versatility with the Canucks and could fill in temporarily on the second line, but he isn’t a long-term solution, even if he did manage 32 points in 48 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2008-09. He is solid on faceoffs, however, and would at least be a stop gap until a better solution is found.

There has been talk of Chris Higgins moving over from the wing to play centre on the second line. Higgins was drafted as a centre and has played the position from time-to-time in the NHL. He is defensively responsible and drives possession fairly well, but doesn’t seem like the ideal fit at centre. His style of play just seems to translate better to the wing. That said, if he moves over that opens up a spot on the wing for Zack Kassian, whose playmaking ability might fill in for Higgins’ deficiency in that area.

It’s possible that a free agent might be the best solution, in which case Jason Arnott could fit the bill. While he’s lost a step, he still has a little scoring punch left and could be a good fit on the powerplay.

For a real long shot, how about Jannik Hansen, fresh off a stint at centre for Tappara in Finland?

2 | Wait a second, what about the third line?

Even if Kesler were healthy, the Canucks would still have a hole at centre. When Samme Pahlsson returned to Sweden at the end of last season, the Canucks were left without a third line centre, though they do have several options.

For instance, if Schroeder and Ebbett don’t work out on the second line, the third line might well be a better fit. It’s possible even that Higgins’ skillset would make him a better third-line centre than a second-line centre, with the same being true of Hansen. Arnott could still be signed to centre a tertiary scoring line.

The one to watch, however, is Maxim Lapierre. If Alain Vigneault wants to make his third line a defensively responsible, offensive-enabling checking line, Lapierre looks to be the best option, unless Malhotra can return to his pre-injury form. Lapierre filled that role during the 2011 playoffs, which looms large in fans’ memories. What people tend to forget is that Lapierre struggled on the third line during the regular season that year, eventually getting demoted.

Lapierre teamed with Malhotra and Dale Weise on the fourth line last season to form a strong checking line, starting in the defensive zone more than anyone else in the league, which should earn him enough goodwill from Vigneault to get another shot as the third line centre.

3 | Can Dale Weise settle back into bottom-6 duty after tasting super-stardom?

Speaking of Weise, how well will he adjust from being the saviour of hockey in the Netherlands to playing some of the most thankless minutes in the NHL? Weise was a bit of a punching bag for Canucks fans last season, mainly because he was essentially just a punching bag when he got into fights. But Weise had a respectable season, playing an almost solely defensive role as a rookie. The fact that Vigneault trusted him in that role speaks volumes.

In the Netherlands, however, Weise was an unstoppable offensive force, racking up a whopping 48 points in just 19 games. Being thrust back into a primarily defensive role may be more of a culture shock than travelling to the Netherlands in the first place.

While many NHLers went over to Europe in hopes of being up to game speed by the time the NHL season started, it’s tough to say whether Weise will see the same benefit. Is the level of Dutch hockey enough to give Weise a boost on players who trained on their own or with college teams?

4 | Is Cam Barker the best the Canucks can do for defensive depth?

The rumours began flying yesterday that the Canucks had invited Cam Barker, former third overall pick, to training camp. The prospect terrified me, because Barker is not very good. Despite the pedigree of being selected after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Barker just plain isn’t an NHL-caliber defenceman. It could be argued at this point that he’s not even an AHL-caliber defenceman.

How can I say that? Well, the AHL’s Texas Stars cut Barker after a 25-game tryout back in December.

The Canucks do need defensive depth, however, after losing both Sami Salo and Aaron Rome in the off-season, as well as Marc-Andre Gragnani, though no one is shedding too many tears about him. Jason Garrison was signed in place of Salo, but the Canucks are in need of reliable 7th and 8th defencemen in case of injury.

Andrew Alberts is a solid depth option, but things get thin after that. Derek Joslin is suspect in the defensive zone, Kevin Connauton isn’t well-suited to a depth role, and the Canucks seem unsure about Yann Sauve.

But the Canucks have to be able to do better than Cam Barker, right? Right? Please?

5 | How long will Roberto Luongo be a Vancouver Canuck?

Roberto Luongo will be reporting to Canucks training camp, because that’s what you do when you play for the Canucks and, as it happens, he still does. How long that will last is anyone’s guess. There are those who say that the Canucks already have a trade in place with the Toronto Maple Leafs and are just waiting for the CBA to be ratified. Others say the same about the Florida Panthers. Still others, including Gillis himself, have suggested that Luongo won’t get traded at all and that the Canucks could roll out a tandem of Luongo and Cory Schneider throughout the season.

Dedicated Bulies will recall I brought up this point back in October: a compressed schedule with more back-to-back games raises the possibility of more fatigue and a greater risk for injury, meaning having two superb goaltenders to share the load might be the best option.

Of course, the assets that Luongo could bring back in a trade could also be helpful, filling the holes at centre and/or defence mentioned above. Will Luongo still be a Canuck by the end of training camp?

The other wrinkle is that Eddie Lack is out with an injury, meaning he isn’t an option to back up Schneider if Luongo does get traded. This means the Canucks would need to acquire a reliable backup, either through free agency, the Luongo trade itself, or another, separate trade. The list of goaltenders still available through free agency offers slim pickings, with Ty Conklin, Marty Turco, and Brent Johnson being the best options of a mediocre bunch.

6 | Can the Canucks’ junior prospects make the team?

It’s still unclear what prospects will be showing up for the Canucks training camp. The Canucks only called up 5 players from the Chicago Wolves, leaving many prospects with their AHL farm team. Alexandre Grenier might come to camp after his contract was terminated in Austria, but is more likely to head straight to Chicago.

