4 key Vancouver Canucks position battles to keep an eye on as training camp begins
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang2 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks preseason training camp starts today. The camp, held in Victoria, will run for five days as Canucks players prepare for the 2023-24 NHL season.
With quite a few new additions joining the team this summer, there is some uncertainty as to what the opening night roster is going to look like. The biggest question marks are on defence and the wings, where there are multiple ways that the coaching staff could deploy the players available.
This week’s training camp is the first chance for players in these position battles to assert themselves and earn more ice time. A strong training camp is enough for any player to steal a spot on the opening night roster. It was only a few years ago that a young Nils Höglander came out flying and forced his way onto the roster with his tenaciousness and skill.
The stage is set for these players to pull off a similar feat and make it impossible for the organization to leave them off the roster. CanucksArmy will have intense coverage of all the action happening in Victoria, but before the first skate happens, make sure to read up on these four crucial position battles that will be going down.
6th Defenceman: Christian Wolanin, Akito Hirose, Noah Juulsen, Matt Irwin
The Canucks revamped their defence corps this summer by signing free agents like Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, and Matt Irwin. They’ll replace names like Luke Schenn, Kyle Burroughs, Ethan Bear, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This leaves the Canucks with five defensive locks (barring injury) for opening night in Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek, Cole, Soucy, and Tyler Myers.
The last spot is still very much up in the air with a few contenders with a legitimate claim. Christian Wolanin dominated the AHL last season and looked solid in the NHL as well. Akito Hirose has been a revelation and could have legitimate top-four potential. Noah Juulsen provides a calm and steady right-handed presence, and Matt Irwin was one of the league’s best penalty killers last season.
The good news for the coaching staff is that Ian Cole can play on both sides, giving them flexibility. They can take a left-handed or right-handed player for this sixth defenceman spot.
One thing to consider in this equation is that Hirose is waiver-exempt, making it easier for the coaching staff to justify starting him in the minors.
It will be interesting to see which of these defencemen stand out over the coming days and establish themselves as the leading candidate for that sixth spot.
AHL starting goalie: Spencer Martin and Arturs Silovs
Another interesting position battle will be happening between the pipes. While it originally seemed like these two players would be fighting for the NHL backup spot, the Canucks trade for Casey DeSmith means that Spencer Martin and Arturs Silovs will compete for the AHL starting job.
Spencer Martin had a tough showing for the Canucks last season, finishing with a goals-against-average of 3.99 in 29 games. This came after a bunch of preseason hype built on the fact that Martin had looked excellent in his six NHL appearances the year before. Which Spencer Martin will show up to training camp this year? That’s the big question.
Pushing Martin for the AHL job is Arturs Silovs. Silovs is just 22 years old and looks to be one of the better goalie prospects around the league. He played 44 games last season for the Abbotsford Canucks and finished with a 26-12-5 record, posting a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage.
Silovs also went 3-2 in the NHL last season, finishing with a 2.75 goals-against-average.
The Canucks organization will want to put Silovs in the best position to succeed. With plenty of other options that could be AHL backups, do the Canucks just try to move Martin to ensure that Silovs gets the game reps he needs to continue his development?
First line winger: Ilya Mikheyev, Anthony Beauvillier
There are two players that will be stapled to the Canucks first line all season long. Those are Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko, who showed some astounding chemistry together last season. They also played with a few different options on the other wing, something that will need to be cleared up in training camp.
While the two names outlined below are the top candidates to start the year skating alongside the Canucks’ dangerous duo, there are quite a few other players that could push for the job. The Canucks have a logjam of wingers and if Vasily Podkolzin or Brock Boeser have an outstanding camp, they could be the ones moved onto this line.
However, Ilya Mikheyev and Anthony Beauvillier will get the first crack at the job. Both looked natural on this line at different points last season, making it a hard decision. Mikheyev’s straight-line speed and ability to forecheck could make him the leader early, but there are many questions surrounding his return from a knee injury suffered last season.
If Mikheyev is not yet fully healthy and not ready to go, Beauvillier could snag that first-line spot, giving him a chance to elevate his value in a contract year.
Third line centre: Pius Suter, Teddy Blueger
While this position battle might not mean much as the two players will be used in different situations, it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff takes to Pius Suter or Teddy Blueger more. Both were acquired this past offseason to help shore things up in the bottom-six, but there are still some questions about who will play more.
Suter offers a more versatile, two-way game with much more offensive pop. Blueger is one of the best defensive centres in the league but struggles to put up points. Will Blueger’s elite defensive game make him an early favourite of Tocchet and lead to him being the third-line centre?
We’ll find out the answer to all of these questions as the preseason rolls along, but it all starts today in Victoria and CanucksArmy will have you covered from top to bottom through it all!
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