Sep 162013
 
Photo Credit: NHLPA.com

Photo Credit: NHLPA.com

Arsenio Hall is back on TV with his talk show, so I guess it’s appropriate that we bring back this Arsenio-inspired feature on CHB.  This past weekend, I was at two of the three Vancouver Canucks “Open Scrimmages”.  I’ve put a few thoughts together from my observations in this Training Camp edition of Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

Who Will Be Our 6th D-Man?

First off, I realize that you can only glean so much from a few low-impact training camp scrimmages.  And as coach John Tortorella has pointed out already, the proof in the pre-season pudding will be in the exhibition games rather than the scrimmages and practices.  Having said that, an interesting battle is shaping up for the 6th d-man spot behind Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison and Chris Tanev.

Conventional wisdom suggests it’s between Frank Corrado, Andrew Alberts, and Yannick Weber.  Based on the scrimmages I saw, it was actually Andrew Alberts who was the most noticeable.  On Sunday alone, he showed decent speed going end-to-end before losing the puck in the offensive zone corner.  On his very next shift, he roughed up Ryan Kesler in the defensive end – even without one of his gloves.  Alberts is making $600,000 this season (compared to $1.2-$1.3 million the past three seasons) so he’s obviously hoping on a big year to help him return to bigger money.

However, when the smoke clears, I think it will be Corrado with the spot on opening night.  He played with Hamhuis over the weekend (with the other big pairings being Edler-Tanev and Bieksa-Garrison).  Also, he got into all 4 Canucks playoff games last spring and the club is counting on him to continue his rapid improvement.

How Many Games Will Ryan Kesler Play This Season?

For all the talk of how injury-prone Kesler has been, when you look at the pre-2013 numbers he’s actually been quite reliable.  Prior to last year, Kesler’s regular season games played over the previous 7 seasons were 82, 48, 80, 82, 82, 82, and 77.  Take out the 2006-2007 season that saw him miss 34 games with torn cartilage in his hip, and you’ll see that the centre had only missed 5 regular season games in those 6 seasons.

We now know that Kesler tore his shoulder in February 2012 but played through it (undergoing surgery in May).  Just a month later in June, he had surgery to repair his injured wrist.  He finally made his debut in the lockout-shortened season in February 2013 but he broke his foot in that game and went onto injured reserve just 7 games into the season.  He ended up playing only 17 games the entire season.

So what can we expect this year?  It’s hard to tell…yet there are some intriguing factors.  What will his role be under new coach John Tortorella?  Will the Olympics make Kesler more vulnerable to injury post-February?  And is everything (hip, shoulder, wrist, and foot) fully healed?

I would love nothing more for Kesler to stay healthy and have a good Olympic tourney (but not TOO good haha).  He showed a lot of flash and dash during the scrimmages including one beautiful dangle on Sunday.  However, it’s this same flash and dash that has Canucks fans nervous.

A Future “Triple H” Line?

Sunday’s scrimmage saw 2013 first-round draft pick Bo Horvat centering wingers Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen.   Perhaps we were looking at a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

Horvat seems a longshot to make this year’s squad.  And Higgins and Hansen will likely end up playing with newly-acquired Brad Richardson on opening night.  But depending on Horvat’s development, he could be our 3rd line-centre sooner as opposed to later.  At least that’s what many Canucks fans are hoping for.

There you have it.  An entire Canucks article without a mention of Roberto Luongo.

Whoops.

Sep 172009
 

I headed to Canucks practice out at UBC yesterday and there was a lot to get excited about. Certain players looked good, others better, and there were certainly a few standouts.

There were a few Canucks skaters that were skating well. In particular it looks like Burrow’s off season ball hockey passion has kept him in stride as he looked comfortable out there. Hansen looked to be skating better than I’ve ever seen him. (and I promise there’s no bias in that statement.) Several Canucks looked to still be getting into stride including toothy grinned Willie Mitchell. He didnt look too smoooth on the ice having to double back in a few drills and even fell down a couple times – surprising to say the least. Samuelsson looked smooth out there and seemed to blend in well. He wasn’t out of place and seemed to be skating well alongside Kesler which suggests to me he’s going to start on the second line and they’re going to keep Burrows up with the Twins at least to start the season. Of note Wellwood looked terrible. I’m not sure if that’s just because he usually is a step or two behind but he looked slow, and in general just like he wasn’t trying.

Schneider looked a lot smaller than I thought he’d be, but he was skating hard and also didn’t seem to be out of place. One of the best looking Canucks out there was that machine they call Ryan Johnson. Johnson was skating well, he was stick handling well, and his shot even fooled Luongo a couple of times. Bieksa was skating and shooting well all practice but the same certainly can’t be said for Shane O’Brien.

