A Way Too Early Preview of Vancouver Canucks Training Camp

We’re nearly two months away from the Vancouver Canucks training camp in Whistler, but the mostly static state of the NHL right now suggests this roster isn’t likely to change much between now and then. So with that in mind, we should have a look at what to expect between September 22nd to 26th.

Though the Canucks training camp and pre-season have, for the most part, been an exercise in conventional roster construction, last year’s emergence of Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann suggest this time of year could hold more intrigue than ever. The Canucks have done a good job of filling the cupboards with as deep a set of prospects as they’ve boasted in ages. Another surprise might be on the horizon.

Knowing what we do now about Vancouver’s team, let’s take a look at their depth chart and where competition will be fiercest therein. 

The Locks

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi Brandon Sutter Jannik Hansen
Emerson Etem Bo Horvat Anton Rodin
Markus Granlund Derek Dorsett

There’s been a fair amount of debate regarding the position of some of these players. Anton Rodin especially is the topic of much debate. Sure, he was drafted as left wing and spent much of his time in North America previously as a left winger, but he played the right wing in Sweden. It probably serves the Canucks best to play him on the left wing, but given that he’s listed as a right winger on most websites, I acquiesced to their wisdom.

On the lower end of that scale, there’s some amount of debate over where to plug in Emerson Etem and Derek Dorsett. Really, I could slot these two players in any combination of places, and it wouldn’t make that large a difference. In that case, I deferred to where the need was most pressing. With Rodin as a right winger, that meant playing Etem on the third line at left wing.

I would expect that the battle between Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter for second line supremacy will be one of the close ones to watch, not only in training camp but as the season wanes, too. The slight edge goes to Sutter going into camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if continued development from Horvat forces him back onto the second line.

Left Side Defencemen Right Side Defencemen
Alexander Edler Christopher Tanev
Ben Hutton Erik Gudbranson

The top two pairings on the Canucks’ blue line appear set. Barring something unforeseen, like the reemergence of Luca Sbisa in the top four, this quartet is likely an accurate representation of what the Canucks will boast on their opening night lineup.

The Competition

Jake Virtanen vs. Alexandre Burrows

Assuming the Canucks go into next season with 13 forwards, that all but secures Brendan Gaunce’s role therein. His positional versatility and ability to play centre when called upon give him priority. That leaves two forwards from last year’s roster duking it out for the last wing on the Canucks fourth line.

The two players, Burrows and Jake Virtanen, couldn’t find themselves further apart on their respective career arcs. Whereas Burrows is entering the twilight of his career, Virtanen has yet even to scratch the surface on his peak physical years.

I’d think Burrows has the early edge, if for no other reason than the $4.5-million cap figure attached to his contract. Even if they were to exercize the Chris Higgins/Brandon Prust option with Burrows, they’d only save $950,000 against the cap next season. You’d also like to think that the Canucks haven’t much appetite for going that route, based on the veteran leadership Burrows can provide next season and all he’s done for the franchise and the city in year’s past.

Still, if the goal of the Canucks is to compete for the playoffs next season, it’s hard to argue against Virtanen. He brings size and speed otherwise absent from the Canucks lineup and checks out as one of their strongest possession forwards in the neutral zone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever develop into a first line talent, but at this stage, he’s undoubtedly a strong two-way force that helps drive favourable shot and goal differentials.

The Thirteenth Forward

If Virtanen beats Burrows out for the final forward spot on the Canucks fourth line, I doubt they send Burrows to the minors to accommodate it. That would all but render this point moot. Assuming Burrows is the victor, though, the Canucks are going to want to put Virtanen in a situation that benefits his development, and I don’t know if playing as a thirteenth forward accomplishes that. Teams generally prefer a centre as their thirteenth forward too, which doesn’t help Virtanen’s NHL cause.

The Canucks invested heavily in their AHL franchise this summer, but at no one position did they pool as many resources as they did at centre. Jayson Megna and Michal Chaput (two such signings) are likely going to the AHL, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the two gives Brendan Gaunce a run for his money as the Canucks’ thirteenth forward. We saw something similar happen last season with Adam Cracknell.

