Billy Sweatt: ready for take-off? (Photos: Jason Kurylo/Pucked in the Head)
Timing is everything. To get to play in front of the brass and a stack of home-town fans; what else could aspiring Canucks prospects ask for? Not much really.
Those Canucks farmhands who have been biding their time in the AHL during the lockout got one last chance to show off their talent before next week’s abbreviated NHL training camp. Alain Vigneault announced on Friday that a number of other Wolves would be brought to that camp. Of course, the team’s brass will clearly know who they want to bring in, but the narrrative of players hustling to make a final cut is still a pleasant one, isn’t it?
What we saw on Friday and Saturday in Abbotsford were some useful hockey players, both veteran and prospects. For the Wolves to skate out 3-1 winners on Friday and 1-0 winners on Saturday took an impressive performance from a trio of veterans one night and excellent goaltending from Matt Climie both nights.
There were also notable contributions from the prospects on display; guys like Billy Sweatt, Darren Archibald and Peter Andersson are all well positioned ahead of this week’s accelerated training camp.
For scoring chance data and other observations, click past the jump!
Peter Andersson has progressed well this season
Defensive prospect Peter Andersson had a great game on Friday, but Saturday was a challenge. The Wolves as a whole seemed rather disinterested in the second game, hardly influencing the play until the third period. Andersson was paired with Derek Joslin in both games; the young Swede had a nice tilt on Friday night – 8 for, 3 against in scoring chance differential in 21:55 of ice time, the second most on the team. He was composed and never looked in trouble. On Saturday, he and Joslin spent most of their time in their own end. While it’s doutbful Andersson will make the NHL this season, he’s come a long way in just a few months.
"It’s pretty tough to go from small to big, but I think it’s easier to go from a big rink to a small rink, and I don’t know why. I like the small rink more. First it was pretty tough for me, it was lot of new plays and systems, but now it feels way better," Andersson said. “You can hold the puck more as a dman back home – they don’t come at you that hard. Here, you know a guy’s going to come hard every time you touch the puck.”
Andersson said he’s paid close attention to the likes of Joslin, Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton.
"They are the top guys on the team; I want to be better than them. I look every day at small details from those guys – they are very good guys on the ice and off the ice," he said.
Having been called up to this coming week’s abbreviated Canucks training camp, Andersson said he needed to remember his strengths, while remembering what else he wants to improve.
"I’m pretty big so I want to play tough; keep it simple but be a two-way dman," he said. “Of course I want to put up more points, but two points for the team is most important. I work hard to protect the puck, protect the net, block shots, do what I can for the team. But of course, I want to put up more offence but it’s different here from Sweden.”
The Heat were fired up and really pushed the play on Saturday. The main difference between the two nights was their focus on attacking from down low – on Friday, there wasn’t much of that but on Saturday, it was everything. The Heat aren’t known for a slick passing game, they much prefer to chip the puck in deep and turn defenders around.
But the Heat’s newly-found vigour on Saturday didn’t matter, because goalie Matt Climie was stellar both nights. In cliched fashion, he point to the overall play of the team more than his own heroics as the key to the two wins.
"I think we’ve been playing without our top guys in the lineup, we’re blocking shots and playing with some desperation," Climie said on Saturday. "I thought before we were a bit complacent…we were relying on goal scorers who weren’t scoring."
John Garrett looks impressed by Andrew Gordon
On Friday night, he first line of LW Brett Sterling, C Andrew Gordon and RW Darren Haydar was awesome. Sterling picked up a hat trick in the first period, scoring on a power play wrister from the right circle (he picked the top corner); a tip-in off a Brad Hunt point shot, right after a won faceoff by Andrew Gordon; and a lucky bounce off a defenceman’s foot – Sterling threw the puck out front from the corner and watched the puck squeak in behind Abbotsford goalie Leland Irving. (Danny Taylor took over the Heat net beginning in the second period and got the start on Saturday.)
Gordon was also the ice time leader among forwards – a total of 19:43 in all situations on Friday. It was a good performance for a guy who is on a Canucks contract and could see some time as a depth player this season.
After the veteran first line, prospects Alex Friesen and Billy Sweatt were the clear second-choice forwards on Friday: Friesen played 15:39 and Sweatt 14:40. Friesen was put in Jordan Schroeder’s old spot, minus powerplay time, though on Friday he mostly played with Darren Archibald and Mike Davies at even strength. Friesen is a darkhorse candidate to see some NHL action this season; his future is as an undersized checking forward and the Wolves coaching staff has placed a lot of faith in him this year. Sweatt is an NHL-quality skater, but his hands will always be a question mark.
Anton Rodin was swapped in for Mike Davies on Saturday and the line was much more dangerous. Archibald had a mostly quiet game on Friday – he had a threatening rush in the first period – though the line as a whole had a couple dangerous shifts late in the game. Saturday was much better, as he and Rodin carried the puck well through out the game and were the only consistent threat for the visitors. Rodin needs to shoot more but Archibald’s not had that problem this year, he’s been shooting with abandon.
Darren Archibald is a big, big winger
Even more impressive is how far his skating has come. It was always the biggest knock against him, but on both nights his acceleration along the boards was noticeable and his powerful stride allowed for him to cut to the net with confidence.
“I’ve worked real hard in the off-season with Vancouver’s skating coach Ryan Landsberg; skating with him two, three times a week all summer. He’s helped me out a lot,’ Archibald said. "I feel like I’ve gotten faster since I left junior – and obviously stronger too.”
The other part of his game that really stands out is his vision. He’s a classic case of not judging a book by its cover – he’s a big guy and so one presumes that he’d be a shoot first, ask questions later type of guy, but that’s not the case, he said.
"I’ve always thought of myself as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer," he said. "I tend to put the pucks to the net more to get the assists. I’ve always loved to pass first, so if it’s open I’ll make the pass, but if not, I’m willing to shoot the puck.”
Billy Sweatt was the best skater on the ice both nights – Sven Baertschi being scratched by the Heat made that an easy call – and could be ready for the NHL. His finish is still lacking but everything else is there. He missed an empty-net wraparound on Saturday, prompting him to look to the skies when he returned to the bench, but that was the only blemish on a solid weekend.
Scoring chance data is below – notice how strong the Wolves were in the third period of each game. The Heat pushed really really hard in both middle frames but just ran out of gas both nights. The Wolves were especially dominant on Friday night; it was intriguing to see how much the Wolves stepped back on Friday night.