One thing that has been made clear this preseason is that the Canucks don’t have a lot of open roster spots. There were a huge number of bubble players and prospects at the start of training camp, but at the end of the day, even highly-touted like Jordan Schroeder and Kevin Connauton were sent down to the Manitoba Moose for further development . If you thought Prab “The Surrey Sizzle” Rai was making the team you were probably related to him. Much of the news around camp was focused on Cody Hodgson and his recovery from injury, well that’s been it. Schroeder and Hodgson were (or are) the Canucks’ most NHL-ready prospects and this training camp only reinforced the fact that they need more time in the AHL to hone their skills before joining the big club.
Unlike training camps for teams like the Leafs, the Canucks prospects haven’t had too much to get excited about. To explain what I mean you have to look at a team like the Leafs. The Leafs are going through a big restructuring of the team and it seems that everyone that was invited to training camp had an equal shot at making the regular season roster. You saw players fighting, kids trying to earn their way onto the team, there was fire in them. The Canucks roster seemed all but set heading into training camp. With three of four forward lines locked up, a blue line that had 8 NHL defensemen on one-way contracts, and a goalie situation that was set in stone the moment Cory Schneider signed his two year deal, there were few spots left for the youngsters – namely, the three, maybe four, spots on the team’s bottom-six.
When you look at the players brought in to vie for those fourth line spots (i.e. Brendan Morrison, Peter Schaefer, Victor Oreskovich), add in the incumbents (i.e. Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, Tanner Glass), you can tell the prospects had a hell of a battle to make the team. Realistically we were probably kidding ourselves if we thought they had a chance of cracking this year’s roster. And that’s not a bad thing. The Canucks have so much depth in their lineup this year, they can probably afford to properly develop Hodgson, Schroeder, Connauton, Tanev and the rest in the AHL and not rush them through their development.
Hodgson could use some AHL time where 20 minutes a game will go much farther than 6 minutes on an NHL fourth line. Schroder looked small and was inconsistent, unlike the kid that seamlessly transitioned to the Moose last year and found his scoring touch. Connauton, who is only 20 years old, has a long way to go towards building the defensive side of his game. Eddie Lack, the 22 year old Swedish Surprise, is going to be a good goaltender one day but he needs to learn the North American game and frankly there’s no room for him even if he was NHL ready.
Entering training camp, the Canucks had few question marks they needed to address when it came to roster spots. Most training camps are thoroughly evaluative whereas this one seems more like a formality. The few available roster spots have such competition that realistically we’ve seen an uninspired camp from a lot of the prospects. They haven’t played with the same energy you see in other camps. They’ve been wholly underwhelming. When the Canucks dressed a prospect-filled roster as they did against the Oilers on Sunday they got shelled. However, when they dressed a roster like the one that took on the Sharks last night the team did pretty well. And in fact, this is likely the team – or one that’s very similar to it – that we’ll see come October 9th.
The Canucks don’t have to make a lot of changes. They knew who was coming to camp, they know their returning core is only a few changes away from going deeper into the playoffs, and when they dress a proper roster the chemistry is visible on the ice. This preseason has been an uneventful and uninspiring one that only leads to more anxiety for the regular season to begin. At this point, I doubt this preseason is going to provide us with the discovery of this year’s version of a walk-onto-the-roster Tanner Glass. The roster’s practically set, and while management tinkers with line combos and has a few more bodies to trim down, the sooner the regular season starts the sooner we can really start dissecting the team.