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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

3 Storylines for the Canucks Going into Training Camp

The Canucks will finally hit the ice this morning to try and put together their roster and begin preparations for the upcoming season. Training camp is on and the season isn’t that far in the distance.In less than a week’s time, the Canucks will open their pre-season with a Saturday matinee tilt with the Los Angeles Kings. It’s about to get real.

In less than a week’s time, the Canucks will open their pre-season with a Saturday matinee tilt with the Los Angeles Kings. It’s about to get real.

At least seven unrestricted free agents with realistic chances at an NHL role have joined the Canucks this offseason, which says nothing of the restricted free agents Vancouver kept in the fold and the two professional tryouts they’ve added to the mix thus far.

There are only so many rosters spots to go around, though. Then there’s the matter of finding out where each player fits when they’ve made it that far.

To handicap these roster battles and points of interest as the Canucks make their way through training camp, I’ve provided a list of the three most intriguing storylines.

Is Bo Horvat the First Line Centre?

Last week, the Canucks signed the final of their RFAs, Bo Horvat, to a six-year deal valued at $33-million, for a cap hit of $5.5-million annually. It’s not the type of salary we’d usually associate with an elite scoring forward, but it’s certainly in that tier of first line compensation. Clearly, the Canucks think Horvat is either ready to fill that role for the Canucks now or in the not so distant future.

The only problem? Horvat’s never played first line minutes. In fact, the only part of Horvat’s game that we can confidently say is at a first line level has been his raw point production, and we only have one season worth of data to back up that assumption, and in that season Horvat had an abnormally high on-ice shooting percentage.

Last season, Horvat was third among Canucks centres in average time on ice. That can’t repeat itself. You don’t hand out $5.5-million to a “foundational” centre and play him in a second or third line role. If Horvat is the future, then the future is now. I’m interested to see if Canucks head coach Travis Green agrees.

The Kids Are Alright?

There are about two spots in the Canucks lineup that are open to competition. Among the competitors are Alexander Burmistrov, Anton Rodin, Brock Boeser, Reid Boucher, Derek Dorsett, Griffen Molino, Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin are among the many competing for these spots.

We’ve heard a lot these last few years about the youth movement going on in Vancouver. It might have to spend a year on hold. Boeser looks ready for the NHL, and I think one could make a case that Goldobin isn’t far behind.

I wonder if the Canucks have room for either of them (or any of their other young players) after some of the veteran additions they’ve made this off-season. By that same token, Canucks general manager Jim Benning has been adamant this summer that they’ll create room for young players if they prove themselves ready in training camp and the pre-season.

Who is Going to Play with the Sedins?

The Sedin twins are 36-years-old now, and somehow this storyline is still following them to almost every training camp. Last year, there was one obvious candidate ahead of the pack in the newly signed Loui Eriksson. There’s no such suitor this time around.

The Sedins finished the year with a number of different linemates, players like Jayson Megna, Michael Chaput and Markus Granlund, to name a few. With Granlund on their flank, the Sedins played some of their best hockey at both ends of the ice. If I were running the show, I’d go back to that well to start the season at the very least.

One early candidate,that Green has singled out as an option to start the season with the Sedins? Sam Gagner. At a glance, that seems like an odd match. Gagner isn’t a play driver at even strength, and he does some of his best work against lower level competition. There isn’t much Gagner can bring to the Sedin line, and his inability to help move the river at even strength might actually make him a hindrance relative to some of the alternatives for that role.

  • Sedin – Sedin – Granlund

    Travis Green needs to mix up his top line. I agree Granlund fits well, but like our powerplay, things were too predictable. Twins need to develop chemistry with their winger and if Gagner or Vanek is the best match, then so be it.
    Training camp is the time to try different combinations.

    • Forward Thinker

      Do you think the Sedins are first line this year. I do not. At best they will play second line with high minutes. They are now secondary scoring. I do not think Horvats line gets huge minutes either. They will likely get more minutes than typical for second liners while Horvat will get low first line minutes to start the season.

      • Justmyopinion

        I agree that the Sedins may not be the top first line players they were once upon a time but unless Horvat grabs the position and shows he can do first line..unfortunately it will default back to the Sedins again and they will play first line minutes with less than first line results just because there’s no one behind them who can adequately replace them. Hopefully that won’t be a sad reality.

  • speering major

    Makes sense to try Vanek and give the Sedin line easy minutes. Sutter and Horvat should be given less favorable match ups. Not only would this deploy the Sedins and Vanek in scoring situations, but it would also develop the middle of the line up to play in situations they will need to thrive in for the teams future. I think Vanek and Ganger are also great options for the Sedin line because their age and contracts make them great trade bait. Pumping up their numbers could result in a nice deadline return.

    • TD

      I think Granlund or Eriksson make more sense as they have more speed to make up for the Sedin’s lack of speed. Vanek is not a fast skater. I would love to see the Sedins get easier match-ups, but the Canucks only have limited control over that. Until Horvat shows he is a bigger threat, the other coaches will deploy their top D pairing and shut down line against the Canucks. At the end of last year, Horvat began to see the other teams top pairing and went on a 17 game scoring slump.

