Dec 312011
 

2011 may well shake out to be one of the most memorable calendar year in Canucks history. (At least in my mind it will be until the year the Canucks win the Stanley Cup.) Through the ecstasy of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals and many team and individual highs and the sadness in the deaths of Rick Rypien and Pavol Demitra, here are 10 Canucks moments from 2011 that I will remember. Feel free to add your own memorable moments in the comments section.

10. The passing away of Rick Rypien (August 15, 2011)

9. Ryan Kesler activates beast mode – 2nd round, game 5 vs. Nashville Predators (May 5, 2011)

8. Lee Sweatt’s first goal in his first game as a Vancouver Canuck (January 26, 2011)

7. Daniel Sedin wins the Art Ross Trophy, Ryan Kesler wins the Selke Trophy, and Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider win the William Jennings Trophy (June 22, 2011)

6. The Canucks win the President’s Trophy for the first time in franchise history (March 31, 2011)

5. Alex Burrows’ OT game-winning goal – Stanley Cup Finals, game 2 vs. Boston Bruins (June 4, 2011)

4. Canucks fans clean up after the post-Stanley Cup riot (June 16, 2011)

3. Max Lapierre’s game-winning goal with 4 1/2 minutes left, the only goal of the game – Stanley Cup Finals, game 5 vs. Boston Bruins (June 10, 2011)

2. Kevin Bieksa’s double OT game-winning goal off the stanchion – 3rd round, game 5 vs. San Jose Sharks (May 24, 2011)

1. Alex Burrows’ OT game-winning goal off a Chris Campoli turnover – 1st round, game 7 vs. Chicago Blackhawks (April 26, 2011)

Jun 212011
 
Eddie Lack

Photo credit: theahl.com

Now that Vancouver Canucks fans have (we hope) managed to begin the healing process from the emotional rollercoaster of the 2011 Playoffs, it’s time to shift the focus to the 2011 Draft, where the building blocks for future success are put in place.

Given that the 2011 crop has, for some time, been viewed as a generally weaker class than previous years, perhaps the Canucks would be best served to once again parlay their first-round selection in order to acquire the talent needed to win right now. But seeing as how the club already forked over their top pick last season along with Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier, perhaps its in the best interests of the organization to keep the 2011 draft choice and not gut an already thin prospect pool.

In the mean time, let’s get a sense of just where exactly the Canucks are at when it comes to their top prospects.

Centres: Unquestionably, this is the Canucks’ biggest strength. With Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler expected to play out the next five years of their career in Vancouver (and likely more), Vancouver doesn’t really have a need for some top flight talent down the middle. Because of the team depth at centre, Tony Gallagher of The Province recently posed the question of top prospect Cody Hodgson’s future with Vancouver, but don’t buy the notion just yet. Despite the fact Manny Malhotra is the team’s unequivocal third-line centre, Mike Gillis also noted that Malhotra also plays wing, which would allow Hodgson to potentially slot in the third line.

Jordan Schroeder, drafted in 2009 in the first round, is another intriguing player that oozes as much talent as he does mystery. On occasion with Manitoba last year Schroeder looked like an elite-level prospect but on others looked completely invisible. It’s clear he’s still a few years away from seizing any chance at getting into NHL action.

Wingers: Anton Rodin and Sergei Shirokov remain atop the Canucks’ winger rankings, with the latter finishing the season as the Manitoba Moose leading scorer (22-36-58). Shirokov’s brief audition with Vancouver this year was much better than the year prior, as he scored his first NHL goal in a two-game callup. However, the small winger still is a little fish in a Canuck pond, where the team needs for elite scoring wingers may be too demanding for him.

As for Rodin, he’s grown both physically and mentally, acclimating himself to the Swedish Elite League since beginning his tenure with Brynas in 2009. It’s argued that the next step for Rodin’s career would be to make the trek to North America, but it’s unknown if he will commit to the move just yet. (Editor’s note: Farhan Devji reported about a month ago that Rodin is indeed North America-bound, but I haven’t seen any official confirmation from the team yet. – J.J.)

The Canucks also recently signed left winger Steven Anthony, who played for the Memorial Cup champion St. John’s Sea Dogs. Anthony, who was once compared to Sidney Crosby not too long ago, only realized this season that success on the ice comes with hard work. The tantalizing prospect has so much skill but needs to up his compete level in order to achieve it.

