5 Canucks Players who still have something to prove this preseason

Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

The kids have looked so good, they’re making the veterans look bad. 

Strong preseason play from centre Jared McCann, 19, left wing Brendan Gaunce, 21, and defenceman Ben Hutton, 22, is keeping a vast array of prospects in the mix for spots on the Vancouver Canucks’ opening-night roster. Coach Willie Desjardins likes what he’s seeing from the rookies, but has been less impressed with the effort of some of his regulars.

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“If guys deserve it, we have to get them in the lineup,” said Desjardins after the Canucks’ 1-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. “Other guys have got to step up and play better.”

Here’s a look at five of those “other guys,” who haven’t played up to their expected levels so far in preseason.

Linden Vey

Linden Vey hit all the right notes heading into training camp, telling Ben Kuzma of The Province that this season is “do or die” for him and that he worked to get stronger over the summer “because I have to be able to do a job against big centres.”

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So far that hasn’t happened. Despite getting quality ice time with offensive linemates against Arizona on Monday and against San Jose on Tuesday, Vey remains pointless through four preseason games and has generated just three shots on goal. 

Faceoffs continue to be a problem for the wiry native of Wakaw, Saskatchewan. He won just two of 10 draws on Tuesday at the Shark Tank.

General manager Jim Benning traded a second-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings to acquire Vey, who had played his junior hockey for Desjardins in Medicine Hat. Unless Vey shows something special in Vancouver’s final two preseason games, Benning may have to cut his losses. Could the club risk losing Vey on waivers when the time comes to make their final roster decisions?

Sven Baertschi

Benning used another second-round pick at the 2015 trade deadline to bring in Sven Baertschi, a talented but enigmatic scorer who had frustrated Calgary Flames management during parts of four seasons.

After his acquisition, Baertschi teased Canucks fans with two slick goals in last year’s regular-season finale against the Edmonton Oilers, then led the AHL’s Utica Comets with eight goals during their run to the Calder Cup Final. But he was pointless in two playoff games with Vancouver last spring and has yet to factor into the Canucks’ preseason scoring.

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Still just 22-years-old, Baertschi shouldn’t be taking a cavalier approach to this training camp. He needs to show that Benning’s right about his ability to produce offensively as a second-line left wing.

Ronalds Kenins

Ronalds Kenins earned a roster spot with the Canucks last season by hitting everything that moved and showing a sneaky scoring touch from the left faceoff circle.

He wore down as the season went along, but was rewarded with a one-way contract over the summer—signalling that he’d be expected to stick at the NHL level this year.

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It’s hard to believe that the 24-year-old Latvian has taken his financial security to mean that his roster spot is a sure thing, but he hasn’t played like he has something to prove during preseason. He was invisible when gifted with a first-line opportunity to play with the Sedins, has accumulated a team-worst minus-four in four games and, perhaps most shockingly, finished Tuesday’s game in San Jose without recording a single hit.

Kenins has a one-way contract, but he’s still waiver exempt. He’s an easy body to ship down to the AHL if Benning and Desjardins decide they want to make room for their young standouts.

Brandon Sutter

Brandon Sutter’s not about to get sent to the minors, but he has yet to show Canucks fans why Jim Benning believes he’s a significant upgrade over Nick Bonino down the middle.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins told Ben Kuzma after Tuesday’s practice. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Sutter’s pointless in three games so far, and has been less-than-dazzling on the faceoff dot, but he feels he’s making progress in his new surroundings.

“The first two games this year, I was excited and ready to go, and you go out there and it’s like you forgot how to play hockey,” Sutter admitted to Kuzma. “After the third, you start to feel it. Right now, you don’t expect to feel great, but the goal is to feel 100 per cent by that first game.”

Benning has called Sutter a “foundation piece” for the Canucks going forward and has locked him up with a five-year contract extension, but Bo Horvat’s already breathing down Sutter’s neck for that second-line centre position.

Sutter shouldn’t wait till opening night to dial in his “A” game.

Yannick Weber

Late last season, Yannick Weber could have been mistaken for Shea Weber, using his booming point shot to ignite the Canucks’ first power-play unit.

Weber finished the year with career highs in goals (11) and points (21), but his offense dried up in the playoffs. He was pointless and posted a minus-five rating playing with the normally-reliable Dan Hamhuis.

Weber’s dry spell has continued into preseason, where he’s pointless in three games.

