Opportunity Knocks

With training camp officially underway this morning, Rogers Arena echoes once again with the sound of blades, whistles, and slapshots (ain’t it oh so sweet). For the regulars like Luongo, Burrows, and the Sedins, the next few weeks are about getting into gear for the regular season, which is a meager twenty days away. For others, however, the next three weeks are about earning a spot with the big club or, in some cases, a second chance at the NHL. Off season changes and injuries have opened up more than a few roster spots with the Canucks; Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are out for at least a month or more, and the departures of Tanner Glass, Raffi Torres, and Christian Ehrhoff have left holes in the bottom six up front and on the back end. Competition for these spots will be intense, of course, as depth has become the mantra of the Mike Gillis regime. Here’s a look at what to expect going into the pre-season.

Young centre Cody Hodgson is almost a lock to be on the opening night roster if Kesler isn’t ready for October 6th. The versatility of recent signings Andrew Ebbet, Steve Begin, and Steve Pinizzotto (who can all rotate between centre or wing) provides stability at pivot should Malhotra have any setbacks with his eye. If Manny and the rest of last year’s starters stay healthy, however, we can assume the top three lines will look something like this: Sedins-Burrows/ Sturm-Malhotra-Samuelsson/ Higgins-Lapierre-Hanssen. Assuming Hodgson and Oreskovich play on the fourth line, that leaves one slot up for grabs and at least a dozen players fighting for the right to it, most notably Owen Nolan. None of this year’s tryout contract signings have attracted more attention than the 18 year NHL vet, and it will be interesting to see what Nolan, who spent last year playing for Zurich in the Swiss A-League, has left in the tank. The same goes for Todd Fedoruk, who, after being bought out last summer by Tampa Bay, is also looking for a return to the NHL. Guys like Mark Mancari, Darren Archibald, and Mike Duco won’t give up that spot without a fight, giving fans what should be some intriguing pre-season action.

Despite the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, the Canucks still have one of the strongest bluelines in the league. It’s no secret how much that depth could be tested this year though, with over 100 man games lost on the back end last season alone. With the top four spots locked up by Bieksa, Hamhuis, Edler, and Salo, Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev are the most likely to start at five/six, as the pair showed great chemistry last season. If history is any indication, however, there will be much rotation within the bottom two, with Alberts and Rome getting their share of starts. Should the injury bug bite hard again this year, look for players like Yann Sauve, Ryan Parent, Alex Sulzer, or Kevin Connauton to fill the void.

Goaltending isn’t likely to change for the club unless Mike Gillis decides to break up his award winning tandem of Luongo-Schneider. However, many eyebrows were raised when Gillis signed former Detroit and St. Louis starter Manny Legace to a tryout contract. It’s uncertain where the former all-star fits into the mix here in Vancouver, but his signing has at the very least given the anti-Luongo crowd something to chirp about and Legace himself a chance to earn a pro contract, be it with the Canucks or somewhere else.

Main camp goes again tomorrow with Group B (Henrik, Samuelsson, Legace, and Nolan) on the ice at 9am, and Group A (Daniel, Burrows, Luongo, and Hodgson) practicing at 11:30am; doors are open to the public if you want to check it out. The pre-season officially kicks off Tuesday, with Vancouver at home against the Calgary Flames.

Rejoice, Canuck fans… Hockey is back.

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