The Vancouver Canucks held their first simulated gameday on Wednesday, as both team white and team blue took part in a morning skate before returning to Rogers Arena for a 7 PM puck drop scrimmage with three 18 minute periods.
The teams were split exactly how they have been through the first three days of camp, with group A (team blue) being lead by Elias Pettersson and the lotto line with Braden Holtby between the pipes.
Group B (team white) featured a top line with Nils Hoglander alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, with Thatcher Demko manning the crease opposite of Holtby.
The first period began with the lotto line for team blue facing off against Adam Gaudette’s line for team white. The first big event of the game, however, came shortly after Nils Hoglander stepped onto the ice, which you may want to start getting used to:
Unless Hoglander completely falls off a cliff through the final six days of training camp, he’s already earned a spot on this team, and maybe even in the top six in my eyes.
Thatcher Demko made what was perhaps the nicest save of the night early on against Nate Schmidt, who is surely appreciative of the fact that he won’t have to face him in the regular season after Demko’s performance against Vegas in last year’s playoffs:
Tyler Graovac and Will Lockwood opened the scoring for team blue, and Lockwood added another one to put his team up by three goals in the first period:
Sven Bartschi deflected a shot from the point to give team white their first goal of the game and make it 3-1 heading into the second frame.
Hoglander pounced on a loose puck that was coughed up in front of the net and made no mistake in sliding the puck to Bo Horvat for the one-timer to make it 3-2:
One thing that was very apparent in the second period was how hard the Comets players were playing against each other. For obvious reasons, there were a few moments where a guy like Jalen Chatfield or Justin Bailey could have laid a heavy hit on Elias Pettersson or another NHL regular, but let up.
Against each other though?
Those Comets were flyin’.
Tyler Graovac and Kole Lind were getting into it all night, although there was obviously a friendly feel to it. Regardless, they were throwing big hits at each other, and were dishing out extra shots to one another after every board battle they were both involved in.
Later in the second, Quinn Hughes drew a penalty, and made no mistake on the penalty shot with team blue right on his heels:
J.T. Miller looked like he was in mid-season form when he ripped a one-timer over Thatcher Demko’s glove from a sharp angle after a heads up play from Jack Rathbone gave Pettersson just enough time to thread the needle and find Miller.
This one was tied at four apiece heading into the third.
The teams went back and forth for a bit but it was once again Nils Hoglander who made a difference for team white and scored the game-winning goal:
Hoglander looked exceptional all game long, but more on him later.
Zack MacEwen put a finish on this one by adding an empty netter to give team white the 6-4 win.
Olli Juolevi is looking very confident, and solid, both with and without the puck. He saw the majority of his ice time alongside Tyler Myers and Chatfield, and considering Travis Hamonic has been rumoured to slide in alongside Hughes, it’s safe to start imagining that Juolevi and Myers could be a potential pairing on opening night.
Jack Rathbone looked excellent whenever he had the puck on his stick, but as we already knew, his play away from the puck in his own end is his biggest area for improvement. That was apparent tonight, although he didn’t look bad by any means.
Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby both looked solid, and despite the high goal total, there should be little reason to worry about the goaltending situation. Remember, Jacob Markstrom had some tough performances at summer camp before the team headed for the Edmonton bubble, and he turned out just fine. The fundamentals look great on both goaltenders and that’s a great sign for the Canucks.
The biggest story of the night was hands down the play of Nils Hoglander. Many were surprised to see him skate alongside Bo Horvat on day one of camp, but it doesn’t look like he’s leaving Horvat’s line anytime soon.
Not only was Hoglander exceptional with the puck on his stick, but he was also absolutely tenacious in retrieving the puck. Watch how he strips this puck from Pettersson:
His board work was a thing of beauty along with his offensive prowess and fans should be excited to see what he can do this season.
The Hoglander hype train is quickly leaving the station, so you better get on board.
The Canucks will have an off day tomorrow and will be back at it on Friday, and we’ll be back in the building giving you all that sweet coverage.