At the Canucks’ season-ending press conference in May, Mike Gillis repeatedly emphasized the idea of a reset and stressed the need for youth. “We need to have a different look,” he told reporters, ”We need to get younger.”
That message continued during the summer, as Gillis reiterated, “I want to have opportunities for young players on this team.”
Now, after a busy weekend, those opportunities have disappeared. None of the Canucks’ highly-touted young prospects will be on the ice in San Jose as the Canucks face the Sharks to open the season. In fact, only two players under the age of 25 is expected to be in the lineup: Chris Tanev and new acquisition Zac Dalpe. For Canucks fans excited to see homegrown prospects make the team, the Canucks’ current roster has to be a disappointment.
This is particularly true when you consider some of the players that were kept on the roster instead of giving an opportunity to a younger player.
Admittedly, some of the youth are missing from the lineup for reasons beyond the Canucks’ control. Jordan Schroeder, 23, has a hairline fracture from blocking a shot during the pre-season and is expected to miss three weeks. Nicklas Jensen, 20, suffered an upper body injury that cut short any chance he had at earning a roster spot, though his performance to that point made it a long shot in any case.
There’s also little the Canucks could do about Zack Kassian, 22, getting suspended for breaking Sam Gagner’s jaw. But there were four other young prospects who had a good chance to earn a spot on the roster heading into training camp and were sent packing.
The most understandable cut was Brendan Gaunce, 19, who was a candidate for the open spot at third-line centre, but didn’t stand out enough during the pre-season, despite two goals. He clearly just wasn’t ready for the NHL, which is no crime at his age.
Frank Corrado, 20, getting cut was a bit more disappointing, though still understandable. Corrado is clearly ready for the NHL, but it’s better for his development at his age to play big minutes in the AHL rather than playing 8 or 9 minutes as the sixth defenceman for the Canucks.
With that said, there’s no reason why Corrado wouldn’t be able to play more minutes in Vancouver with a balanced deployment of the defensive pairs. John Tortorella, however, prefers to ride his big guns on defence. Corrado certainly seems like a better option on the blue line than either Yannick Weber or Andrew Alberts, but he would be unlikely to play a large role as a bottom-pairing defenceman under Tortorella.
The truly frustrating cuts were to Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk, who performed well enough to outlast all of the other prospects and stick around when the roster was initially cut down to 23. That isn’t to say that the two 18-year-olds are definitely ready for a full season in the NHL, but that they might be and sending both of them down now hurts the Canucks’ forward depth. Now that both have been sent down to junior, they can’t return to the Canucks this season, removing them as options in case of injuries.
At least one of Horvat and Shinkaruk, preferably both, should have received the nine-game audition that is allowed before their entry-level-contracts kick in, giving them the opportunity to prove they belong in the NHL. It would also allow a bit of time for potential injuries to occur that would provide further opportunities for Horvat or Shinkaruk to play a larger role this season.
With both of them cut, that leaves just three players under 25 on the Canucks’ roster, with only two of them likely to play. One of those is Chris Tanev, who almost feels like a veteran at this point. Both the others, Zac Dalpe, 23, and Ryan Stanton, 24, were acquired this weekend. The trade for Dalpe has the potential to really pay off and cost the Canucks very little, so it’s understandable that they made the deal. It meant, however, that the Canucks needed to remove another player from the roster to make room for him.
One player that would have made sense to send down to Utica is Tom Sestito, as there’s next to no chance that any other team would claim him and his inexplicable two-year, one-way contract. Sestito struggled during the pre-season, with it frequently looking like the Canucks were on the penalty kill whenever he was on the ice. While he did manage to score a goal, it was essentially by accident off a very pretty pass by none other than Horvat. Sestito gave very little reason for him to be on the team, other than the assumed need for a sizeable knuckle chucker, which isn’t something I think the Canucks particularly need.
The Canucks chose to cut Horvat, however, rather than waive Sestito. Still, the argument can be made that Horvat hadn’t done enough during the pre-season and isn’t ready for the NHL. At the very least, it still left Shinkaruk with the Canucks.
Then, however, Mike Gillis claimed Ryan Stanton, a stay-at-home defenceman with minimal upside, who seems unlikely to crack the opening night lineup ahead of Weber or Alberts, let alone the rest of the Canucks’ defence corps. It’s possible that he’ll draw into the lineup at some point, but considering he has just one game of NHL experience, it’s more likely that he gets sent down to Utica before too long.
The waiver claim of Stanton essentially cost Shinkaruk his opportunity to play for the Canucks this season. While it’s likely that Shinkaruk would have been returned to junior once Kassian returned from his suspension and Schroeder came back from his injury, he won’t even get a chance to prove himself this season.
It’s frustrating that the Canucks expected emphasis on youth was thrown out the window in order to claim an unremarkable defenceman and keep around an enforcer with limited ability to actually play hockey. That the Canucks 23-man roster has Stanton and Sestito instead of Horvat and Shinkaruk is extremely disappointing.Tags: Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Mike Gillis