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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas — we’re not allowed to talk about Christmas until after Halloween, thank you very much — but the start of NHL training camps and preseason.
This is the time of year when fans can have boundless optimism, unfettered by the reality of the regular season once it begins. Now is the time to have big dreams of 100 points for Elias Pettersson, 50 goals for Brock Boeser, a Calder Trophy for Quinn Hughes, and making the playoffs, if not more, for the Canucks. It’s also the time to believe that every prospect is bound for stardom at the NHL level, particularly when said prospect lights up the preseason unexpectedly.
Sure, the stars of one preseason might disappear the next, but sometimes a strong preseason can be the difference between making the NHL and toiling in the AHL. While the likes of Steve Kariya, Fedor Fedorov, and Sergei Shirokov went from preseason all-stars to NHL washouts, but fans have also seen young players supplant older veterans by making themselves impossible to cut from the roster.
Last year, Tyler Motte was a standout in the preseason with his relentless energy on the ice, to the point that the Canucks cut veteran Sam Gagner to make room for him on the roster. Could the same happen this season? Perhaps. Motte himself could be a roster casualty, along with Tim Schaller, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Nikolay Goldobin, and Josh Leivo potentially at risk of being traded or sent to the AHL if another player forces their way onto the roster.
So, who could be a breakout preseason star for the Canucks? Let’s look at some possibilities.
The Canucks are high on MacEwen and for good reason: he’s big and tough, was one of the Utica Comets’ top scorers last season, and he has a laser of a wrist shot. He’s likely to be a call-up from the Comets sometime this season, but great performance in the preseason could make him difficult to cut.
“You want players to force you to make tough decisions and he's a player that will do that,” said Ryan Johnson, the Canucks director of player development.
The 23-year-old Perron came to the Canucks in a minor trade at the draft, but he has NHL potential. The winger was second in scoring on the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, with 47 points in 63 games. He has oodles of offensive talent and a well-developed two-way game.
“He deserves a look,” said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer. “He just needs that chance at the next level.”
The Canucks’ sixth-round pick in 2016 just keeps quietly improving year after year. He was one of the steadier performers for the Comets last season with 29 points in 63 games and has surprising speed and tenaciousness to his game that could quickly endear him to the Canucks’ coaching staff.
While Gaudette isn’t an unknown — he played 56 games for the Canucks last season — he’s still expected to start the season in Utica. Last season, he mostly played for the Canucks out of necessity due to injuries to Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle, and has yet to prove that he truly belongs in the NHL. A star turn in the preseason would be a strong message to the Canucks that he’s ready.
The Canucks’ 33rd-overall pick in the 2017 draft struggled in the AHL last season, but still has the skill that made him one of the best players in the WHL. The combination of his talent and the desire to prove himself makes him a player to watch for the Canucks in the preseason.
“I think the way he’s prepared himself in the summer is bleeding into his confidence, because he knows he’s done the work,” said Johnson. “He’s a player I’m really excited about.”
Stick-taps and Glove-Drops
A tap of the stick to Carson Focht, who made a big impression on Canucks director of development Ryan Johnson at prospect camp: “He’s a guy that jumped off the page for me right out of development camp...I expect a big, big year from him.”
I’m dropping the gloves with the NHL, whose plans to roll out player and puck tracking technology have been repeatedly derailed, most recently dropping Jogmo World Corp. as their primary technology partner. The NHL claims the technology will still be ready for the 2020 playoffs.
16 - The Canucks’ preseason kicks off on Monday, September 16th, with two split-squad games with the Calgary Flames.
8 - The Canucks will play eight preseason games in the next two weeks, facing the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators twice each, along with games against the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.