Bill Sweatt is the other notable winger in the franchise prospect pool, finishing second in Moose scoring. Sweatt is still a few years away from making a major contribution, however.

Defense: Kevin Connauton entered 2010 as Vancouver’s most intriguing defensive prospect, and for stretches of the season carried over some of the offensive flare from his Vancouver Giants days which made him so highly regarded. Unfortunately, Connauton’s mobility has been an issue all season, resulting in a blueline-worst minus-11 rating. He’s still learning the professional game and needs more time.

Connauton was instead overshadowed by the steady play of Chris Tanev, who appeared in a handful of regular season games with Vancouver as well as a few playoff games over Keith Ballard. Tanev never panics in his own end and makes a smart outlet pass nine times out of 10, which is why the Vancouver coaching staff like his future with the big club. Of all defensive prospects, Tanev is the likeliest to earn a spot next year.

Meanwhile, Yann Sauve and Lee Sweatt continue to develop their skills in the AHL; both missed significant time due to injuries this season, which has stunted their professional growth. 2010 draft pick Patrick McNally just finished his first season with Harvard University.

Goalie: Eddie Lack is undoubtedly the prospect who made the biggest noise this season in the AHL. Lack was the team MVP on many nights and the sole reason the Moose made it to the North Division Final. “The Stork” arrived with little hype but all season long was so effective at taking away the bottom half of the net, forcing snipers to try and beat him glove side, which Lack has recently mastered as well. If the Canucks do decide to part ways with Cory Schneider, few would be hesitant to see Lack fill the backup void. He’s been that good.

Organization Direction: At this point it becomes simply a “best player available” approach for the Vancouver Canucks. Despite their strength at the centre position, there’s little to suggest the Canucks won’ take a centre in the first round if that’s the best player available. With the team’s “win now” approach, the club could very easily swap Hodgson or Schroeder or even both if it means acquiring the kind of immediate talent to put the team over the top. That said, it’s evident the team would love to draft a winger with scoring ability or a physically mature defenseman who has a quick learning curve.

Apr 022011
 

There are pretty goals, like Daniel’s between-the-legs shot against Calgary last year in a mean-nothing, final-game-of-the season blowout.

Then there are the clutch goals: the shorthanded breakaway, the rush up ice in the dying minutes, the rebound bashed home from your knees with the goalie pulled and seconds left.

In chronological order, here’s the 10 clutch goals that made you roar in relief and jubliation this season.

Manny Malhotra vs Detroit Red Wings on November 6

Killing a late second-period penalty in a tied game, Malhotra strips Datsyuk at the blue line and goes in alone.

Ryan Kesler vs Anaheim Ducks on December 8

On his knees with 23 seconds left and desperate to tie the game, Kesler bashes at the puck before willing it behind Hiller.

Ryan Kesler vs Columbus Blue Jackets on December 15

Kesler did all the scoring for the Canucks this night, completing his first career hat-trick with the overtime winner on this 2-on-1 feed from Daniel.

Kevin Bieksa vs Edmonton Oilers on December 26

With a minute left in a deadlocked game, the Canucks take over. Bieksa blasts the winner in through a screen with 25 seconds to spare.

Lee Sweatt vs Nashville Predators on January 26

“Rudy” comes off the bench, receives a spinorama pass from Daniel, and his first NHL shot finds the back of the net. The feel-good moment of the year.

Daniel Sedin vs Chicago Blackhawks on February 4

Patrick Kane turns the puck over. Burrows heads up ice to Henrik, to Daniel, who flips the puck over a surprised Turco with 4:00 left in the third to beat their hated nemesis.

Daniel Sedin vs Los Angeles Kings on March 5

Half-way through the third, Daniel shoves Doughty into Quick before potting Ehrhoff’s rebound. Doughty screamed in protest, but Daniel’s greasy marker stood up as the winner.

Henrik Sedin vs Colorado Avalanche on March 16

Daniel leaves his brother a blind, between-the-legs drop-pass in the slot, and Henrik drives home the winner.

Alex Burrows vs Nashville Predators on March 29

After tying the game earlier in the third, Burrows gets behind Weber and Suter with 2:30 left in a 1-1 game. There’s no doubt what move he’ll use on Rinne.

Christian Ehrhoff vs Los Angeles Kings on March 31

In a 1-1- game, Doughty turns the puck over deep in the Vancouver zone with under 8 seconds left in the 2nd period. Hansen and Ehrhoff sprint up the ice to beat the clock.

