What to Watch During the Lockout: Vancouver Giants

The Vancouver Giants are once again looking to capitalize on the NHL work stoppage. They saw an increase in fan support and attendance during the lockout of 2004-05, and the club enjoyed on ice success for the next few seasons, as well.

Why should you watch the Giants this season? There are quite a few reasons. Read on to find out what they are.

Who: The Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League

Where: Home games @ the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver

When: Here is the link to the regular season schedule

Why: The WHL is fast-paced, skilled, and physical. It is also very affordable. The ownership group is led by Ron Toigo, and features a few minority partners you may know –  Pat Quinn, Gordie Howe, and Michael Buble.

Missing Faces:

The Giants lost captain Brendan Gallagher and last season’s top line center Jordan Martinook to the professional ranks. Gallagher, in particular, was the heart and soul of the club during his tenture in Vancouver, and he posted three consecutive 40-goal campaigns. The Giants will have to replace the 80 goals that they lose with these two having moved on.

The starting goaltender from last season, Adam Morrison, also turned professional after signing a contract with the Boston Bruins (boo). This season, two new goaltenders will battle for the starting gig. 

Giants to Watch:

The Giants don’t have the star power of some of their opponents in the WHL, but they do have several players worth watching. Their best forward is Marek Tvrdon, a skilled winger who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 4th round back in 2011. He had/has top prospect talent, but missed most of his draft year with a shoulder injury. He can dominate games, and the Giants are counting on him to lead their offense in 2012-13.

Behind Tvrdon, Cain Franson is an intriguing prospect. The younger brother of former Giant and current Leaf Cody Franson, Cain was invited to the Canucks prospect camp this summer after being passed over at the NHL Draft. He had 27 goals for the Giants last year, and should approach 40 with more ice time and responsibility this season. He worked hard this summer to add some size to his frame. 

Franson, like many of his teammates, is playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

“We got a team that’s going to be overlooked. It’s their second or third year in the league now and they are getting the hang of things. If we stick to the system and do what the coach says, we’ll surprise a lot of people.”

David Musil and Brett Kulak lead the defense. Musil was selected 31st overall back in 2011, narrowly missing 1st round prospect status. Kulak was picked by Calgary this past June in the 4th round. You only get so many opportunities to cheer for a future Oiler and a future Flame, so make the most of it. Musil has the size that scouts drool over (6-4), but he is still learning to make the most of it. Kulak plays a steady two-way game, and has garnered comparisons to Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He won’t "wow" you with his game, but he is quietly efficient on the back end.

The Forwards:

Beyond Tvrdon and Franson, the forward group is made up mostly of second and third-year WHL returnees. Losing Martinook was a big blow, as the team hoped to have him back this season to center the top line. They are likely going to have to convert a winger or two to play center (Franson a likely candidate).

The Giants want to be a hard team to play against this year, and they picked up two gritty wingers in recent transactions. They acquired Tristan Seiben from Edmonton and Tanner Moar from Kelowna, both for draft picks. Moar, in particular, brings some much needed size (6-3, 180 pounds) to a relatively small forward group.

The Defense:

Musil will lead the back end, with support from Kulak. Kulak really stepped his game up last year when Musil was out with an injury. He has some untapped offensive potential, as well. Veteran Wes Vannieuwenhuizen is not only a member of the Giants, but also the all-name team in hockey. 

The Battle in Goal:

19-year-old Liam Liston was recently acquired in a trade, and he is the favourite to start. His competition will come from 17-year-old Tyler Fuhr (no relation to Grant). The Giants are very high on 16-year-old Payton Lee, but he will spend this season playing Junior B hockey in Richmond.

Notable Giants Alumni:

  • Mario Bliznak (now back in Europe after playing a few seasons in the Canucks organization)
  • Lance Bouma (you can see him throwing his weight around for the Abbotsford Heat this season)
  • Gilbert Brule (former 5th overall draft pick, the best Giant in club history)
  • Jonathon Blum (the silky-smooth defenseman has struggled at the NHL level, but was a standout Giant)
  • Kevin Connauton (set scoring records in his only season with the Giants)
  • Mark Fistric (one of the best hitters in the NHL who honed his craft while captaining the Giants)
  • Cody Franson (Cain’s older brother, another great offensive defenseman who played for Vancouver)
  • Evander Kane (should become the best NHL player out of the Giants alumni)
  • Milan Lucic (Lucic’s play in the 2007 Memorial Cup run was legendary)

"The Shift:"

  • Spencer Machacek (will be on the Winnipeg Jets whenever the season starts up)
  • Kenndal McArdle (was a prolific scorer in the WHL)
  • Andrej Meszaros (the best defenseman the Giants have ever had)
  • Tomas Vincour (a big part of the rebuilding Dallas Stars)

Important Home Dates:

September 21st vs. Victoria Royals (home opener)

September 28th vs. Everett Silvertips (a close look at 2nd overall pick defenseman Ryan Murray)

October 5th vs. Medicine Hat Tigers (the Tigers are led by 2013 top prospect Hunter Shinkaruk)

November 9th vs. Portland Winterhawks (winger Ty Rattie could lead the WHL in scoring, defenseman Seth Jones is being billed as the potential 2013 1st overall pick)

November 18th vs. Saskatoon Blades (the Blades are the 2013 Memorial Cup hosts and have a very strong roster)

In addition to those games, the Giants will be honouring two local hockey heroes this season. Trevor Linden on December 1st, and "Burnaby Joe" Sakic on February 1st, 2013.