The Third Pairing

This is where things are going to get interesting. I could see the Canucks’ third pairing going any number of ways. The main combatants here are Philip Larsen, Nikita Tryamkin and Luca Sbisa. What makes this picture especially interesting is the caveat that Sbisa can play either the left or right side with a certain amount of competency, whereas Larsen (right side) and Tryamkin (left side) offer no such dexterity. 

Based on some of the comments Jim Benning has made about Larsen manning the Canucks power play, I’d expect him to figure as their primary right side defender on the third pairing. I’d also like to think that the Canucks dogged efforts to trade Sbisa indicate they’re either moving on, or close to moving on from their expensive project defenceman. The Canucks are likely keener on giving Tryamkin a chance to develop then Sbisa, which likely gives him the edge on the left side of their third pairing.

That would leave Sbisa as the Canucks seventh defencemen, which, frankly, probably best aligns with where he’s at as a defenceman.

Andrey Pedan vs. Alex Biega

This battle will indicate whether the Canucks have learned anything from their previous waiver blunders. Though they’ve signed Alex Biega to a two-year, one-way deal, they’ve invested resources into developing Andrey Pedan and risk losing him to waivers if they can’t find a spot for him in the Canucks lineup.

I can’t say with any degree of certainty whether Pedan is a better defenceman than Biega at this stage in their respective careers. That said, the potential for Pedan to develop into something better than a third pairing defenceman makes him a better asset in the grand scheme of the Canucks plans. He also brings an element of size  at 6’5 that Biega plainly doesn’t.

A Way Too Early Lineup Prediction

Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Loui Eriksson

Emerson Etem – Brandon Sutter – Jannik Hansen

Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Anton Rodin

Derek Dorsett – Markus Granlund – Alexandre Burrows

Extra Forward: Brendan Gaunce

Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev

Ben Hutton – Erik Gudbranson

Nikita Tryamkin – Philip Larsen

Extra Defencemen: Luca Sbisa, Andrey Pedan

Jacob Markstrom/Ryan Miller

Conclusion

The Canucks have an interesting assortment of veterans and young players on the upswing of their careers. The hope is that they’ve found just the right mix, but for all the resources they’ve invested in peace of mind going into next season, there’s at least another question waiting in the wings, hanging over everything they hope to accomplish.

Does Ryan Miller have another season of above average goaltending left in him? Can Jacob Markstrom build a strong first full season in the NHL? Is Anton Rodin ready to become a full-time contributor in the NHL? Can this roster stay healthy enough to remain competitive? Will their young blue line hold up over a full 82 game season? And so it goes on, and on.

This team will need a lot to go right for them to get back to the playoffs, but they’re in a much better position for that now then they were at the end of last season. That’s about all you can ask for. 

  • TheRealRusty

    You gotta give to GMJBTL. $3.5million tied up on a 7th defenseman in Sbisa. I get that you have to overpay a bit in lieu of not granting the NTC, but there comes a point when overpaying for a player effectively turns into an unintended NTC.

    Rookie mistakes that you won’t likely have happened with a veteran management team… Wonder if they have learnt from their blunder?

    • Mattchu

      Veteran GMs.

      Dale Tallon – Bolland. Stan Bowman – Bickel. Yzerman – Matt Carle. Bruins – Seidenberg. Fletcher – Vanek. Lombardi – Brown. Burke/Nonis/Shanahan – hahahahaha. Lowe/Mctavish/Chiarelli – hahahahahah.

      That said, Rutherford is a genius. Having Crosby and Malkin as a base notwithstanding.

      The Sbisa is not very good and overpaid – Benning is such an idiot for extending him dead horse has been beaten off to more than free porn.

      • TheRealRusty

        genius should be something that consistently shines thru.

        Did Rutherford put those genius abilities aside between cups? gave’em a 10 year rest?

        Sbisa is overpaid. But with the right d partner, looks fine. pair him with Bartkowski and look out…

  • TheRealRusty

    “What makes this picture especially interesting is the caveat that Sbisa can play either the left or right side with a certain amount of competency, whereas Larsen (right side) and Tryamkin (left side) offer no such dexterity”

    Tryamkin shoots left but comfortably plays either side of the ice, as evident by him playing most of last season besides left-handed dmen Hutton and Hamhuis on the right…

  • TheRealRusty

    Matching Etem on the left with Hansen on the right is interesting, as they both have exceptional speed. I am not convinced, however, that Etem belongs on the 2nd line unless injuries require it.