Feb 072011
 

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for winning Super Bowl XLV. As well, congratulations to Christina Aguilera for joining Bryan Adams in national anthem infamy and looking like a younger Cyndi Lauper in the process.

As we turn our attention back to the Canucks and wait for puck drop in tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators, here are some reads to help pass the time:

Jan 302011
 

[Every Sunday, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]

Canucks Record

50 GP, 31-10-9, 71 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st  in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Alex Burrows is beginning to show signs of life. After a slow start – understandable considering he missed the first 10 games with a shoulder injury – he has 2 goals, 2 assists and a plus-4 rating in his last 3 games. As much as people like to say the Sedins make him better, Burr adds a lot to the first line. He gets into the dirty areas, fights for the puck along the boards and takes a beating in the front of the net in order to free up space and time for Hank and Dank.

Who’s Not

Raffi Torres has been quiet as of late, recording only 1 assist in his last 8 games and going minus-3 in that same stretch. Baby Beluga hasn’t scored since the Canucks’ December 31st game against the Dallas Stars – a 14-game goalless drought. Raffi recently spent some time on the fourth line; hopefully this kickstarts him and he finds his game soon.

Who’s Next

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 vs. Dallas Stars (5:30 PM start, away)

On Tuesday, the Canucks visit Dallas, a team they met just over a week ago. The Stars are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, but one of those losses was a 7-1 beating from the Canucks. The Canucks have won both meetings this season, outscoring the Stars 11-2.

Loui Eriksson, who is second on the Stars in team scoring and participated in this weekend’s All-Star Game festivities, has 21 points in his last 19 games and 17 goals and 49 points this season.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (6:30 PM start, away)

The Canucks roll into Glendale and take on the Phoenix Coyotes. If you don’t have tickets to the game yet, there’s plenty of goal-line seats left at $36 a pop. While at the game, get a beer, soda or hot dog for a $1.

The Coyotes are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games and are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They have an 8-2-1 record against the Northwest Division teams this season, including a 3-2 win over the Canucks in their only meeting to date. Former Canuck Taylor Pyatt’s 2 goals paced the Coyotes in that win.

The Coyotes are led by one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, Keith Yandle. Yandle tallied 17 points in the month of January; he leads the team with 44 points (8-36) and is a plus-4 for the season.

Friday, February 4, 2011 vs Chicago Blackhawks (7:00 PM start, home)

The Canucks have a Friday night date with their playoff rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, this week. Despite an average season, they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and still hold 7th place in the Western Conference.

Chicago has won 2 of 3 meetings against the Canucks this season, though the Canucks shut out the Hawks 3-0 in their most recent matchup in early December. In that game, Tanner Glass scored the game-winner midway through the second period.

The All-Star trio of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane lead the Hawks in scoring with 46 points, 40 points and 37 points, respectively; however they are a combined minus 11.

Most Deserving of a Shoutout: Lee Sweatt

When Lee Sweatt led the team out onto the ice, against Nashville, many were wondering whether it was a Canucks player or the young child that gets to skate out with the team. Then in one of the feel-good stories of this season, Sweatt, in his first NHL game, scored the game-winning goal on his first and only shot. If you are keeping score at home, his shooting accuracy is 100% for his NHL career. Although Lee only had 8:49 of ice time, he will get a bigger role in the upcoming games as Alex Edler is out for what is believed to be 8-10 weeks. To say losing Edler is HUGE, would be an understatement. But this is the time that our depth will be tested and young guys like Sweatt and Tanev will be given the opportunity to make a statement. Here’s to hoping that Edler recovers fast and is back in time for the playoffs!

Nov 302010
 

Watching the Manitoba Moose play the Abbotsford Heat this past weekend, I can’t help but think how far along the Canucks’ farm team has come in the last couple of years.

To recap, the Moose played a pair of back-to-back, weekend games against the Heat. They lost the game 2-1 in the shootout on Friday night, and won 3-1 on Saturday night. In both nights, the Moose dictated the play and the Heat kept it close largely because of their goaltender, Leland Irving.

