The rollercoaster continues for the Canucks as they alternate wins and losses. The team currently sits 28th in the NHL with the 29th Avalanche and 30th Coyotes having played two games less and three points behind. The ups and downs have made it hard to determine exactly what type of team the Canucks are. The season so far has had its shining moments, but also some equally dull ones.
Jake Virtanen has been under the spotlight for quite some time now, and the long-waited match-up against Toronto has also arrived. Erik Gudbranson has not met expectations, while Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin have arguably exceeded them. Earlier today, Canucks General Manager Jim Benning was on TSN 1040 to talk about these topics.
The must-anticipated December 3rd rematch versus the Toronto Maple Leafs has finally come. Toronto sports media started covering Saturday’s game since Wednesday, and some journalists also arrived in Vancouver a few days early. In light of Erik Gudbranson’s not-so-friendly words directed towards Matt Martin, this match-up will be under the NHL’s spotlight. Nazem Kadri, Matt Martin, and possibly Morgan Reilly may need to keep their heads up tomorrow night, but any action that crosses the line is most definitely not in the interest of the NHL and Canucks fans.
Jim Benning on discussions before tomorrow’s game vs. TOR: “[The NHL hasn’t] said too much to me yet. We’re meeting with Stephane Quintal tomorrow afternoon before the game. (Willie Desjardins talking to the players) is going to be on the agenda for the meeting. Stephane is going to talk to us first, then meet with the coaches for the players. Tomorrow night, there’s two points on the line. We just want to play the game and try to win the game.”
Jake Virtanen has played a total of 20 games with Utica, including their 2014-15 Calder Cup playoff run. In that handful of games, he has three assists and 0 goals. This season he has two assists in seven games – not exactly the numbers one would like to see out of a 6th-overall pick. You can argue that keeping Virtanen in Vancouver last year was not the right move regarding his development, and sending him down this year may be to make up for that mistake. He has yet to take off in the AHL, despite the two or three shots that he has been averaging per game. He’s been playing a line alongside the red-hot Darren Archbald and Curtis Valk, which means he is the last member of that trio who needs to get produce.
Jim Benning on Virtanen: “He’s playing good. All reports on him are that, with the practice time and stuff, he’s working hard in practice and playing good in games. He hasn’t scored yet but he’s playing good. His overall two-way game is improving and I think he’ll start scoring in the future. We want to be patient with him. With the compressed NHL schedule, there’s not a lot of practice time. Down there, he gets to practice three days a week then play three days a week. We want to be patient with him and let him develop.”
During the off-season, the acquisition of Erik Gudbranson was supposed to make the Canucks a “tough team to play against.” So far, it appears to have been the opposite. Aside from his monstrous fight vs. Zack Kassian, his aforementioned physical presence has not been displayed as often as expected. He is tied for a team-low plus/minus with a -13 through 24 games. The combo of he and Ben Hutton do not seem to be meshing well and in-sync. Despite the fantastic and mature character that he is, it’s safe to say the reaction he draws from fans is similar to that of Luca Sbisa’s from years previous. However, it would be wrong to jump to conclusions because even a player such as Sbisa has been able to step up his game and look less of a liability. The adjustment from the east to west, new teammates, and new systems is not one that we can all see on the ice, but it would certainly be a good reason as to why he has not come as advertised.
Jim Benning on Gudbranson: “In some games, he’s come as advertised. He’s played physical, moved the puck, and given us a physical presence on the back-end. Any time you trade for a new player, there’s an adjustment period – playing with new teammates, playing a new system, the marketplace. I think he’s adjusting and I think he’s going to keep developing and turn out to be a good player for us.”
One of the two silver linings so far has been the play of Bo Horvat. In some eyes, he has exceeded expectations and shown to be a constant threat. In others, his development from season-to-season has come as expected. He’s been one of the shining lights in a tunnel that is sometimes dark and sometimes bright. Despite being the ‘3rd-line centre,’ his play shows much more than that. He’s been impressive; it’s as simple as that. He’s played consistent hockey and shown signs of what-could-be a solid No. 1 centre. Last night, it’s fairly clear that Willie Desjardins did not deploy Horvat’s line in the proper way.
Jim Benning on Horvat: “They’re been an important part of our last three weeks, that Baetschi-Horvat-Burrows. line. Willie is aware that they’re playing good for us and tries to get them out there as much as he can. For whatever reason last night, he only played 15 minutes. He’s an important guy for us to get to where we want to be, this year and in the future.”
The second of the two silver linings has been the play of Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin – two completely different types of defensemen. One is small, and one is gigantic; One is offensively-minded, the other defensively. However, both have turned heads and impressed in ways that have exceeded expectations. With key injuries on the blue-line, they’ve taken the increased ice-time and roles and succeeded. The Canucks’ future on the back-end may not be as bad as originally thought.
Jim Benning on Stecher and Tryamkin: “Those are two guys that have played very good for us. With Troy Stecher, we didn’t know how fast he was going to adapt to the NHL game. He’s taken off where he left off at training camp, he’s been excellent. He’s agressive when he gets the puck on his stick, he’s hard in the battles, he likes to get his shot on the net. With Nikita, we did some work with on off the ice, conditioning and stuff. For a 6’7 player, he has the long reach and has been good defensively for us. Both players have been good for us, and with the injuries to Edler and Tanev, we needed them to step in and adjust right away. So far, they’ve showed that.”
Anton Rodin: “He’s making progress, he’s skating on his own. His rehab continues, but there’s no timetable as to when he’ll be back.”
Tanev: “He’s been skating, he’s week to week right now. It’s one of those injuries where some days he comes in and feels real good, other days not too good.”
Boeser: “He has a bone bruise in his wrist. Their thinking on it is they’re going to keep him out of last weekend’s games and see where it’s at. We’ll go from there.”
Source: TSN 1040