      Limiting the Sedins minutes should let them stay fresh and play better. After rolling 4 lines in his first year, Desjardins over played the Sedins in the last two years and their production dropped badly as the season progressed because of over usage.

  • Justmyopinion

    I wouldn’t hold my breath that even if some of the rookies have a good camp, that they’ll get an opportunity to play with the Canucks. Yes, I know we have a new coach but we have the same general manager and we only have to look at last year to see the evidence: Stecher clearly made it out of camp and got sent down..he only came up because of injury but there’s no doubt he’s was better than Larsen and Biega. Same with Tryamkin..he only came in when Gudbransen got hurt and I do believe his treatment was a main reason in why he left to go back to the KHL. Do you really believe for one second that someone like Vanek or Gagner is going down to the AHL? I don’t think so. So until I see otherwise, I remain a skeptical doubter.

    • crofton

      Good points, but not sure about Tryamkin. If he didn’t like his deployment (or lack of it), he knew Willie was gone before he bolted back to the KHL. Also, he was newly married, plus maybe looking for a shot at a gold in the Olympics. I’d like to think we may get him back, we retain his rights until 2020 (?)

  • apr

    I heard Todd Bertuzzi on Sportsnet 650 say that who plays with Sedins, and who plays with Bo (and Baer) should be a revolving door depending which line is going. This was his set up when he played with Detroit when Datsyuk and his partner on one line, and Zetteberg and his partner (forgot both) on another. There were a bunch of guys who guys who rotated as the third wheel on the top two lines depending on matchups and who ever was going. Apparently some coach named Babcock devised that….

    • Isn’t the revolving door the reason why the Sedins aren’t effective? Since Burrows lost his effectiveness, Hansen has just been a temporary stopgap. Now that Desjardins is gone, Eriksson should have the first shot at playing with the Sedins. The *real* problem is that there’s no secondary scoring threat so when you focus on shutting down the Sedins, you shut down the Canucks. The *opposition* should be forced to line-match against the Sedins because they’re still that good, not the other way around.

  • Justmyopinion

    I really hope that Horvat shows he is capable of playing first line and scores better than 50 points because if he doesn’t, we are in trouble in many ways: firstly because he’ll be way overpaid and secondly, if that’s the best we’ve got to play first line, it really exposes the lack of depth we have. I still think management can’t quite figure out if they are really going to be rebuilding or they just can’t help themselves and sign bargain priced NHL’ers..because they think it’s a good deal..but thereby delaying the opportunity for the rookies to step up and deliver.

    • Dwj

      By signing these veteran guys to one year contracts it actually shows more of a sign of proper rebuild. The young guys aren’t quite ready. Simple as that. Another year in Utica in roles that will reflect their ultimate nhl position is better then having higher end talent in third and fourth line positions getting beaten down by grisled nhl vets. Let’s have them in scoring situations. Getting lots of minutes actually working on their game. Everyone always screams to not rush the young talent then when they don’t it’s because they “can’t help themselves”. Please.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Well really, Pettersson is the guy they ultimately expect to be the 1st line center down the road. If Horvat can develop into a top end #2 we’ll be in good shape in a few years.

  • Smarttnet

    Sedin-Sedin-Grunlund on 5 on 5
    Sedins with Vanek and Gagner on PP.

    Grunlund had good chemistry late last season but Sedins still struggled in PP. Try putting the new veterans on PP instead of mixing it up completely. Vanek being a slower skater will benefit(and has) more on PP when you’re not playing end to end hockey. He also likes to screen goalies. Need patience/time but may work.

  • When considering the Sedins’ RW, Green should also think about Horvat’s LW. It shouldn’t be automatically presumed that Baertschi is the best fit. I’m still not sold that Baertschi is a legitimate Top-6 LW, I see him as a Middle-6 LW at best. Eriksson, Vanek, Goldobin and Gagner all have impressive offensive credentials and can also play LW. If Horvat is to shoulder the top minutes, prioritizing his linemates over the Sedins is necessary to maximize scoring.

    • Tennyson Woodcock

      I agree that Baer shouldn’t automatically be penciled in next to Bo. I would try Vanek and Eriksson on his flanks, and Granny with the Sedins. That leaves Baer playing with Sutter. No doubt there are a lot more options for the coach this year.

    • defenceman factory

      Completely agree. If Bo is capable of taking on a bigger role it doesn’t mean Baer is. I think he is at or very near his ceiling and it might be considerably lower than Bo’s. A line of Loui, Bo and Brock deserves a try.

      All the options are intriguing and the depth is certainly better than last year. However as I look at all the possible line combinations none of them jump out as sure fire successes. Hopefully Benning can leverage some of this current quantity into future quality.

  • Betty

    Why would the youth movement be on hold? Does CanucksArmy honestly believe we’re not going to have a boatload of injuries again? We generally lose more than 150 man games to injury, there’s plenty of roster space for youth.