Probably the most noticeable improvement is in the number of higher-level prospects on the team. This weekend, the Moose’s first line consisted of Cody Hodgson, Sergei Shirokov and Bill Sweatt. By the third period on Saturday, Jordan Schroeder had replaced Shirokov on this line. While the jury is still out on the speedy and skilled Sweatt, Shirokov has already had a cup of tea on the Canucks’ top two lines, and Hodgson and Schroeder are expected to get there at some point soon in their careers. (As a point of comparison, when I went to watch the Moose in Winnipeg last season, Marco Rosa centered the first line. And if I remember correctly, Mark Cullen centered the first line the year before that.) Hodgson, in particular, was by far the best forward on the ice. I think I share most Canucks fans’ sentiments when I say it’s only a matter of time before he makes it to the big show.

On defense, Kevin Connauton is continuing to develop and Lee Sweatt looks capable of playing the pro game despite his small stature. As a side note, Chris Tanev wasn’t as prominent this weekend as he was in Canucks training camp, but after just 19 games, it’s too early to label him as anything.

My point in all this is that, for the first time in a few years, there appears to be some legitimate NHL prospects on the farm. And top end prospects too. Certainly, it’s a far cry from the days when Jason Jaffray was expected to be able to play on Markus Naslund’s line.

In a tweet, Mike Gillis himself indicated how pleased he was with the kids’ development on the farm.

Watched Moose game this wknd. Pleased with how our young players played, style of play the coaches utilized and number of canucks fans.

The last notable group of prospects to make the jump from the Moose to the Canucks included the likes of Kesler, Burrows, Bieksa, Edler and Hansen. If this keeps up, maybe it won’t be too long, maybe in a couple of years, until the next group, this time including Hodgson, Schroeder, Sweatt, Sweatt, Connauton and Tanev make the jump as well.

Oct 042010
 

[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.]

Bill Sweatt, Vancouver Canucks

You won’t receive a lot of argument here if you say that this preseason was relatively boring. With a stacked roster, the Canucks had few openings. And of the players fighting for those jobs, no one stood out more than the others.

Still, some players managed to move themselves up or down the Canucks’ depth chart. Alex Bolduc and Guillaume Desbiens look like they’re going to make the team’s opening night roster, while Shane O’Brien and Darcy Hordichuk played their way down to Manitoba.

In an otherwise uneventful preseason, who did we think made the biggest impression?

J.J.: IMHO, the Sweatt brothers improved their stock considerably this preseason. What Lee lacks in size, he makes up for in speed, smarts and the ability to make the right play and move the puck quickly out of the zone. He’s smaller than the prototypical NHL defenseman, but he showed that he’s not scared to mix it up with the big boys in the corners. Billy obviously has big-league skill and big-league wheels. What he lacks is big-league finish. Much like Mason Raymond did a couple of years ago, hopefully Billy can work on this in Manitoba. I think he’s played himself into consideration to be one of this year’s first call-ups.

Richard: The Canucks have so much depth they don’t need to look at prospects to fill holes this year. That said, Victor Oreskovich’s play in the preseason and the way he’s used his size is something that’s definitely moved him up. The Canucks have lacked bottom-six size for years and Oreskovich, when he eventually makes the team, will be a welcome fit.

Chris: I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Andrew Alberts of all people has helped himself find his way into the 6th or 7th defensive spot. He’s shown that if given the appropriate number of minutes (say five or six.. okay.. maybe a few more), he’s a relatively decent addition to the blueline. If he were ever able to figure out what the word discipline means, and maybe understand how to better use his size in a manner that doesn’t draw the attention of the zebras, he’d be a beast of a player to see in front of you.

Sean from Nucks Misconduct: Alexandre Bolduc and Tanner Glass were terrific. They have earned roster spots. I liked Peter Schaefer more and more as preseason went along, but we shall see what Gillis and company have planned for him soon enough. Brendan Morrison played so well and it’s unfortunate he didn’t make the squad. But, management knows best. I still like the team moving forward.

Sep 212010
 

There was one particular moment at yesterday’s training camp session that probably best describes Lee Sweatt’s determination to make this team. During one of the drills, the forward (in this case Rick Rypien) was supposed to stop on the wing just inside the blue line and pass the puck back to the defenseman (Sweatt) joining the rush. Rypien’s pass was far behind Sweatt, the play was broken, and while Sweatt was skating off, he shot Rypien one of those “WTF was that” kinda looks.

If looks could kill.