In the prospects and old guys part of the practice none stood out more than Sergei Shirokov. The man is on a mission, he’s here to play, and he’s not here to get sent down. That was clear in the way he skated and did drills and he also wasn’t making the same rookie mistakes the other prospects were. Of the veterans invited to camp Mark Parrish looked great. He was explosive, he was skating better than any other player out there, and his stick handling left some of the youngsters spinning in circles.

Of the prospects none really stood out or did anything out of the ordinary. If anything there were a few too many mishandlings of the puck, and this made the veterans and players like Shirokov stand out even more. After a few early cuts to camp at the beginning of the day it’ll be exciting to see how the players handle game time over the next few days as the bubble players really fight for a spot.

Sep 162009
 

The topic du jour is the Canucks’ depth on defense. With 10 defensemen on one-way contracts, the competition to be one of the top-6 or even top-8 is fierce. And plus, there’s some Cody Hodgson stuff.

Sep 142009
 

When the puck drops tonight in Terrace, neither the Vancouver Canucks nor New York Islanders will dress anything close to an NHL roster.

From Elliott Pap (Vancouver Sun):

Canuck defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa flew to Terrace with the team this morning but won’t dress for the contest. Islanders super rookie John Tavares didn’t make the trip from Saskatoon, where the Isles are holding their camp.

Canucks captain Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins were left at home. So were Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson.

Vancouver’s nominal first line tonight will be Kyle Wellwood centring Michael Grabner and Guillaume Desbiens.

Veteran Dave Scatchard, who is trying to make a comeback, will skate between Alex Bolduc and Jannik Hansen while Rick Rypien centres the third unit with Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Eric Walsky. Former Vancouver Giant Mario Bliznak is pencilled in to pivot an all-Euro line with Sergei Shirokov and Ronald Petrovicky.

Shane O’Brien and Brad Lukowich will lead Vancouver’s blue-line corps while Andrew Raycroft gets the start in goal. Cory Schneider will play the second half of the game.

Jeff Tambellini is among the most notable of the Islanders, who brought goalies Scott Munroe and Nathan Lawson to face the Canucks.

I’m sure it would have been nice for the likes of Luongo and Tavares to be there, but it’s already well-documented that the citizens of Terrace are excited. And truth be told, so am I. I’m just excited that hockey is back.

Sep 142009
 

The puck finally drops for some preseason action tonight as our beloved Vancouver Canucks take on the New York Islanders in Terrace, BC.

Here are today’s Canucks chatter around the web:

Sep 132009
 

Sorry for having to split this post up, but here are pictures and thoughts from Group 2 from Day 1 of Canucks training camp:

  • Plain and simple, Daren Machesney was outclassed.
  • Mason Raymond was probably the most pleasant surprise of the day. He looked bigger and more confident. He made some nice plays and nice reads, and for the most part, it looked like he’s learned not to hang on to the puck too long.
  • Because there were more veterans in this group, it was more interesting to note the line combinations. Raymond, Ryan Kesler and Mark Parrish were together. As were the Sedins and Samuelsson.
  • Mark Parrish still has his shot. I’m not sure if he still has the rest of his game.
  • Ryan Kesler blasted a couple of shots from the point. If he can add that ot his arsenal and bring it on a regular basis, I’d feel better about the Canucks’ second line.
  • If Mike Gillis is serious about wanting to create more offense from the defense, Christian Ehrhoff will be a welcome addition. He’s quick and can move the puck pretty darn good. That said, the knock on Ehrhoff has always been his defensive positioning so we’ll see about that as camp goes on.
  • Steve Bernier is leaner, but his shot is still the same (i.e. he still has a knack for finding the goalie’s chest).
  • I followed Kevin Connauton quite a bit. He looked winded and was often overwhelmed by the vets. It’s obvious that he has some adapting and learning to do, but I get the feeling he’ll be alright in a couple of years.

PS. Photo credit to my brother Jamey again.

Sep 132009
 

My brother and I made the trek from Surrey to UBC this morning to watch the Canucks take part in their first on-ice drills of training camp. After a quick pit stop at McDonalds and Blenz Coffee – breakfast of champions, I know – we got to Thunderbird Arena and settled in with about 100 die-hard Canucks fans. (This was at 9:30 AM; the crowd grew to probably close to 600-700 by the afternoon.)

The players were split into two main groups (plus apparently a third one in the smaller ice rink that we didn’t see).

