Injuries are inevitable.
They can strike at any time, and they tend to happen more often to members of the Vancouver Canucks than to just about any other team in professional hockey.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that, for the sixth season in a row, the Canucks are experiencing significant injuries before 2022/23 has even officially started. Brock Boeser suffered a hand injury early on in training camp, underwent surgery, and is expected to miss the next three-to-four weeks. Ilya Mikheyev, meanwhile, got decked in his first exhibition game as a Canuck and is now out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
Each player is expected to miss no more than the month of October, so although it’s a disappointing start to the year, things could certainly be worse. And — as is always the case but especially so during the NHL preseason — any crisis can also be an opportunity.
Advertisement
Ad
Before training camp kicked off, we and others in the local mediasphere had expressed some concern about the Canucks’ seemingly overloaded forward corps. Players like Nils Höglander were thought to be candidates for demotion, and painful cuts were expected.
Now, with Boeser and Mikheyev out to start the season, at least two jobs have opened up for players who would not have made the roster before — and several other forwards have become locks.
For instance, there’s no way that Höglander doesn’t make the opening night lineup now. If the pre-established top-nine was going to be Boeser, Mikheyev, Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, Andrey Kuzmenko, and Tanner Pearson, Höglander now easily slides into one of the two open spots.
Jason Dickinson and Dakota Joshua were thought to be in competition for a fourth line gig, but now both become almost-automatic anchors of that unit. Their expected linemate, Curtis Lazar, could be the one to slide up into that other top-nine slot, creating another opening on the fourth line. Or, Lazar could stay where he is, and leave a top-nine spot open to be filled by someone else.
Advertisement
Ad
Speaking of “someone else,” we’ve arrived at the meat of this article, which is a look at the many players who could benefit most directly from the Boeser and Mikheyev injuries by starting the season in Vancouver instead of Abbotsford as a result.
Overall, two forward jobs will remain unexpectedly open through most of October: one in the lineup and one in the pressbox.
Phil Di Giuseppe would seem to be in the lead for either of the two. He was a somewhat surprising cut after a strong training camp in 2021, and he’s shown up again and impressed in 2022. The 28-year-old has added some PK skills to his game, which was previously thought to be his only detractor in becoming a fourth line regular. It’s hard to argue at this point that Di Giuseppe — who has yet to play an actual game for the Canucks — hasn’t at least earned a look. But there are others who will challenge him all the same.
Advertisement
Ad
Will Lockwood got a call-up last season and impressed with his physicality and hustle. If Lazar moves up into the top-nine and the Canucks want to maintain the energy of the fourth unit, Lockwood makes a lot of sense. At age 24, he’s rapidly approaching the end of his waiver-exemption, and the Canucks really should be looking for chances to work him into the lineup this season. Well, now they’ve got their chance.
There are, of course, some “safer” options. Sheldon Dries was Abbotsford’s leading goal-scorer last year and filled in ably for the Big Canucks on a couple of occasions. Other options fall into the categories of “more exciting” but also “less likely to happen.” Should the Canucks decide to keep Lazar-Dickinson-Joshua together and throw a call-up into the top-nine to start the year, they could look into a more youth-based approach to the problem.
Advertisement
Ad
Linus Karlsson has certainly turned heads in training camp and exhibition play. He was easily the Canucks’ best forward in Penticton, and although the expectation was for him to at least start his first North American season in Abbotsford, maybe he gets a taste of the big leagues right away. If he lined up in the top-nine, he’d be set up for success in a way that wasn’t possible before injuries struck.
Karlsson has been attached fairly consistently to Nils Aman, who has also drawn preseason praise, albeit to a lesser extent. The two are the same age, but Aman has a size advantage on Karlsson, as well as more pro experience. Of the two, he could be considered the safer choice — but he also looked to be little shaken up in an overtime collision with Jack Rathbone against Seattle, so maybe not.
Advertisement
Ad
Just like that, Karlsson jockeys ahead in the sprint.
Then we get into the really exciting stuff. The plan all along was for the overstocked Canucks’ top-nine to overwhelm opponents with their offensive potency. With that in mind, the coaching staff could seek to put the most offensively potent call-up possible into that spot…and that’s probably the 19-year-old Danila Klimovich.
It’s hard to imagine that Klimovich is truly ready, but he does have a full season of AHL hockey under his belt, and he does look to have taken some major steps forward this summer. If the Canucks were to find out that Boeser or Mikheyev’s return might be sooner than expected, throwing a couple of NHL games at Klimovich might be a good way to motivate the youngster and give him a new level of expectations to work toward. It could be spun as an investment in the team’s future as much as an injury replacement — not to mention an extra reason for fans to get excited.
Advertisement
Ad
We’re certainly not here to make the argument that the Boeser and Mikheyev injuries were good for the Canucks — far from it. But there’s no use crying over lost man-games, and there are positives to be focused on, too. The Canucks now have greater depth to cover their injuries, and two players of NHL-quality who would have previously started the season in the AHL will instead start the season in Vancouver.
Suddenly, the preseason just got a lot more interesting.