Nicklas Jensen is staying in Sweden for the rest of the season. NCAA prospects Ben Hutton, Patrick McNally, Jeremy Price, Matt Beattie, Joseph LaBate, and Wesley Myron won’t be able to leave their teams mid-season.

That really leaves just two other prospects who might make the trip: Brendan Gaunce and Frank Corrado. Both are long shots to make the Canucks this season, but both could potentially fill a need.

We’ve covered Corrado’s rise to prominence in some detail and he has a couple things going for him that make him a dark horse for a spot on the Canucks’ blue line, the main one being that he’s a right-handed shot, of which the Canucks have precious few. He could potentially be eased into a bottom-pairing role this season, alleviating the need for another depth defenceman. Is it worth using a year of his contract to do so? That’s a tougher question. Probably not, especially in a short year, and since he was just acquired by the Kitchener Rangers at the OHL trade deadline, the sense seems to be that he’ll be playing out his final year of junior.

Gaunce is an interesting case as well. The Canucks’ first round pick from 2012 already has NHL size at 6’2″ and 210+ lbs. and he has a reputation for solid two-way play. Gaunce currently leads the Belleville Bulls in scoring despite missing 8 games with an injury and the Canucks have holes at the centre ice position. It’s a little much to suggest that he could battle for a spot on the second line, but is the third line out of the question?

Probably, but man is it ever fun to speculate about this kind of stuff again.

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18 comments

  1. Lenny
    January 8, 2013

    Dale Wiese is one of your 6 storylines?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 8, 2013

      He sure is. How could he not be after his storybook season in the Netherlands?

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      Rating: +8 (from 8 votes)
    • RG
      January 8, 2013

      Don’t hate. Maybe his confidence is sky high from being the Dutch Gretzky and he’ll pull an Alex Burrows, going from zero to hero in a couple years.

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      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
      • akidd
        January 8, 2013

        amazing what a little confidence can do. i wouldn’t mind if AV tried to milk weise’s new mindset a bit and gave him the occasional offensive deployment…but i sure wouldn’t bet on it.

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    • Nee
      January 8, 2013

      What about Garrison? Local boy plays for childhood team! I’m a sucker for that type of storyline.

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  2. obituary mambo
    January 8, 2013

    Hallelujah! Hockey speculation is so much more fun when you know that there are actually games on the horizon. I CAN NOT wait for the season to start.

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  3. jenny wren
    January 8, 2013

    Upon my telling Whisky Jack
    The NHL is coming back
    He looked at me with wizened eyes
    And said, “That comes as no surprise,

    “But what surprises even less
    Is I don’t care , but I digress.
    Although they’ve half a season lost,
    One wonders was there any cost

    “To those who really run the show,
    And could have settled months ago.
    Many were hurt I have no doubt:
    People the rich don’t care about,

    “And while I wish I could do more,
    The NHL I shall ignore.”

    Jenny Wren

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    • jenny wren
      January 8, 2013

      While I admit some gratitude
      Fuck you remains my attitude
      Although I love to see them play
      My distaste still is in the way

      Corporate sponsors players too
      And most of all the owners knew
      That from their games I’d not abstain
      Although I watch with much distain

      I wish I could with Whisky Jack
      Just stay away and not come back
      Remove my flags from both my trucks
      And nevermore cheer the Canucks

      Because that’s not how things will be
      I find I am ashamed of me

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      Rating: +8 (from 14 votes)
  4. Nee
    January 8, 2013

    What about Lapierre for 2-C? He’s played centre a fair bit since he came to the Canucks. Worth a try. Certainly a better option than Jannik Hansen!

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  5. Bob
    January 8, 2013

    If Kesler is out for as long as his side is saying, that’s a GOOD thing, no? Means we have an extra $5m of cap space to throw around on high caliber rentals for the season plus a (hopefully) rehabbed Kesler back for the playoff run since cap doesn’t apply in the post season…and could also mean we could sit and wait for a Luongo trade on more opportunistic terms in the meantime

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      January 8, 2013

      Except that (a) there’s nothing to spend that money on, and (b) with his second long-term injury in as many seasons, Kesler would surely have to take more than half of a *normal* season to get up to speed (i.e. last year, but worse). Even if he returned for opening day, he wouldn’t likely be truly back in the swing of things at any point during the season or postseason.

      I don’t have a great feeling about this year, unfortunately.

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  6. Kristoff
    January 8, 2013

    Patrick McNally was ejected from Harvard Dec 10th or so. Does he show for training camp?

    Could be a scoop?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 8, 2013

      Ah, good point. Completely forgot about that as I was writing this.

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  7. akidd
    January 8, 2013

    funny, it took about 3 seconds for tsn to switch from ‘lockout’ to ‘luongo’. some things just don’t get old, i suppose(or do they?).”now where were we…?”at this point, I’d be happy to see a quick lou trade just to make it stop.

    otherwise, ya, unless there’s a pretty decent return, it probably makes more sense to keep lou for the shortened, intensified season. lou>tyler bozak, that’s for sure.

    btw, when’s the trade deadline?

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    • Nee
      January 8, 2013

      Apparently, April 5th, according to Bob McKenzie.

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      • akidd
        January 8, 2013

        thanks, nee.

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  8. Al
    January 8, 2013

    This is just the rambling opinion of some fan. How does this stuff get printed or posted? Who cares what this dope thinks? The guys at work make more sense when we yak at coffee time.

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    • chicken hawk
      January 9, 2013

      The only “dope” that I can find
      Is Al whose head’s up his behind

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