It’s hard for Canucks fans to contain their excitement when they see talented prospects like Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, and Petrus Palmu hit the ice. The Canucks’ prospect pool is better than it’s ever been, with top-end talent that looks NHL-ready.
It gets a little less exciting when you look at the Canucks’ roster and realize there aren’t that many spots available for those exciting young prospects to make the team.
Given all the veterans on the roster, it’s conceivable that the Canucks could take the ice on opening night without a single rookie in the lineup. Pettersson, Dahlen, and Palmu — along with Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind, and Adam Gaudette — could all start the season in the AHL with the Utica Comets.
More likely, Pettersson is the lone rookie on opening night. Otherwise, Canucks’ GM Jim Benning will have to put players on waivers to send them to the AHL. Would he be willing to risk losing a veteran or even a young forward on waivers if a rookie pushes to make the team?
“Yes, and I think that’s what training camp is gonna be for,” said Benning. “We’ve got extra players and the players know that. It’s gonna be how they show at camp.
“We have some young players that need to take that next step. They’re 23, 24 years old, they’ve been around now for a couple years, and they have to take that next step, whether it be offensively or whatever their game is. I’m excited about that, because from what I’ve seen and talked to the players so far, they’ve put in the work this summer, they know what’s at stake, and I’m expecting them to come in and be better this year.”
Brendans Gaunce and Leipsic are 24 and could easily find themselves on the bubble, while 22-year-old Nikolay Goldobin and 25-year-old Markus Granlund also have a lot to prove. All four players would need to clear waivers if they were sent to the AHL.
Whether the Canucks would be willing to waive an older veteran is less clear. Ultimately, the rookies on the team may be battling for a spot on the roster with players who were in the same position as them just a few years ago.
“I think we have a team right now where there’s a lot to be determined,” said Travis Green on Thursday. “You look at our forward group and man, there’s a lot of guys vying for jobs.”
“Everyone should feel pressure,” he added later. “Our team got 73 points last year. There’s pressure to get better from everyone. I don’t care if it’s Leipsic, Goldobin, Sutter, Horvat, everyone has pressure to become better hockey players and we’ve made that clear.”
For the young players in their early 20’s, Green says “it’s time for them to grasp the bull by the horns and prove they can play.” When it comes to the rookies, however, the influx of fresh, young talent has him eager for the start of training camp in Whistler and the preseason.
“I’m excited,” said Green. “It’s a different era in Vancouver, we’ve got a lot of good young prospects. We saw it in Penticton. I’m excited to see them go up against men and go up against other guys on our team. And it’s not just exhibition, we’ll use Whistler. We’re going to scrimmage a fair amount in Whistler on top of practicing and conditioning.”
Fans will get to watch those on-ice sessions in Whistler and will see plenty of young players in the team’s first three preseason games at Rogers Arena. Whether they’ll get to see them in the regular season, however, is another thing entirely. As much as fans might want the dazzling Dahlen or pint-sized powerhouse Palmu in the lineup, there’s no rush for Green.
“It’s easy from the outside to sit and say ‘Dahlen should play,’” said Green. “Let’s let it play out… Throughout training camp, you’re hoping you’re sitting there as a group saying, ‘Man, this guy might be able to play right now.” But on the other hand, it might not be. We don’t have to worry about that until we see the players perform and see where they’re at.
“We want young players on the team,” he added. “That’s the future of our group. When I said I don’t expect there to be a lot of rookies on the team, it’s not like we’re going to sit here with six true rookies that just came to training camp and are going to make the team. We could quite possibly have two or three true rookies in the group, but we might also have, on top of that, a few other young guys that are trying to crack the lineup.
“We know the future of our group is with our youth and it’s making sure that we put them in a spot to be the future of our group at the right time.”
For most of the rookies, that “right time” won’t be out of training camp. The reality of the Canucks’ roster suggests that whether or not certain young players are NHL-ready, they will likely still start in the AHL and work their way up.
Here’s the Canucks’ depth chart at forward. Assuming the team goes with 13 forwards out of camp, as they did last season, the 13 forwards most likely to make the opening roster are highlighted in gold. The players potentially vying for a spot are in bold.
In order to put one of those bolded players on the roster, you have to take one of the players highlighted in gold out and put them on waivers. Who could the Canucks remove in order to fit another rookie like Dahlen, Palmu, or Gaudette onto the roster?