The Vancouver Canucks were back on the ice Monday morning as the team split up into two groups for day one of 2021 training camp.
There were players who looked good and just getting a chance to see the players back on the ice was enough dopamine for my brain.
The team was split into two groups. First to the ice was the A group that saw Mikey DiPietro and Braden Holtby between the creases.
It’s hard to put a lot of weight behind a split-squad practice but the first practice saw a few highlights and lowlights that should be noted.
Let’s start with the positives, as there was a lot to like on the ice in the first practice.
The first name that popped was Jack Rathbone. He impressed in all areas of the ice. His defending was solid as he got his first taste of matching up against NHL players along the boards.
He made strong, NHL speed passes in drills and was able to get some serious velocity on his shots from the point. We were all expecting to see some promising play from Rathbone as a lot has been made about his standout skill at the NCAA level last season. He followed up the hype by putting in an excellent performance at the first practice of the day.
His high-end skating ability was instantly noticeable. He’s got quick feet and gets up to full speed very fast while also having great lateral movement around the blueline.
The first group featured The Lotto Line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. The trio led the forward group in each drill and Travis Green said that we might need to look into these line combinations more than we typically would with lines on day one of training camp.
Jake Virtanen was skating on a line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte. Virtanen talked about feeling confident in his offseason work as he skated with a bevy of NHL pros back in Kelowna over the Summer and Fall. Virtanen mentioned skating with Shea Weber and also enjoying putting in off-ice training work with Tyler Myers.
Virtanen didn’t necessarily shine at the first practice but he didn’t lag as he did in the past two training camps.
Mikey DiPietro looked good in the skate as he had me convinced he was Thatcher Demko for most of the practice before I saw his number 65. DiPietro moved well, made some highlight glove saves and sprawled around the crease like he normally does when there’s a loose puck around the crease.
The famous Travis Green bag skates were back in action on day one as the group closed out the day with some skates from one end of the ice to the other. Nate Schmidt and Jack Rathbone both stood out as leaders in their skate groups while Loui Eriksson and Alex Edler were two guys that lagged behind.
The second group gave us our first look at a few players’ new digs, including Adam Gaudette in his new number 96 along with Hoglander, Jayce Hawryluk and Marc Michaelis in their Canucks debut. There was a lot of new in the second practice of the day and some of it looked great.
The big story of the second group was Nils Hoglander and his shot to skate alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
Travis Green confirmed that Hoglander would be skating alongside the Horvat-Pearson duo during his media availability after the first on-ice session.
Hoglander showed that he could do more than keep up with the Horvat-Pearson duo. He fit right in and contributed to some drill goals.
Another two young players were given big opportunities as well as defenceman Olli Juolevi was paired up with Tyler Myers and Jalen Chatfield skated with Quinn Hughes. Juolevi looked solid in Monday’s practice as he had plenty of board battles where he came out on top.
Sven Baertschi was also on the ice with the second group. Baertschi skated with Michaelis and Justin Bailey on a trio where all three players should have an outside shot of making the opening night roster.
The line of Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette and Zack MacEwen looked to have some pop as they skated together in the practice. It was hard to judge as it was only drills, but they moved the puck with a lot of accuracy and all had some pep in their stride.
Thatcher Demko faced a ton of shots and had plenty of extra work with Ian Clark before and during the practice. Jake Kielly and Demko were on the ice about 30 minutes before practice to get some extra work in with the goaltending coach.
Three Biggest Takeaways from Day One
Nils Hoglander with the Horvat line: The 20-year-old Hoglander got to skate alongside Horvat and Pearson in the second practice of the day. He looked to fit right in with the top six line as he made light work of the hand-eye coordination drills when he was in front of the net. His passing was excellent and he showed very well in the conditioning drills. All in all, it was a great day for Hoglander.
Jack Rathbone is more than just a prospect now: During the first practice, there were a few players that stuck out. Rathbone was the biggest shocker as he moved the puck extremely well, skated with NHL pace and was able to defend on the boards in the limited board battles during day one of camp.
I had a feeling we were going to be pleasantly surprised with Rathbone at camp but to have this type of showing on day one was still a bit shocking to me.
The Lotto Line’s numbers came up on day one: Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson found themselves back together as a line on day one of camp. There was a ton of speculation this offseason about if Jake Virtanen had put himself in a spot to slide right into the Canucks’ top six.
On day one, he wasn’t there. Virtanen skated with Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter on what looked to be a line that could be used in a fourth line capacity while Hoglander stepped in and looked good skating with Horvat and Pearson. There’s a lot of camp left but Virtanen might already be in an uphill battle with such a great performance from Hoglander in the top six situation.
All in all, it was nice to see the players back on the ice but hard to takeaway too much from the limited practice time. Travis Green told media that we should look more into these line combinations compared to what type of weight they would have in a regular training camp that would typically be followed by preseason games.
The team will have 2-3 scrimmages over the next nine days and will practice and travel to Edmonton on the 12th of January.