Canucks: 3 questions heading into 2021 training camp

Training camp for the Vancouver Canucks begins on January 3rd. Here are a few questions heading into it.

Training camp means Vancouver Canucks hockey is very close, in fact, it begins on January 3rd.  Though it is later than usual, fans have every reason for camp to begin and the season to start. There are no preseason games this year so the season begins shortly after training camp begins.

With camp opening in just a few days, here are three questions heading into it.

Will Jake Virtanen impress?

Jake Virtanen has become a hot topic among Canucks fans when training camp rolls around. Last summer during July’s training camp, he showed up out of shape, struggled to keep up and was even yelled at by Bo Horvat after he lost the puck on a breakaway and threw a hit.

At the training camp in September 2019, Virtanen also showed up out of shape and failed to meet coach Travis Green’s expectations and was put in group C, which consisted of mainly AHL players.

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Virtanen has spent the offseason in Kelowna training with Tyler Myers after he signed a two-year contract.

With Tyler Toffoli leaving for Montreal through free agency, Virtanen has the opportunity to play in the top six, so he has to have a training camp unlike the last two. He needs to find a way to impress Travis Green. Hopefully, training with Myers pays off and he is in the top six on opening night.

Who will be on the third pairing?

The Canucks upgraded their top four by trading for Nate Schmidt, but even then the defensive depth is a bit shallow with Chris Tanev leaving for Calgary and Troy Stecher leaving for Detroit. Who will play on the third pairing?

Jordie Benn is an obvious answer. He didn’t have a particularly good season last year and that is likely because he is more suited to the right side. Benn can play both sides, he did in Montreal, but he looked a lot better.

There is also the possibility of Olli Juolevi finally making the jump to the NHL full-time. He is poised to have a strong camp and did get a taste of NHL action in Game 3 of the qualifying round against Minnesota. His debut consisted of under seven minutes of playing time, but he was flawless defensively making no glaring mistakes.

Another name is Brogan Rafferty. He had a pretty good season in the AHL with seven goals and 38 assists, totalling 45 points. Expect him to challenge for a spot as he could play a few games this season as an offensive threat from the back end.

Then there is Jack Rathbone. He has the proper skill and potential to be a capable defenceman in the NHL.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the spot on the bottom pair. He’s good with the puck, quick on his feet and has a fairly impressive defensive zone exit.

Out of those three, Juolevi is the likely favourite to make the opening night roster.

Can Hoglander make the team?

After Vasili Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander is arguably the Canucks second-best prospect. Drafted in the second round 40th overall by Vancouver in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Hoglander managed five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 23 games on loan at Rogle BK of the SHL.

Hoglander may not be a big guy standing at only 5’9″ and weighing just 176 pounds, but he is a great puck handler with good hands and he isn’t afraid to get physical when he needs to be.

Hoglander arrived in Vancouver a few days before Christmas.  I expect him to contend for a spot for the opening night lineup but he has to have a really good camp if he wishes to stick around.  I think he would start the season on the taxi squad but I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the team.

Training camp will answer all these questions as Travis Green will push his roster to the limit. Hockey season is upon us. Get ready Canucks Nation!