Vancouver Canucks training camp is under way in Victoria. Check back throughout the day for updates as the team gets ready for the 2023-24 NHL season.
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Canucks training camp: Day 1 (Sept. 21)
Since arriving back in Vancouver after Labour Day, Elias Pettersson has kept pretty mum. Thursday, he finally took his media bow for the 2023-24 season.
Pettersson, of course, is now in the last year of his current contract. He’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. He’s said he’d like to wait and see how the season plays out before starting talks with the Canucks on a new contract.
Everyone around the situation, from Pettersson himself, to his agent Pat Brisson, to Canucks GM Patrik Allvin, is keeping upbeat.
For his part, Pettersson says he’s not thinking about it — and it’s only the media that ever makes him think about it.
“It’s not a distraction. You guys make it a distraction. I got one more year left. I’m happy now. But I just want to focus on the season, my teammates and come up with a good start with the team,” he said.
Miller was asked about the danger of the distraction becoming an issue and landed an underrated candidate for line of the day.
“I feel like you know what I’m gonna say: it depends how what you guys do. Can just let him play hockey? That’d be great. He’s a pretty good player,” Miller quipped.
Lots of learning
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet and his staff had their players getting right into systems work, rather than spending time to find their legs.
J.T. Miller said it was different from what he’d experienced in recent seasons with Bruce Boudreau and Travis Green, but said he liked this new approach.
“But it was definitely educational, a lot of systems out the gate, a lot about the D zone, as you probably saw, and had a really good pace to it and a lot of competing,” he said. “They want a lot of battles, which is always fun to get back into since you’re not doing a whole lot of that in the summer.”
Their defensive play was a huge problem in the first half of the year but improved under Tocchet, Miller believes and thus working more on what worked in the second half only makes sense.
“Don’t make one mistake into two, three and four. And that’s what ended up costing us; like we always gave up an A-chance not like B’s and C’s. So just getting the down to where we become robotic in a sense, that we know exactly what to do,” he explained.
Who will play with Quinn Hughes has an early answer: Noah Juulsen, who had a run with the Canucks’ captain last season after Luke Schenn was traded but before Juulsen got hurt.
For now, the fit is as much about Juulsen being a right-handed shot than anything, Tocchet said.
“They had a little bit success last year. I think Huggy’s going to get a couple more guys. I have to be convinced to put a lefty on that. I’m not quite sure a lefty-lefty (pairing) works with Huggy unless something else convinces me,” Tocchet explained. “But right now you know, we’ve got to find that guy that can get him the puck. In the offensive zone, you know, you give him the puck he’s walking that blue line. So whoever plays that role he’s got to get the puck. It’s easier to slip with a righty than lefty. That’s a hard play for a lefty.”
No Ilya Mikheyev
On Wednesday, Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Ilya Mikheyev would join his teammates on the ice to start 2023 training camp, but would be in a non-contact jersey to start, likely with group C, a group of players clearly destined for the American Hockey League and skating in the afternoon.
The Canucks later announced he had left camp for personal reasons.
Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein, downplayed his departure, saying simply that “everything is fine.”
Tocchet indicated it was a family matter and he’d gone back to Vancouver but thought Mikheyev would perhaps be back over the weekend.
Lines lines lines
Group A is on the ice. Here’s our first look at lines of the year:
No real shock that Pettersson and Kuzmenko are back together. Rick Tocchet talked yesterday how he likes the idea of putting players together in pairs, after all.
Also worth noting Jack Studnicka is already skating with a couple of fringe forwards in Sheldon Dries and Aatu Räty — Räty of course is also a high-hopes prospect, we’re saying fringe here because he’s almost certainly starting the season in Abbotsford — meaning he’s already on the outside looking in.
In Group B, Miller was centring Brock Boeser and Vasily Podkolzin, while Arshdeep Bains got to skate with Pius Suter and Conor Garland, expected to be the third-line centre and right winger.
First look at DeSmith
New backup goalie Casey DeSmith looked a bit odd out on the ice wearing pads in Pittsburgh Penguins colours, which along with his blue goalie jersey and pants made him look like a rainbow, he joked.
This summer he was traded from Pittsburgh to the Montreal Canadiens, but he wasn’t surprised to be flipped again. The Canucks picked him up in a trade on Tuesday, sending Tanner Pearson and a third-round pick the other way.
“Just with the goalie situation there, they were pretty upfront about it all along. So you know, credit to the Habs and glad something that got done before camp and now I can get settled here,” he said.
“You prepare all summer for whatever camp you’re gonna be at. I expected to be in Pittsburgh and then expected to be in Montreal and now I’m here. So I’m just prepared the same way regardless, but, you know, happy to be somewhere where I feel really wanted and where I can just dive right in and be a part of the team.”
He’s excited to get to work goalie coach Ian Clark, someone he’s heard plenty about. Clark’s system has a steep learning curve and DeSmith said he’s ready to work.
“I loved every second of it. I think that he has a great approach to the game, and I think it’s gonna be really good for me,” he replied.
No big skate at the end
The Canucks aren’t doing a big skate at the end of each session, unlike Bruce Boudreau and especially Travis Green.
Rick Tocchet said his team did a skating test on Wednesday on testing day, so no big surprise here.
That said, the players did have a hard drill at the end that required them to skate hard on a breakaway with a player pursuing them, then turn around and pursue a teammate going the other way on a breakaway of their own.
Young guys getting a chance
After Nils Höglander got a turn with Pettersson and Kuzmenko in group A, Podkolzin skated with JT Miller and Brock Boeser in Group B.
Miller said he was excited to be back with Podkolzin. He took the Russian under his wing a little during Podkolzin’s rookie season and found some late-season success as Bruce Boudreau nearly guided the Canucks to the playoffs after an atrocious first half.
“My whole career really, I’ve had shooter on the right wing and and up and down the rink winger on the left. I mean, it’s not rocket science with who meshes well with me and I think that Podz and I have a lot of pretty good chemistry,” he said.
Miller spent parts of his first three seasons in the AHL, learning his craft, and said Podkolzin’s course and style of play reminded him a lot of himself.
“Young and sent down and having to learn how to play the right way and learn how to play in the NHL. I was strong skater when I was young and a bigger guy like him,” he said. “He’s had to do a lot more in the sense of learning English and then learning and understanding but you know, he’s still so young. He seems like a mature player for his age, which is awesome. And he’s coming in, obviously he looks great again, like he always does. So I’m excited to see him again this year.”
With Tanner Pearson getting traded, the opportunities for both Podkozlin and Hoglander are clear.
Pettersson said Höglander’s style of play suits him well.
“Both him and Kuzmenko are very good down, low and in the corners, to protect the puck (and) create space. So that gives me a little more ice to work with when I get the puck,” he said.
Arshdeep Bains is skating with Pius Suter and Conor Garland, a sign that his good efforts last week in the Young Stars Classic mean the Canucks’ brass think he’s close and want to see what he looks like next to real NHL forwards.
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