Out of nowhere—well, out of the University of Maine, actually—Ben Hutton has stepped into the Canucks’ defence and picked up four assists in his first five games. 

Vancouver’s blue line isn’t exactly brimming with offensive talent, but Hutton’s appearance changes the landscape a little bit. Weber now needs to pick up his game if he wants to protect his lineup position and his precious power-play time once the regular season begins.

  • ikillchicken

    The Canucks are also relying on the Sedins, Vrbata, Burrows, and Hamhuis proving that they’re not too old to play hockey.

    Given that I’ve bet that the Canucks will make the playoffs, so am I.

  • ikillchicken

    If I was in Benning’s shoes I would have no problem with trading 4 of these guys for picks before or during the season if their performance does not improve. Fill in with prospects as part of an on-the-job training program.

    Sutter is a third line centre and deserves a year to establish himself in the mold with which Benning has anointed him.

  • Dirty30

    Vey came in at a big cost as a sop to Desjardins who was either trying to prove he could spot talent or wanted to give a kid a chance or wanted someone familiar to work with on the team.

    Whatever reason, Vey came in with expectations he didn’t meet, was favoured way past his due date and is looking even worse given the production of upcoming prospects.

    Vey could have success elsewhere (cf Mason Raymond) but it requires two really stubborn dudes admitting they were wrong.

    Sutter is new to the team, to the West and is carrying some big expectations on his shoulders. The question is simply will he get treated like Vey or Kassian if he’s not performing.

    Kenins is Hansen – lite and will probably be as intriguing and frustrating as Hansen.

    Webber > Sbisa … Not a high bar but it still says a lot.

  • Dirty30

    “Benning may have to cut his losses on Linden Vey”. I don’t think he will. The Canucks start the season with the following line up.

    Sedin – Sedin – Burrows

    Baertschi – Sutter – Verbata

    Gaunce – Horvat – Hansen

    Prust – Vey – Dorsett

    Kennins and Hutton start in Utica. They can be called up anytime. Gaunce replaces Higgins on the third line. Later he becomes the thirteenth forward. McCann and Virtanen get their nine game tryouts with the big team. The better of these two will stay, the other returns to junior.

    • Dirty30

      Spot on. Exactly. And I don’t think that’s all that tragic, I don’t mind that lineup at all. The only worry I have is sending Kenins down; he seems to be a guy that’ll score the exact same in the AHL and might not earn a callup again despite putting up really good stats in the NHL. Again, like Hansen, one of those strange guys.

    • ikillchicken

      I agree. As much as I want to see the young guys start the season, there is no rush. Starting in the AHL is a good thing, they are going to get called up sooner or later.

      IMHO the main thing is getting Jake and McCann nine real games…see what they can do. If they are really ready, great…if not, send them back to the CHL and hope both dominate at the World Jrs

  • ikillchicken

    I was excited by the acquisition of Linden Vey, thinking this was a bit of a hidden gem they may have unearthed, but I think that ship might have sailed. The guy simply doesn’t look like a candidate for anything over the 3rd line (if we’re being generous), and we already have guys of that ilk in spades. Sutter and Baertschi are on this team no matter what, though the latter might not have as long of a leash as he thinks he does.

    Know who has something to prove in my eyes? Sbisa. The guy is making big money, sure (like Sutter), but that should not be the reason he gets a roster spot over Weber, Bartkowski, Corrado or Hutton, all of whom are plainly better than him and have shown it either last year or in preseason. If Willie and Benning are serious about guys being able to “earn a spot” on play alone (Gaunce, McCann and Hutton being the three obvious ones, though Virtanen is arguably also in that category), then guys should also be able to lose their spot. Maybe not so much veterans whose play last year did the talking for them, and Sutter is too new to cut like that, but Sbisa has not done a single thing to beat out those guys, and roster decisions should eventually reflect that if those guys weren’t lying.

  • Dirty30

    These guys have contracts and NHL pedigrees.
    The rookies do not.

    The NHL season is the time to start slagging and freaking out but there is yet another column to write so this is what we get.

  • Dirty30

    I have to laff at the anti Sbisa comments. To this point Weber, Bartowski and surprisingly Corrado have done nothing to make the team. Sbisa provides a physical element that NO other Canuck dman brings. Good enough to at least be on third pairing. Hutton as I have expected since being a standout at his first rookie camp, has the strong potential to be a top four dman and unlike Edler he doesn’t just shoot the puck into opposing forwards legs. I look forward to the day the power play has Hutton and Subban on the points instead of Edler.

