Jim Rutherford on the Canucks’ lack of pace vs. Calgary, Nils Höglander, Andrey Kuzmenko, and more
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
The Canucks might only be two split-squad games into their season, but it’s never too early to get a read on what the front office and the coaching staff are thinking about.
President of Hockey Ops Jim Rutherford spoke with Rick Dhaliwal of Donnie and Dhali – The Team about the Canucks’ first two preseason games, a pair of losses to the Calgary Flames by a combined score of 7-2, and had no problem setting a tone for his expectations of the club.
“I didn’t like our pace last night, I think a less talented team outworked us,” Rutherford said about the game in Vancouver. “I would like to see our puck pressure get better, forecheck, force errors… there are still jobs up for grabs.”
The news hasn’t been great to start the preseason, but that’s not to say Rutherford had nothing positive to say about a few of his players. So today we’ll be going over a few of the Canucks Rutherford highlighted in his Monday morning interview, how each of them did on the ice yesterday, and where any improvements might need to come from.
No player has been under more pressure to start the season than Nils Höglander. Höglander has been on the outside looking in as a thirteenth forward since the team acquired Andrey Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev, and everyone has noticed the work ethic he’s brought to reclaim his spot on the opening night lineup.
“I have been really impressed, I give him a ton of credit,” Rutherford said about Höglander. “If he is playing better than someone else, he will get in the lineup. It has to be a fair system.”
Head coach Bruce Boudreau gave Höglander his due earlier in the week.
The game in Calgary was a bit of a letdown, however. Höglander played nearly 17 minutes for a much weaker Canucks lineup, including four on the man advantage, but only managed a single shot on goal in the contest. And that was on top of a roughing penalty in the first period and a slashing call early in the second that put him in the box when Jonathan Huberdeau broke the deadlock.
Höglander obviously has a very low chance of not making the final roster — especially now with Brock Boeser slated to miss 3-4 weeks after hand surgery — and wasn’t playing with his usual NHL linemates for the preseason contest, but when he gets that opportunity later this week, hopefully the on-ice results will come a little more naturally for him.
Andrey Kuzmenko’s arrival in Vancouver has made him the human equivalent of Mr. Burns’ mystery box. What’s inside could be an amazing prize or a total letdown, but the surprise is half the fun!
Rutherford understands it’ll likely take some time for Kuzmenko to adjust to the NHL game after his time in the KHL.
“There will be an adjustment period for him. Could be one month, could be one year. He’s highly skilled but was trying to do too much last night and his shifts were too long.”
In 19 shifts during Sunday’s contest in Vancouver, Kuzmenko averaged 59 seconds per shift, more than any other Canucks forward and tied with Jack Rathbone for the highest on the roster. For context, the average NHL shift is meant to max out in the 40-45 second range, so an additional 15 seconds on the ice can make a massive difference in the endurance department.
With the extra time on the ice, Kuzmenko potted a secondary assist on Conor Garland’s game-tying goal along with three of Vancouver’s 28 shots. But as a player used to first-line minutes with SKA St. Petersburg, it’s clear to Rutherford that Kuzmenko will need to be comfortable settling into a secondary scoring role, especially if Bruce Boudreau places him on a line with someone like Elias Pettersson.
Most importantly, keeping shifts short makes a team less susceptible to a counter-attack, something the Canucks certainly know all about.
For Danny DeKeyser to be placed on a pairing with Tyler Myers in training camp despite being Vancouver’s only professional tryout, it seemed like Rutherford and Boudreau were slightly tipping their hand. Last night’s game confirmed those suspicions, but Rutherford was careful to temper expectations today.
“He is doing ok, he hasn’t shown that he can not play,” Rutherford told Dhaliwal. “[But] can he separate himself from others? It also depends on how the other defenceman play as well.”
The former Detroit Red Wing didn’t factor into the scoring at all, and was all over the game sheet in the Rogers Arena outing. DeKeyser played 17 and a half minutes, including six on the penalty kill, and even picked up a pair of shots on goal. In a game full of penalties DeKeyser was whistled for an interference call against Kevin Rooney, but also had trouble at times keeping up with the pace of play. While he wasn’t a complete liability on the ice, it’s going to be important for his skating to pick up on a blue line with few fleet-footed defenders as is.
Jack Rathbone is definitely ready for an extended NHL opportunity, and the team president knows it.
“He came to camp ready, give him credit. His mobility and the way he moves the puck is impressive,” Rutherford said about the 23-year-old defender.
On Sunday, Boudreau gave Rathbone more than his share of chances at both ends of the ice. Rathbone led the team in ice time with a full 25 minutes, including a combined 13 on special teams. Playing largely on a pairing with Luke Schenn, the West Roxbury native responded with three shots on goal and three shot blocks.
And Rathbone was appreciative of the chance he was given.
“Little bit of a vote of confidence from those guys, hopefully I took advantage of it,” Rathbone said post game before talking about playing with Schenn. “Once we get a few games under our belt here, I think we can just add to that chemistry and hopefully build on what we’ve been doing so far.”
The Canucks’ next chance to improve their pace of play and get their first preseason win will come on Thursday when take on the visiting Seattle Kraken.
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