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For hockey fans, September is a time for hope and optimism. As training camp and the pre-season begin, the failures of the past are forgotten after so many long, hockey-less months, and every team starts with a blank slate, full of possibility.
That’s particularly true this week, as prospects report to camp across the NHL. For the Canucks, their prospect pool provides one of the few glimmers of hope after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
On Friday and Saturday in Penticton, the Canucks’ prospects will play two games against the Winnipeg Jets’ prospects at the 2018 Young Stars Classic. If you can’t make it to Penticton, the Canucks live stream the games every year on YouTube or Facebook.
While the Canucks’ top pick from the 2018 draft, Quinn Hughes, won’t be playing, as he’s already reporting to the University of Michigan, the Canucks will still have a bevy of top prospects in the lineup. There are plenty of prospects to get excited about, including wild cards like Petrus Palmu and Lukas Jasek, but here are a few of the big storylines to watch for this weekend:
Elias Pettersson at centre
The hope when Elias Pettersson was drafted was that he would be the team’s number one centre to take over from Henrik Sedin, and they desperately need that hope to bear fruit.
Pettersson set a new record for under-20 players in the Swedish Hockey League, racking up 56 points in 44 regular season games before leading the Växjö Lakers to the SHL championship with 10 goals and 19 points in 13 playoff games. There’s just one problem: almost all of that came at right wing, not centre.
The Canucks believe Pettersson will be a centre in the NHL and getting him adjusted to that position will likely start in Penticton. Of the 14 forwards listed on their Young Stars roster, just two are listed at centre: Pettersson and Adam Gaudette.
A strong performance at Young Stars could set up Pettersson for success at centre heading into the regular season, where he’s expected to be one of the league’s top rookies
Jonathan Dahlen’s Swedish chemistry
We know Dahlen can play with Pettersson from their season together in the Allsvenskan, the second-tier Swedish league. Last season, the two proved that they could perform apart from each other as well, as Dahlen dominated the Allsvenskan while Pettersson was breaking records in the SHL.
Dahlen put up 44 points in 44 games, leading the league in points per game while also leading Timrå IK to promotion to the SHL with 8 goals and 14 points in 10 postseason games.
Now Dahlen is likely hoping to rekindle his chemistry with Pettersson in Penticton. Proving he’s a great fit with Pettersson is Dahlen’s quickest path to a top-six role with the Canucks.
Olli Juolevi stepping into the spotlight
This will be Olli Juolevi’s third Young Stars Classic and it’s time for the young defenceman to take more of a starring role. While Juolevi has been quietly effective in the past, a year spent playing against men in the Finnish Liiga should give him the confidence to dominate the competition in Penticton.
If Juolevi wants a chance to make the Canucks lineup out of training camp, it needs to start with a standout performance this weekend.
Michael DiPietro’s acrobatics
The lone drafted goaltender on the Canucks Young Stars roster, and expected starter for Canada’s World Junior team, Michael DiPietro should provide some excitement in Penticton. DiPietro plays an aggressive style to make up for his lack of size, relying on his athleticism to make saves. While that can lead to nervous moments, it can also be wildly entertaining.
“Let’s be honest here,” he said at last year’s prospect camp. “Nobody wants to watch a boring hockey game, so why not give them a little excitement?”
So keep an eye on the Canucks’ end of the ice when DiPietro is in net, because you could see something spectacular.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
A tap of the stick to Artyom Manukyan, who was the first Canucks prospect to score a goal this season. The KHL season kicks off on September 1st and Manukyan wasted little time, scoring his first goal in his second game with a snipe off the left wing. He now has two goals in three games.
I’m dropping the gloves with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames for backing out of the Young Stars Classic and holding their own prospect mini-tournament in Alberta. Instead of seeing how the Canucks prospects stack up against three other teams, fans will get to watch two games against the Winnipeg Jets prospects.
40 - Elias Pettersson wore number 40 in Sweden and will be wearing 40 at the Young Stars Classic. Still, don’t buy your Pettersson jersey just yet: he could end up with another number before the start of the regular season.
58 - The Hockey News projects 58 points from Elias Petterson this season. Will that be enough to compete for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year? Mathew Barzal had 85 points to win the award last season.