    • ikillchicken

      What Weber and Corrado have done in the past, to warrant making the team over Sbisa, is that they haven’t sucked every single time they’ve ever set foot on NHL ice since the beginning of their career. Luca Sbisa is, by eye test, traditional stats or fancy stats, one of if not the worst defenceman in the entire league. In a previous CA article, they made the point that their statistical projection had a hard time with Sbisa because since possession stats started being kept, there has never been a single defenceman as bad as he is to have lasted as long in the league. He literally has no comparables, he’s that bad. The physical element is only good if it’s not at the expense of ability to play (hence why John Scott makes less money than Zdeno Chara, for example).

      • ikillchicken

        I keep trying to figure out what on earth the professionals (scouts, gms, coaches) possibly see in Sbisa. To get him drafted so high, to give him so much ice time, to sign and resign him for big bucks. It’s just mystifying — the bad reads, the missed checks, the panic for no reason, the inability to clear, trapping his own players with ill-advised clearing attempts, etc. I’m not an expert but it’s really hard to understand what these hockey minds actually see in him.

        I wonder if Vey would clear waivers at this point — I can’t see another team necessarily picking him up on the basis of his actual play (any more than Sbisa). It’s not like he’s had no opportunities.

        I wouldn’t read that much into the non-performance of actual NHL regulars like Sutter at this point in the preseason but the poor performances of Vey and Kenins and to a lesser degree Baertschi and Weber are also surprising. A couple more chances to change our perceptions however.

        • ikillchicken

          Exactly right, it’s like, most guys have something the fans can see (beyond shoving guys after the whistle) that justifies a regular shift and a big contract. Even some of the less impressive or popular Canuck acquisitions have: Booth, for his flaws, was very good at advancing the puck up the ice with possession, while Ballard for example was a very good skater and seemed more just miscast on the team than actually bad. But Sbisa, like you listed, doesn’t really do anything well: he can’t make the simple plays or the tough ones, he can’t effectively move the puck or keep it, he doesn’t think the game well, provides very little offensive flair, etc. It’s just amazing that a player with no tangible positive attributes can be so well-paid and get so many chances over guys who are quite obviously better in most if not all facets of the game.

          I think Vey’s still cheap enough and young enough that he’d get picked up, unlike Sbisa he has a small sample size and a pretty easy contract to manage, meaning he’d be a low risk for a handful of teams. You’re probably right about Sutter, I don’t have super high hopes for him but we have yet to have game action with our team to judge him on yet. Hope that Baertschi and Weber pick it up, those guys have NHL spots to start the year barring a major move so maybe it’s just preseason doldrums.

  • ikillchicken

    I think a few other guys have things to prove. 1) Sbisa, who has not played that well; 2) Bartkowski, who has not played as well as Weber; 3) Corrado, who has shown nothing. That said Hutton will go down because it is easier, but I would not be surprised to see one dman moved early in the year (perhaps Sbisa), so that there is room for Hutton. I think Higgins has a lot to prove, he has been given lots of time, I would bet on Baertschi more long term than Higgins. I agree that Vey should be gone. I also think Prust has to show more. I think Kenins is a good long term fit on the fourth, but I expect he will go down. My hope is that Higgins, Vey and Sbisa get moved before too long for draft picks or young kids. My line up for the year is as follows: Sedin, Sedin, Burrows; Baertschi, Sutter, Vrbata; Gaunce, Horvat, Hansen; Prust, McCann, Dorsett; Kenins and Virtanen as subs (Kenins bottom 6, Virtanen top 6 rotating in). Edler, Tanev; Hamhuis, Weber; Hutton. Bartkowski; Corrado as sub. Miller (50 games), Markstrom (32 games).

  • Dirty30

    @chris the curmudgeon
    People who use advance stats to make a point would rather read the sheet music then listen to the music. Sbisa had the misfortune of having to play with Casual Kev who’s stats, if you want to go there, proved that any dman who played with him suffered. Hockey is a team game and especially with dmen, their performance is directly tied to who they are playing with. It takes a good mix and you can’t play two small puck movers together if neither can keep the front of the net clear. I though that Corrado would step up but so far, and according to those who watched him in Utica last year, he never stood out in any way. The dman nobody comments on is Biega. He has looked extremely solid so far, just as he did last year. Trade Corrado for a third rounder and keep Biega.