With the 2022-23 season underway, CanucksArmy has decided to introduce a weekly series previewing the Abbotsford Canucks’ slate of upcoming games!
In each preview, we’ll summarize last week’s results, review injuries and expected lineups, head-to-head records against upcoming opponents, and any critical information necessary for Canucks fans to know about the AHL club!
Karel Plasek was in Vancouver over the summer but did not feature in the Penticton Young Stars tournament, development camp, or training camp due to lingering injury rehab. Similarly, Justin Dowling missed all of training camp with an undisclosed injury.
Phil Di Giuseppe was a late addition to Vancouver’s injured reserve and will likely be unavailable for Vancouver or Abbotsford on their season-opening road trips.
The aforementioned pre-camp injuries to Plasek and Dowling and the injuries to Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott, Brock Boeser, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Tyler Myers leave a very lean group available to Abbotsford for their opening road trip.
Barring any late PTO additions or Di Giuseppe’s sudden recovery, Abbotsford might only have one extra forward available for this weekend’s double-header. Fortunately, the team does have a glut of defensemen. Theoretically, a player like Alex Kannok Leipert could jump into a forward spot for some reps should any injuries occur during the team’s first game against Ontario.
The lack of depth will greatly benefit Tristen Nielsen, Chase Wouters, and Danila Klimovich. During the Penticton Young Stars Tournament, the trio generated some terrific offensive looks and appeared to build some palpable chemistry during their time together. With Sheldon Dries, Di Giuseppe, and Dowling missing from the roster, this weekend will be a massive opportunity for this young trio to seize a top-six opportunity under new head coach Jeremy Colliton.
Another beneficiary of the injury woes is Arshdeep Bains. Bains positioned himself nicely during the Canucks’ training camp. During the Young Stars tournament, he stood out with his hockey IQ, speed, and impressive commitment to the defensive side of the game. With very few left-wingers in the system, and Dowling unavailable due to injury, Bains could very well slot in as the team’s de facto #1 left winger to start the season.
On defence, the organization has a solid mix of young and veteran defencemen. Christian Wolanin established himself incredibly well during his brief preseason looks. At one point, many wondered if he’d done enough to supplant Jack Rathbone as the team’s 3rd-best option on the left side. Wolanin will have a chance to build on his impressive preseason, most likely alongside fellow preseason standout Brady Keeper.
GAME 1 @ Ontario Reign
To kick off their sophomore season, the Farm heads to California for their first of seven against the Los Angeles Kings affiliate, Ontario Reign.
Last year, the Reign finished second in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference with a 41-18-5-4 record. The high-flying offence scored the highest goals-for per game while operating the most efficient powerplay in the AHL at 27.5%. Despite being such offensive juggernauts, the Reign gave up a lot defensively, running the fifth-worst penalty kill while allowing the seventh-highest goals-against per game in the AHL.
Through eight games, the Reign beat the Canucks just once in regulation, a 5-2 defeat in late October. Overall, Abbotsford managed to reign in (I’m so sorry) Ontario’s offence, scoring twenty-two goals-for while giving up just twenty-three goals against.
The Reign could take a step back this season due to the departures of several key players, including Austin Strand, Sean Durzi, Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and the team’s leading goalscorer from last year, Martin Frk. However, the Ontario Reign’s lineup depended on their top-to-bottom transition game to feast on opponents.
The Farm isn’t exactly swimming in high-end skaters, and the lack of experience in the group’s top six could be problematic. Should Ontario’s speed look more or less the same as last season, it could result in an ugly sophomore debut for the young Abbotsford club.
Or it won’t.
I don’t know.
Hockey’s dumb and weird.
GAME 2 @ Bakersfield Condors
Vancouver Canucks’ fans still remember Game 8.
The Farm rounds out their double-header weekend with a stop in Bakersfield, hoping to avenge their opening-round loss to the Condors in last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs.
Ignoring Abbotsford’s opening-round sweep, the teams were matched quite evenly throughout the regular season. Abbotsford played Bakersfield eight times, losing the first four matches of the series by a whopping score of nineteen to eight. The Farm then played Reverse Uno, outscoring the Condors fifteen to six over the final four games of the series.
Heading into “Game Three,” the Condors enter the match with a significantly more experienced roster, with a veteran complement of Calvin Pickard, Jason Demers, Slater Koekkoek, Seth Griffith, Mattias Janmark, Greg McKegg, Luke Esposito, and Justin Bailey available to the Condors to insulate their core of U23 players. Additionally, joining the Condors to start the AHL season is Edmonton’s 2021 1st-round draft pick Xavier Bourgault, plus their 2020 4th and 5th-round draft selections Carter Savoie and Tyler Tullio.
Abbotsford does have a decent core of experienced veterans in John Stevens, Guillaume Brisebois, Noah Juulsen, Collin Delia, Michael DiPietro, and Christian Wolanin. However, the Condors’ forward depth has a significant advantage in speed, skill, and experience. This one could be ugly.
Or it won’t.
I don’t know.
Hockey’s dumb and weird.