  • Mattchu

    I wonder if the canucks truly stick to their word about earning a spot this year. It seems like Sbisa is the odd man out or possibly the 7th dman, and should be demoted…

    If he truly is out played by the likes of larsen, tryamkin, pedan, or even Biega, do they waive him?

    • TheRealRusty

      when it comes to earning a spot, I hope the spots earned match the role and player abilities. I don’t want JV on the Canucks 4th line rather than playing big minutes, in every situation, in Utica.

      I think they waive Biega before Sbisa.

  • Mattchu

    The approach taken by JD regarding forwards was to take 10 players as locks, slot Gaunce in, then choose between Burrows and Virtanen for the one remaining spot. After that he considered the 13th forward slot.

    I think it is quite possible that Gaunce, Virtanen and Burrows fight for the 11th and 12th regular forward positions and that if Virtanen and Burrows happen to win them, that Gaunce be the 13th forward.

    Also, while I’m high on Rodin it is surprising to see him named as a lock. He’s recovering from a major injury and returning to North America after a few years in Europe. I’d want to see how his health and fitness is, as well as seeing his adjustment to the North American game, before assuming he’ll earn a regular spot.

    I think, along with other commenters, that Tryamkin can play either side. I thought he’d played mostly the right side in the KHL, and certainly he scored his first NHL goal playing the right side, partnered with Hutton at the time. It can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YKtjPa9f4Q

  • Sedin – Sedin – Eriksson

    Burrows – Sutter – Hansen

    Baertschi – Horvat – Rodin

    Etem – Granlund – Dorsett

    2nd and 3rd line guys are interchangeable and could move up or down as needed. Once we see Rodin, he may be able to play on our 2nd line, moving Hansen to the 3rd, where he played well with Horvat and Baertschi. Having our young guns starting on the 3rd is best. They should own that spot before moving up.

    The 13th spot may go to Grenier. He has to clear waivers. Gaunce and Virtanen don’t require waivers, so they can be called up and sent down as needed. Gaunce was good enough to make the team last year, but was sent down, because he didn’t have to clear waivers. As long as we have cap space, we can rotate Grenier, Gaunce, and Virtanen in and out of the lineup. The downside is they don’t get to play as much due to the 23man roster restriction. Waivers plays a big role on who stays and who gets sent down. Unfortunately.

    • Mattchu

      I am wondering if Rodin is much of a play maker? And maybe Sven and Rodin should be separated, one on either 2nd or 3rd lines. Sutter and Hansen need someone to handle the puck a bit more. Sven is a bit more creative with the puck and might balance out the second line with Sutter. and have either Burrows or Etem play with Horvat and Rodin

      If it is Burrows Sutter Hansen as the second line, I am not confident they will generate much offense, maybe more defensive zone starts with Bo’s line looked at to score more? I think Bo is better with the puck than Sutter, better vision.

  • Mattchu

    I think Virtanen will have to blow everyone away and show he should be playing 3rd line minutes or better in order to stay with the Canucks. I fully expect him to be sent to Utica, even if he appears to be better on the 4th line than Burrows. I thought keeping him with the team last year was a good investment in his future development as he would learn a lot more with the Canucks than if he stayed with his junior team. Now that he reached the magic age of 20 he can be sent to the AHL and continue that development and be recalled if need be. Besides playing in the AHL might make him a bit hungrier which is never a bad thing.

    As far as the new guys go I think we pretty well know what we got with Eriksson and Gudbranson. It will be interesting to see how Larsen, Tryamkin and Rodin work out.

  • Mattchu

    “…, there’s at least another question waiting in the wings, hanging over everything …”

    “Does Ryan Miller…? Can Jacob Markstrom…? Is…? Can…? Will…?”

    =) I was expecting a BIG question.

    Other than that… good fodder for August. Let’s plug in those players in NHL 16/17 and check em out!

    • arjay

      Scoring is still up in the air to some extent.

      I’d like to see Eriksson on the wing with Horvat and Baertschi and Hansen back with the Sedins to try to balance the scoring a bit more… unless there are injuries, it is going to be difficult to get Eriksson off the Sedin line.