    Watch JB address this very concern (explaining the Stecher situation last year):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnXlMUnFlRE&feature=youtu.be&t=23m46s

    No, they might not be on the roster straight out of camp, but they will earn themselves the right to be that first callup and play in a valuable position when injuries happen. Instead of Chaput and Megna on the 1st or 2nd line, it’ll be Goldy, Boucher etc.

  • Doodly Doot

    I like the conditions Greene has set up to create an atmosphere of intense competition. I suspect that the team that emerges from camp will be surprising and different than what many of us earnest speculators might guess. Any kids who don’t make the big club, and there will be plenty, will have no illusions about what they need to do to earn a spot in the future. As far as the Sedins’ linemate this year, it will be interesting to discover what works best with several plausible candidates all with different styles of game to bring to the table. The fun is just beginning.

    • I appreciated Green being more specific about Subban’s weaknesses. Rather than saying “he needs to improve his defence”, one of the things he said is that Subban’s passes “wobble” and aren’t clean passes that “stick” when received by the teammate. OK, so now we know that Subban needs to improve the quality of his passes to facilitate zone breakouts.

      • truthseeker

        Sure…but sometimes you don’t do a kid any favors by pointing out stuff in public. Might be a good way to create some resentment. I’m talking in general here and not specifically about Subban.

  • wojohowitz

    Finally got the list; 34 forwards with another 3 injured. Gaunce, Dahlen and MacEwen.

    Left-Center-Right

    Daniel-Henrik-Goldobin
    Baertschi-Horvat-Vanek
    Eriksson-Granlund-Virtanen
    Molino-Burmistov-Carcone

    Upshall-Megna-Boeser
    Gagner-Sutter-Dorsett
    LaBate-Chaput-Boucher
    Rodin-Cassels-White

    Bancks-Hamilton-Archibald
    Lind-Moynihan-Gadjovich
    LaPlante-MacKenzie-Stukel
    D`aoust

    • wojohowitz

      I post it here because it`s easier to look at and re-arrange so it makes a bit more sense.

      Left-Center-Right

      Daniel-Henrik-Vanek
      Baertschi-Horvat-Rodin
      Eriksson-Sutter-Granlund
      Gagner-Burmistov-Dorsett

      That leaves Boeser and Goldobin as # 13 +14

      • wojohowitz

        …and that makes the Comets look like this;

        Bancks-Hamilton-Archibald
        Molino-Chaput-Goldobin
        LaBate-Moynihan-Virtanen
        Megna-Cassels-Boucher
        LaPlante-MacKenzie-Carcone
        D`Aoust-MacEwen-Stukel

  • Gerald Diduck

    Scotty Upshall is a done deal, Benning loves him. He will play with Dorsett on the bang and crash fourth line, possibly with Jake who is impressing in main camp.

    • DJ_44

      I’ll give a report. I went to the rink for the morning and saw the drills, scrimmage and more drills.

      Impressive (to me) in order:
      Virtanen. He looks changed. Professional, fast, focussed. Very noticable.

      The line of Vanek – Burmistrov -Eriksson. Burmistrov is incredibly skillful and works well with the other two (Eriksson also was good, although I have always like his game so take that for what it is).

      Hutton. I have been (sometimes overly) critical of Hutton’s play. He looked very good today. Carried himself different on the ice. Physical in the D-zone. Confident.

      Holm. This guy has skill. Can skate, seems smart, no problems in the Dzone or puck retreval, and a decent shot from the point.

      Subban. He was solid and did not look out of place. Nothing special, but has a good, accurate shot from the blue line, even under pressure.

      Rodin. He just seems like a smart player, finds open ice etc, and he was playing with Cassels and White, so that is saying something.

      The vets were solid so I won;t go through them.

      Not so impressive.

      Unfortunately Goldobin. I think his attitude is good, but he just seems to lose focus and was not at the compete level of, well, everyone else. Sometimes appeared lost almost.

      Pedan mildly struggled with the pace of play (more moving the puck/decisions in his own zone) but not terrible.

  • Roy

    just LOL at Gagner with the Sedins. Such a facepalm recommendation. Vanek or Eriksson and a second line role? Sure. Creating a new first line to see if Horvat, Baertschi and Gagner could make it work, and giving them some minutes, even in exhibition to see if it works? Absolutely. But brainstorming Gagner with the Sedins and not publicly stating the first line and the power play is the real elephant in the room, even for a placeholder team while we develop a nice collection of prospects in juniors…? Okay. These are baleful times to be a Canuck fan.

  • ds4quality

    12.5, 8.5, 6.7, 6 Million, even is first line money, if Bo’s numbers stay the same it’s worth it, if he gets better its a steal. If Pettersen comes in and in 3 years is topping 75pts we’ll be happy we saved on Bo’s contract, I can’t see Bo’s numbers dropping in his prime. 5.5. was a lot in 2013, 5.5 for a number 2 centre is great deal. Bo is not the future 1st line centre, Pettersen is our clear future first line centre.

  • Naslund

    After the Sedins lost one more step, the only guy who played effectively with them was Hansen. He had the speed to get the puck on the forecheck. He was also fast enough to get back and cover for them defensively.
    Green should put someone fast and defensively responsible with them. Molino?