With the Vancouver Canucks training camp getting underway this week, we still have time to look at the spots available to the players. We covered the left defenceman spot available already. We talked – briefly – about the huge changes that went on in the Canucks top-nine as well. We’re running with the assumption that Elias Pettersson is going to get his deal sometime before the season opens.
The fun here really begins with the newly revamped fourth line and the spot available on it. There could be – could be – more spaces available, but if so it will be from injuries or possibly a trade. Anyone who wants this spot needs to earn it from Day One. Heck, last month we went over our top-three picks for the spot over here. One thing about coach Travis Green is that he is willing to let upsets happen in training camp. And if the team decides that they have an opportunity to sign a certain duo to long-term deals? Well, bodies could be moved yet.
Canucks Training Camp Battle for Forwards
Vasily Podkolzin may be in the rookie/new arrivals training camp, but he’s not staying in Abbotsford. He could start on the fourth line, and if he does he’s got every chance to move up. We’re predicting a third-line start for him. Down one is where the empty spot sits, and it should be quite the battle when the music stops. According to CapFriendly* the Canucks will have 15 forwards and nine defencemen on NHL deals once You-Know-Who and The-Other-Feller are signed. And that’s without including Vasily Podkolzin who is a lock to make the team.
What we’re saying is the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks team is looking pretty dang good. Matthew Highmore‘s really good audition over 18 games last year helps, but so does Zack MacEwen‘s time in the Canucks’ system. If the margins matter, though, it’s worth noting he’s slightly more expensive than the other options. Phillip Di Giuseppe is a steady, reliable NHL veteran presence the team can tap into if needed.
Those are the front-runners, obviously. They were in August, and they are now just before camp opens. There are other interesting names on the list of possibles as well, and they are worth looking at. Some of them will certainly make their Canucks debut this season, but when? From least to most interesting:
Justin Dowling probably isn’t going to crack the NHL lineup despite his 76 regular-season games. But he’s also got 76 regular-season games under his belt, just in case. He came up through the Dallas Stars system, making himself an option after four AHL seasons. Doesn’t know when to quit, and his teams are better for it. He is a better playmaker than a scorer, but he’ll do anything asked of him. He’ll need a BIG showing at Canucks training camp to get noticed, and even then it might not be enough.
Like small, annoying players? Ones who are got where they are by simply outworking everyone around them? Great! Stick Nic Petan out there between Conor Garland and Nils Höglander and call it your Little Nightmares line. He’s a good playmaker with some scoring touch as well. While Petan can play any forward position, he’s usually out on the wings. He was an absolute powerhouse in the WHL and a point-per-game guy in the AHL. He doesn’t get the same opportunities in the NHL, but the ability to step in higher in the lineup is there, and that might be how he’s best used.
This is a fascinating case of someone whose brain might need to catch up to his instincts. William Lockwood is a fierce predator when he’s on the defensive side of the puck. He anticipates well, makes quick decisions, and knows how to find empty spots on the ice for teammates to pass to him. Once he has the puck, though, it’s almost like he overthinks it and can get himself in trouble. Still, what’s not to like about a fast defensive forward? He’s scored reasonably well at the college level, but that’s probably not where his NHL career lies. If the team wants a near-direct replacement of Tyler Motte when he gets injured, they could do worse than Lockwood.
One of the guys you root for to make the team. Justin Bailey plays a power game, and at 6’4″ and 215 pounds who tells him no? He’s got enough skill to get picked in the second round in 2013, but also a history of injury trouble over the past few seasons. He got into 53 AHL games with the Utica Comets in 2019-20 and scored 28 goals before the season was suspended. That was good for fourth in the league and earned him a spot on the taxi squad last year. He was perfectly placed to get a regular series of games as the Canucks limped to the finish of 2021, but got injured once again. He got into just three games before his season ended.
Fans would love it if he got his skates under himself again this year at the Canucks training camp. But there’s one other very interesting big guy worth mentioning here, too.
Okay, look. We all know that the AHL had all the issues of the NHL last season – limited schedule, limited opponents – with the added handicap of their best players being on NHL taxi squads. That being said, Jonah Gadjovich took a big step forward in 2021. And not just because of his, er, “throwback” debut: five minutes on the ice, 17 minutes in the penalty box. That matched his total penalty minutes in the AHL that season, but he had 19 games there. That’s because he was being relied on to score with the Comets, notching 15 goals and three assists, most of which were within a few feet of the net.
Gadjovich is fascinating because he is utterly fearless. He knows his money is going to be made at net-front, so he goes there come hell or high water. He’s got good size at 6’2″ and 200 pounds, but he’s not a giant. Playing like one counts, though, and he does do that. He always got low marks for his skating, but he’s worked on it diligently for years. The end result is… okay. His straight-ahead speed is low-end NHL, and his turning has improved to the same. That’s better than it was! Use him on the power-play and that problem is mostly neutralized.
He gets his tips, he digs for rebounds, and he knows that garbage goals count just as much as any other. With point shooter like Quinn Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and possibly Jack Rathbone in town? Those AHL scoring numbers just might translate.
*Seriously, go to CapFriendly. Bookmark it. Use it. Revel in it. Those guys do amazing work!