      • wojohowitz

        I’d really like to see Eriksson on the second line as well. Play Loui with the twins on the powerplay and in late game situations, but even it out a bit throughout the game at even strength so that the opposing defenders have to put in the work.

        Daniel – Henrik – Hansen
        Eriksson – Sutter – Rodin
        Baertschi – Horvat – Virtanen
        Etem – Gaunce/Granlund – Dorsett/Burrows

        I understand that this lineup has 14 forwards, but I’m still hopeful that someone is moved before the season starts. Nonetheless, I’m convinced Virtanen is staying in the lineup, especially with the emphasis on the “youth movement” in Canucks advertising and Jake being a big part of that (look how much PR work he has put in this summer). Gaunce is waivers exempt for next season so I suspect he will be spending a lot of time going back and forth from Utica-Van as an injury replacement.

        • wojohowitz

          My biggest worry with Sutter is offense.

          Maybe we should give him some time with Eriksson but I think we will see more offense from an Eriksson/Horvat pairing than Eriksson with Sutter.

          I’m hoping Bo is looked at to provide more offense than Sutter and gets those offensive zone starts and Sutter more defensive zone starts.

          But WD hasn’t been known for matchups and has rolled the lines more so than strategically. maybe I should be happy if 2nd and 3rd lines get similar ice time.

          Although I liked the way JV played with Horvat, I think JV’s development can be helped with time in the AHL, mistakes don’t cost the club as much, and he will get a ton of ice time. Maybe not the whole year in Utica but a good chunk. make him hungry for the nhl.

  • Mattchu

    I suspect Rodin’s knee injury will keep him from making the starting roster.

    I hope I’m wrong, but he’s been out for 6 months.. it will take some time to get back into game shape even without set backs.

    Virtanen will make the team. Likely Bo and Baer’s line. Can we name this the “Beast line”?

  • Mattchu

    ….”And while we are naming lines how about the Sedinery + Ericsson as…….

    Sed-ric the Entertainer line?

    I call “trademark”

    ….no worries… the first and last time that line name will ever be used…

  • arjay

    ” I’d also like to think that the Canucks dogged efforts to trade Sbisa indicate they’re either moving on, or close to moving on from their expensive project defenceman. ”
    It appears JD has the inside track on a whole bunch of trades nobody knows about. I’d like a list of these trades please.

  • wojohowitz

    Dorsett is a RW. Please watch the games. Burrows, Etem, and Rodin can play either side, which allows some flexibility. Given that they can be sent down without clearing waivers, Gaunce and Virtanen should be fighting it out for the 13th forward spot, unless Grenier comes on strong, in which case they both go down.

  • Olands

    How are there quotes from Willie projecting top 4 minutes for Luca, then a discussion and subsequent projection that he’s the odd man out?

    I get Willie’s comments could be ulterior in their motivation — ie. boost trade stock or diminish any entitlement of a guy like Hutton. But still..

    The guy is not going to be given away. He is at the least in your third pairing, leaving Tryamkin on the bench.

    Also, I’m not putting Etem on my second line. I think he’s fine with 4th line minutes or sliding in and out. Plus, no doubt in my mind that Burr will be better next year.

    I see it more like this:

    SEDIN – SEDIN – HANSEN

    BAER – HORVAT – ERIKSON

    RODIN – SUTTER – VIRTANEN

    BURROWS – GRANLUND – DORSETT

    ETEM

    Virtanen is just too physically developed to not be in the league next year. Gaunce as your first call up.

    • Dirty30

      I’d put Etem in before Dorsett any night.

      Emerson does need to up his game — a lot — but he shows good speed, can score when he stops following Vey’s ‘fancy moves’ BS and gets into the dirty areas.

      I’m not holding my breath on Rodin so Etem may just slot up to the Sutter-Virtanen line. Now you have speed, size, and flashes of skill.

      I’d rather see Gaunce on the fourth line and be able to rotate him and Dorsett in and out of the line depending on who they’re playing and how Gaunce is progressing.

      • Olands

        You know, I completely agree. I don’t really see much value in Dorsett as far as winning games, but he’s got that contract and some intangibles.

        When I look at the roster without him, there just isn’t anyone to step up should it be needed.

