Early October: Too Soon to Tell

Even though it’s a very young 2011-12 NHL season, it doesn’t take a hockey expert to recognize that the Vancouver Canucks are still very much a legitimate threat.

 

One thing I wanted to touch on near the end of the 2011 playoffs,

Alex Edler shadows Jaromir Jagr at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Oct. 12/2011 (photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images)

was the public perception pervading the Canucks.  Outside of Vancouver, or the province of British Columbia at least, the Canucks are not a popular team.  Now, whether that stems from misconceptions, or is the sum of past negative experiences, is impossible to say.  But what is for certain is that, while digesting multiple media facets during the Boston/ Vancouver finals, the Canucks are not the majority’s cup of tea.  Perhaps I was a little ignorant, trapped in my little bubble of Canucks bliss, but really, Vancouver wasn’t the team even the majority of Canadians wished to see competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

But popularity only counts in pageants and politics, and the Canucks are competing in neither.  What they will be competing for this season is another high seeding within the Western conference, and with a little bit of fortune, another Conference banner and the Stanley Cup.  In our Fansided 30 in 30, we previewed the additions and subtractions made to the lineup.  Just as with many other clubs, the Canucks are having an in-depth look at several young players to compete for a regular roster spot.  The footnote here being that part of the reason is due to injuries to roster regulars such as Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond.  Also, Christian Ehrhoff bolting for Tony Pegula’s deep pocketed offer in Buffalo has given Chris Tanev a chance to further prove he deserves a top-six defensive rotation.  These three areas, in addition to changes made to the fourth line, represent the most significant roster openings.

 

Thus far, the changes to the Canucks second line have garnered the most attention.  Cody Hodgson, auditioning in the second line center role, has adapted quite well so far, already contributing nicely to the attack. Against the Blue Jackets, Hodgson kept his stick on the ice, went to the net, and deflected a Dan Hamhuis shot, notching his first goal of the season.  It was a pivotal goal that gave the Canucks the opportunity to win the game.  Though Ryan Kesler will be back soon enough, the same can’t be said for Mason Raymond, whose health is a major question mark this season.  Marco Sturm has been playing on the second line, but so far it’s difficult to tell if he’ll carve his name in stone with that line.  It’s hard to imagine him moving to the third line, but coach Alain Vigneault will continue to juggle accordingly.  Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre should be constants with Manny Malhotra on the third line, and have acquitted themselves well early in the campaign.

 

One area that critics felt left the Canucks exposed during the finals was the fourth line.

Aaron Volpatti is squeezed out of the play by Andreas Lilja (photo thanks to Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images)

Some were surprised that Victor Oreskovich was cut at the end of the preseason, but it’s apparent that Canucks’ brass feel Aaron Volpatti is ready to make a regular contribution on that line. Having watched him live against the Sharks in preseason action, I thought his timing was a bit off, but he’s proven his durability, bouncing back after missing a big check.  It will be interesting to see if the fourth line undergoes any further changes early in the season, as the Canucks ready themselves for what will hopefully be another long playoff run.  For that to happen, Vigneault will need to be able to use his fourth line more frequently in the playoffs, for fear of wearing down his other players more than necessary.

 

In the next Canuck Way, we’ll inspect the current situation very unfamiliar to Vancouver Canuck followers:  The goaltending controversy.

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