Some pictures and thoughts from Group 1:

  • Andrew Raycroft and Cory Schneider were out on the ice early. (They were out already when we got there.) Raycroft, the man they call “Razor”, was anything but. His lateral movements seemed slow. Schneider was on the other end so I didn’t see him that much.
  • Jannik Hansen looked focused. He competed hard in the drills and made some nice moves to get his shot off. Incidentally, his shot looked harder too.
  • Michael Grabner’s speed and skill were obvious today. He missed on a few of his chances though and he was visibly frustrated by the end of his session.
  • Sergei Shirokov adjusted pretty good from prospects camp to main camp. He’s quite patient with the puck and was able to make some nice moves off the rush.
  • I personally thought that one of the highlights of the first group was Kyle Wellwood leading the stretches – that was a nice touch.
  • Dave Scatchard looks like, well, Dave Scatchard. He was solid positionally but had little finish.

BTW… The photos were taken by my brother Jamey. As you can tell, he’s the artistic one in the family.

Sep 132009
 
Kevin Bieksa

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

I’ll be going to training camp today so keep an eye out on my Twitter feed. In the meantime, here are some Canucks-related links on the Interweb:

Sep 132009
 
Daren Machesney

Photo credit: Japer’s Rink

Daren Machesney had an up-and-down year for the Hershey Bears last year. He appeared in more regular season games than any Bears goalie, played for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, and was then unseated come playoff time by Calder Cup MVP Michal Neuvirth. (I’m sure you Manitobe Moose fans remember Neuvirth’s performance.)

More on Machesney from Stack the Pads:

Daren played in more games during the regular season than any other goalie on the team. He appeared in 36 games and went 19-12-1. That equates to a 52.8 winning percentage (the same as Neuvirth had in the regular season). He led the team with 3 shutouts and had a gaa of 3.24 and a .876 save percentage. Cheez was highly touted by the coaches and the staff this season for really helping Neuvirth and Varlamov learn to adjust to the AHL. Almost in a role similar to Frederic Cassivi in the past. A huge feather in Daren’s cap was his performance for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup. He took a leave of absence from Hershey to represent his country this past winter, and he did so in fine fashion. Machesney was arguably the best goalie in the tournament.

Daren would be the first to admit his save percentage was not what he wanted it to be. He discussed in interviews how he dealt with a span of play that wasn’t up to his usual standards and he worked through it and still managed a very solid season.

Machesney – they called him “Cheez” in Hershey – is a victim of the numbers game. With Neuvirth and Simeon Semyon Varlamov ahead of him on the Washington Capitals depth chart, he decided a move to Manitoba would be best.

With the Moose, Cheez is pencilled in to back up Andrew Raycroft or Cory Schneider. But should Schneider get traded, then Cheez perhaps gets a better shot at regaining a starting job.

Recently, in the 2007/2008 season, he posted a pretty impressive 22-10-2 record with a 0.916 save percentage. And despite his up-and-down 2008/2009 campaign, the Capitals seemed to remain high up on him. For now, it looks like the Capitals’ loss is the Canucks’ gain.

Sep 132009
 
Marco Rosa

Photo credit: The 3rd Intermission

I admit that I didn’t pay too much attention when the Manitoba Moose signed Marco Rosa back in July. Naturally, I’m a bit more curious now that I see his name on the Canucks’ training camp roster. In reading up on him, a couple of things stuck out: one, that he played some of his best hockey in the postseason; two, that he’s a good locker room guy.

Rosa was originally an 8th round draft pick in 2001 by the Dallas Stars. He played his entire NCAA hockey career for Merrimack College before bouncing around the ECHL and AHL. He played for the Houston Aeros, the Minnesota Wild’s minor-league affiliate, the last two seasons.

Rosa was especially prominent in last season’s Calder Cup semifinal series against the Moose. From the Winnipeg Free Press:

Houston Aeros centre Marco Rosa earned plenty of respect from the Manitoba Moose during their six-game AHL playoff series in May.

Now the 27-year-old centre from Scarborough, Ont., has earned a contract from the Moose.

Moose GM Craig Heisinger said Tuesday he’s signed Rosa, a free agent, to an AHL deal for the coming season.

“We’d always had him on our radar screen and identified him while he was playing in the ECHL,” Heisinger said Tuesday.

“In fact, he was a guy we didn’t get earlier because we had recommended him to someone else for the short term.

“But I’d by lying to you if I told you the playoff series this spring didn’t enhance our opinion of him. I thought he was Houston’s best player in the series.”

Rosa, who had 40 points for the Aeros in 69 regular-season games, had 10 more points in 20 playoff games. It was his first full-time season in the AHL.

Houston Aeros fans share this same sentiment and were quite upset when he left. From The 3rd Intermission:

I’d like to wish Marco luck with the Moose, except when he plays against the Aeros. He was always an easy guy for us to deal with in the locker room after games, and he seemed to be well-liked by his teammates. He also, it seemed to me, to be a good Constantine-type player in that he wasn’t the most gifted of players, but he always gave the maximum effort and did everything possible to make himself, and his teammates better.

This almost reminds me of a certain late-blooming, ball hockey-playing, ECHL grad, current Canuck.

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