        I also think gaunce is over due for a good long look. I think that he’ll get it with injuries this year, but not off the hop.

        • Olands

          “When I look at the roster without him, there just isn’t anyone to step up should it be needed.”

          Isn’t that the challenge with much of the roster, needing guys to step up.

          Gudbranson was a great add on the dcorps.

          There has to be some physical play in our forward group, someone to dish it out a bit and make opponents keep their head up and feel rushed. I want JV to start in Utica, but his physical play is really needed in our lineup.

          I don’t expect the Sedins to bring that grit, initiate it, as they just play through it. But the remaining forwards needs more grit and when I look at players like Hansen, Gaunce, Etem, Granlund, Horvat, Sutter, I see guys that don’t really initiate but just play through it, maybe finish a few checks, but with these guys holding roster spots in the bottom 9, it would sure make one of these players look more valuable if they amped up their physical play a couple notches. I look at Gaunce, Etem and Granlund as still needing to make their marks and if Gaunce wanted to stand out more, I think he is built for the physical play but I’m not sure he has it in him.

          Can’t think of a situation where I’d want to sit Dorsett without having other grit in the lineup. The guy is the first to jump to a team mates side in any situation. Dorsett might be overpaid, but he shows up and does his best to earn it.

    • Olands

      Sedin – Sedin – Vrbata

      Baertschi – Horvat – Eriksson

      Rodin – Sutter – Hansen

      Burrows – Granlund – Dorsett

      Stem

      Vrbata could be had cheap for one year and has a lot left in the tank if he’s played with the right players. Virtanen starts in Utica and would be Vrbata’s replacement next year.

      • detox

        Vrbata? really? lol.

        did you ever see the video of JV going around the locker room, tapping guys shin pads with his stick before a game, looks at Vrbata, see’s Vrbata’s scowl and heads in the other direction…

        Vrbata took all the pucks out of Roger’s Arena and went home.

      • Dirty30

        Nope.

        You don’t get to float for a season, make boo-boo faces at everyone, and whine that you’re not getting your shot at the top line like you’re Co-Ho’s daddy, and get picked up for another go at it.

        Higgins took it like a man, Prust groused a little but took it like a man, and Hank, who couldn’t sit, stand and had to ask Daniel to take a crap for him, never said boo.

        Never heard Vey whine and he had a legit reason to but instead he showed up and tried.

        Having a bad season can be forgiven … Floating and whining can not.

        Pass.

      • Olands

        So far off.

        @ryan b
        HillbillyDeluxe just explained very well why Dorset or guys like Dorset for that matter are still NHLers. It is extremely hard to find guys who can play and bring a physical element. I’m not saying Dorset can play, but he’s not a liability. Ideally, we’d have some of these bigger guys, with a bit of skill, get a clue and start playing a hard nosed game. I’m thinking about a guy like Grenier as well as Gaunce or Etem. Go run around a bit, play a little nasty, and you might get a real look.

        • Olands

          By pretty much every metric, Dorsett was a complete liability. He’s allegedly a grit guy, but there were way too many nights last year where I didn’t hear his name mentioned.

          I’d way rather give a young dude that roster spot than the washed up middleweight plug Dorsett. He can do his thing in Utica…

          • Cageyvet

            OK, he’s overpaid and a 4th liner, and was not particularly good last season. But, as an earlier post said, we can forgive a bad season, he does show up.

            He was pretty damn good with Cracknell, maybe he clicks with someone this year. I don’t expect a lot from the 4th line so if he can stop taking dumb penalties and just play, he can be solid.

            We need some veteran guys, and since we don’t have a ton of skilled veterans, the other guys need to have character, which he has in spades, to show the young guys how to be professionals.

            Would it break my heart if he was sent to Utica? Not at all, but I don’t see it happening, so we might as well be fans and hope he rebounds.

  • Olands

    Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson,
    Baertchi-Horvat-Virtanen,
    Rodin-Sutter-Hansen,
    Etem-Granlund-Gaunce,
    Burrows-Dorsett.

    Edler-Tanev,
    Hutton-Gubrandson,
    Tryamkin-Larsen,
    Pedan-Sbisa.

    Miller-Markstrom

    Why the hell is Dorsett-as-an-NHLer still a thing, outside of letting him be exposed for the expansion draft.