Why the education of Sven Baertschi is a crucial story for the Canucks

Thomas Drance
April 11 2016 05:45PM

Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

When general manager Jim Benning addresses the media on Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks are widely expected to back off from the ‘rebuild-on-the-fly’ posture that has characterized their actions over the past three years.

When a team can’t credibly sell wins in their marketplace, they have to sell hope. They have to sell the learning process.

In this respect, there’s perhaps no better silver linings poster boy for the club than 23-year-old forward Sven Baertschi.

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Russian and NCAA-bound players are riskier to draft, but the Canucks should keep picking them

Thomas Drance
March 31 2016 05:00PM

In the wake of Jimmy Vesey's unsurprising decision (unsurprising to everyone except the Nashville Predators, apparently) this week to spurn the team that drafted him and test unrestricted free agency, the status of NCAA-bound draft picks has been on the tip of the tongue.

This is true industry-wide, but it's been particularly true in the Vancouver market. There was some thought that the Canucks would've pursued Mark Jankowski if the Flames had been unable to get that deal done and the club's top two prospects - Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko - are currently playing in the NCAA. 

If you look at Jim Benning's draft record with Boston and Buffalo and Vancouver, there's no clear trend in terms of his fishing holes. A career scout, Benning doesn't seem to have a favoured league or nationality of player or what have you. 

He's also drafted two Russian players, something the previous Canucks regime never did, and three college-bound players in his first two drafts. Clearly Benning doesn't appear to be worried about the increased signing risk posed by NCAA-bound or Russian-born players. And he shouldn't be. 

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How Jake Virtanen can become a more valuable player by being a more disciplined player

Thomas Drance
March 30 2016 04:36PM

Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin

It was a senseless hit and a late one that earned Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen the first suspension of his NHL career.

Virtanen, 19, was standing in front of the Sharks net in a forechecking position when San Jose Sharks defender Roman Polak made sure to knock the young Canucks forward’s stick out of his hand. As play moved the other way, Virtanen lined up Polak. Several beats after the veteran Sharks defender completed an outlet pass, Virtanen delivered a late, reckless hit from Polak’s blindside.

Polak was down for an extended period of time, though he returned to the game. Virtanen meanwhile earned himself a major penalty, an ejection, a telephonic hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety and a two-game suspension.

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On Roberto Luongo's Vancouver return, insane consistency and Vezina candidacy

Thomas Drance
January 11 2016 04:44PM

Photo Credit: Segei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

It's a shame that Roberto Luongo has never won the Vezina Trophy. In the realm of overdue accolades it’s not quite on the level of ‘Leonardo Dicaprio has never won an Oscar’, but it isn’t too far off.

Voted on by NHL general managers, the Vezina is awarded annually to the goaltender “adjudged to be the best at this position". Luongo is a three-time finalist, but he has never taken home the hardware (he definitely should've won in 2004).

As the 2015-2016 campaign passes the halfway point this week, it’s beginning to look like this could be Luongo’s ‘The Revenant’ season even though Washington’s Braden Holtby is a strong candidate in his own right, probably even the pack favourite.

On Monday night, Luongo will face a Vancouver Canucks club that still pays roughly 15 percent of his salary at Rogers Arena. And he’ll enter Monday’s somewhat-more-meaningful-than-usual regular season contest on an insane roll.

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Honest Etem knows he has to work harder and play less on the perimeter to make it

Thomas Drance
January 09 2016 05:45PM

Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

The chasm between "former first-round draft pick" and journeyman tweener isn't a canyon. It's a fine line. 

New Vancouver Canucks forward Emerson Etem, a former first-round draft pick, is now on his third team. He was dealt on Friday for a modest price. At least one NHL team opted not to make the New York Rangers an offer largely because, at the age of 23, most forwards who go on to be difference makers have already established themselves at the NHL level.

Etem knows this might be his last shot, and he was extraordinarily honest and reflective about his NHL career to this point and what he needs to do to cement himself as a mainstay in the top hockey league in the world.

"This is my third kick at the can here, and I for sure want to make it my last," Etem told reporters on Saturday. "I want to make an impact and make it right away. I’m going to work hard and I think everything will come from there.”

The "work hard" part of the equation is key here because, to hear Etem tell it, that's something he's struggled to bring consistently in his two previous NHL stops.

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