[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]
Some players thrive on playing for their hometown teams. You’ll remember that prior to his professional tryout with the Canucks, Brendan Morrison, who hails from Pitt Meadows, played center on a line with Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi and helped form one of the highest scoring lines in hockey. Cliff Ronning (Burnaby) and Greg Adams (Nelson) were prominent members of the 1994 Cup Run. More recently, Willie Mitchell, the pride of Port McNeill, anchored the Canucks defense before signing as a free agent this summer with the Los Angeles Kings.
Others aren’t that successful. For whatever reason, Cam Neely (Maple Ridge) never reached his potential until after he was traded to the Boston Bruins. Playing for the Calgary Flames, Byron Ritchie (Burnaby) was a decent grit and sandpaper kinda guy; after he signed with the Canucks in 2007, he was mostly ineffective. A former seventh overall draft pick, Kris Beech (Sicamous), couldn’t get his career going on a then offense-starved Canucks team in 2008. (Though to be fair, he couldn’t get his career going with any team.)
Looking to rebuild the Canucks defense, GM Mike Gillis signed highly-sought Smithers native, Dan Hamhuis, to a 6-year/$27 million contract on July 1st. Immediately, Hamhuis became the Canucks highest-paid defenseman, and along with the contract, came the high expectations. Especially with Mitchell gone and Salo injured, many Canucks fans expect him to be the team’s new leader on the back end. And with a $4.5 million cap hit, they expect more than 24 points per season.
In the last couple of years, he was overshadowed by Team Canada star, Shea Weber, and Team USA up-and-comer, Ryan Suter. Playing in Nashville, he normally played in front of crowds numbering in the 14,000′s. Playing in Barry Trotz’s system, he wasn’t asked to join the rush much. Can he adjust and play in the Canucks’ higher-tempo game? Can he do it in front of more than 18,000 fans at Rogers Arena (and millions more on TV) every night? In his home province?
J.J.: Until I watched him in Penticton at training camp, I didn’t realize just how fast Hamhuis was. He’s always been solid defensively, but freed from the shadows of Weber and Suter (and Trotz’s defense-first system), he looks like he’s got another gear – and more game – than I thought. At least in the preseason, he looked comfortable playing in a new system and with new defensive partners. It also sounds like he’s started to gain the respect of his teammates, and more notably, the rest of the blue line. If playing for his hometown has given him the jitters, he hasn’t shown it yet. But then again, the true test of that won’t come in the preseason; we’ll know more after the Canucks’ first extended losing streak.
Chris: Based on what I have seen from him during his preseason play, I think Hamhuis will perform quite well within the Canucks defensive system and I see no reason why any added pressure from playing for his “hometown” will prevent him from doing so. He looks like he can easily play big shutdown minutes, a role previously held by Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell. At the same time, he will likely see a subtle bump in his point production mainly due to the offense-first mentality of the team in front of him. I don’t expect him to hit the scoresheet on a regular basis, but he’ll eat up enough defensive minutes to allow the likes of Edler and Ehrhoff to shine.