You know the hockey season is near when three NHL players appear on the radio within the span of just a few days. The off-season is a time for players to lay low in the media as they go through their daily training and rehabilitation routines. With the NHL’s training camps just a few weeks away, NHLers have returned to their respective cities or signed Professional Try Outs. After a long hiatus of Canucks player interviews, Jake Virtanen, Chris Higgins, and Henrik Sedin spoke with TSN 1040 this week to talk all things hockey.
Jake Virtanen will be heading to Whistler’s training camp with somewhat of a spotlight shining on him. Having been called out in the past for his professionalism, he will have much to prove that he belongs in the big league, despite his young age of 20. The product of Abbotsford, BC has spent his off-season at Rogers Arena, and he told TSN 1040 that he has been training Monday to Friday all summer. Being monitored constantly by Canucks staff and management should give Canucks fans optimism that he will meet, or even exceed, both on and off-ice expectations. Jim Benning and Trevor Linden have been candid in saying that they have not ruled out the possibility of sending Virtanen to Utica, but the 6th overall pick does not plan on that happening.
Jake Virtanen: “I learned a lot throughout my first year, there were off-ice things and on-ice things. The first year is about learning to be a pro and I think I did that. Last year was the biggest learning experience of my career. This year, I want to put up more points and score more goals. I also want to be a team guy and a leader on this team eventually. You have to start young and mature your game on and off the ice and that’s what I’m trying to do. My body [composition] has been pretty good this off-season, so I want to keep building off that.”
Virtanen on potentially playing in Utica: “I’m not trying to worry about that. I don’t want to be anywhere except Vancouver. I don’t have my mind set on anything else. It’s going to be a good camp and you have to earn your spot. It’s my spot to lose.”
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin is back in Vancouver after his spending his summer in Ornskoldsvik, as he and his brother do every year. The two, along with Jacob Markstrom and new Canuck Loui Eriksson, will be missing training camp as they represent Sweden at the World Cup. Turning 36 in a few weeks, it can be safe to say that the Sedin twins are true NHL veterans. Despite the ups and downs of the past few seasons, both remain positive and hopeful that Jim Benning has put together a playoff-contending team. The potential line combination of Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson will most definitely be exciting to watch, especially when both Sedins are inching towards the 1,000 career points milestone.
Henrik Sedin on Loui Eriksson: “We know each other from before, we played together at the World Championships. He’s a great player, I think he’s very underrated around the league. He might not be the flashiest guy, so that’s something the fans have to get used to. He’s one of those smart guys that, if you know hockey, you can tell he’s very valuable to your team.”
Henrik Sedin on the upcoming season: “With Gudbranson coming in, our back end looks deeper. It’s the same story as last year. We need our young guys to take another step, we need to stay healthy this year. We’re not as deep as other teams, but if you stay healthy, you have all the chances in the world to make the playoffs. It was the same for last year but we couldn’t stay healthy and that was the problem. The young guys getting better and staying healthy are the two keys for us.”
Henrik Sedin on Anton Rodin: “I know him from a few years ago at training camp, and he was here in May and June working out with us. I’ve been here all week and I’ve been around him. If you’re the MVP in the Swedish league, that means you’re a really good player. That doesn’t necessarily translate into being a top producer in the NHL, but it gives you a good chance of getting there. With the confidence he has this time around, knowing he was the best player in the Swedish league, I think it will be a very good fit for him on this team. I talked to a lot of guys in my hometown who played against him and he was dominant. He ran the power play, he played a lot, he was counted on to produce. For him to have that confidence coming over here, it’s going to be a big difference from last time around.”
Last but not least, after having his contract bought out by the Canucks, Chris Higgins signed a Professional Try Out with the Calgary Flames this week. To refresh your memory, Mike Gillis acquired him at the 2010-2011 season’s trade deadline in exchange for Evan Oberg and a 3rd-round pick. He collected 8 points in 25 games during the playoffs en route to the notorious Game 7, and went on to multiple contract extensions. It was during that time when he discovered his love for the city, thus making it a permanent home and calling it “the best city in North America, that I’ve been to.” Higgins is one of the many PTO players who are fighting to keep their place in the NHL, another being former Canuck Brandon Prust who will be attending Toronto’s training camp. Personally, I wish for nothing but the best for Higgins and I hope that he finds success with Calgary.
Chris Higgins on signing a PTO with Calgary: “Looking at their line-up, they need older guys with experience. I’ve always approached training camp as a try-out – if you’re not a good enough player, you’re going to be off the team. I’ve talked to Glenn Gulutzan quite often this summer. When I found out things weren’t working out in Vancouver, I was contacted by him. I’ve always had a great relationship with him as well as Paul Jerrard from working with him in Utica. The familiarity certainly plays a part (in choosing Calgary) as well as location. My daughter is going to be staying in Vancouver so it’s only an hour flight away. I was only interested in teams close to the area. There were a couple teams in the east that were interested, but if the only opportunity were in the east, I’d give it a shot. My daughter has changed my world quite a bit so that was a big selling point for me.”
As part of Calgary’s PTO press release, Higgins gave his final thoughts as he concluded his time as a Vancouver Canuck. In his six seasons with the Canucks, he appeared in 336 regular season games and 40 in the playoffs. His highest point total with the team was in 2011-12 when he put up 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists) in 71 games. At 33 years old, Higgins is looking to prove to Calgary that he can still play in the NHL and be an asset to their young team.
Higgins on Vancouver: “I don’t hold any grudges. I didn’t play well. Maybe I didn’t see going down to the minors as an option, but it’ll be a funny story to look at in a couple years, with a lot of parts in my career. I think everybody knows how I feel about Vancouver. I plan on spending a lot of time here when I retire. I love the city and the people here. Vancouver will always be in my future. There is no bitterness whatsoever.”