With a revamped defense corps – a much deeper defense corps – the elder Sweatt was a long-shot at making this Canucks team. After trading for Keith Ballard, signing Dan Hamhuis, and re-signing Shane O’Brien and Aaron Rome, the Canucks have 8 NHL-caliber defensemen on one-way contracts (9 if you count Andrew Alberts). Needless to say, Sweatt has an uphill battle in front of him.

It hasn’t fazed him; he knows what it will take to make it.

“I’m responsible defensively and I like to throw the body around,” said Sweatt, a native of Elburn, Ill., whose younger brother Bill also signed with the Canucks this summer. “For me to be successful here, I need to move the puck quick and jump up in the play and create scoring chances. I need to be the fourth guy in. I also need to be on the power play and contributing there.”

So far, so good.

In Penticton this weekend, he displayed a good first pass, smart pinches and smart reads on defense. And despite his size he hasn’t shied away from the physical stuff, even laying Darcy Hordichuk out in one drill and then proceeding to put a puck past Roberto Luongo.

His play this weekend wasn’t lost on the Canucks.

“He’s turned a lot of heads,” said Henning. “He can skate, he’s got smarts and he competes. Nothing is written in stone. If a guy comes in and plays well, we’ll make room for him.”

And Lee is determined to make that happen.

Sep 182010
 

The CHB crew are up here in Penticton for Canucks training camp. The 58-man camp kicked off today and here are some things I noticed from day 1:

  • Eddie Lack looked good. The 6’5″ goaltender is the tallest of those checking into camp and covered a lot of space in net. Given Cory Schneider is likely going to be Luongo’s back up, Lack looks poised to take that starter’s position with the Moose.
  • Billy Sweatt (Canucks fans’ newest favourite Twitterer – follow him at @billysweatt) looked very good out there. He’s got great speed and seemed to always have the puck stick to his stick. He reminds me a lot of Mason Raymond from a few years ago. He doesn’t have any finish but if he can work on that aspect of his game. The kid could have a big year on the farm.
  • The Canucks bottom-six looks like it’s going to get bigger this year. Malhotra, Torres and Oreskovich are all upgrades on some of the players that filled bottom-six roles last year. The Canucks needed to get bigger and Gillis has done a god job of bringing in players that meet that requirement with sacrificing skill and speed. Torres looks mean, Malhotra looked good in some face-off drills, and Oreskovich was skating very well for a guy of his size. He also managed to plaster Billy Sweatt along the boards. The guy is going to bruise and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he made the Canucks fourth line.
  • Brendan Morrison was getting feisty when he had to. It was clear he’s here to take his PTO to the next level and the general buzz in the locker room is that he’s going to make this team. He brings a lot of leadership to the table and I’d go as far as say that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given an ‘A’ if he makes the team.
  • Peter Schaefer, the other interesting invite to camp, didn’t look out of place. After training with Peter Twist for the last year, he seems as quick as ever.
  • On defense, Lee Sweatt and Dan Hamhuis looked particularly good. At one point, Sweatt, who loses four inches to Hamhuis, laid him out, picked up the puck and fired a laser under Louie’s glove. I know it’s just training camp, but it still looked good.
  • Hodgson skated with the Canucks C group that took no contact. This group included Alex Burrows Prab Rai, Steven Anthony and Shawn Weller amongst others. Jordan Schroeder, the other prospect everyone has their eyes on was almost invisible. He skated with the Canucks A group in the morning and was barely noticeable.
  • Sergei Shirokov continues to fly under the radar. He was out and skating, but without the hype surrounding him last year he just quietly did his thing without standing out.
  • After watching Andrew Alberts skate today I’ve come to the following conclusion: For a big guy he can skate really well. He’s a perfect number six or seven defenseman, however the Canucks moved him up to the fourth and fifth spot last year which placed him out of his comfort zone and amplified his flaws. His size would be a huge attribute to the blue line if we weren’t so stacked but he really didn’t look as bad as on the ice as he did last year.
Aug 212010
 

We already had these two lovely twins:

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And now with the signing of Bill Sweatt we also have the Sweatt brothers signed!

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My secret wish is that we somehow end up with the Schenn brothers too. I realize this is incredibly unlikely.

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(Editor’s note: Unless the Sweatt brothers knock the Canucks’ staff off their socks in training camp, they will most likely start the year with the Manitoba Moose so the Canucks will have one set of brothers in the NHL and another in the AHL. – J.J.)

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