Don’t look now but the Vancouver Canucks are only one week away from opening their play-in series against the Minnesota Wild. Playoff hockey is just around the corner and the players are chomping at the bit to get going, as the last couple of scrimmages have shown an extra level of competitiveness and intensity. It’s great to see the emotion and skill level from the likes of Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser at the forefront of the scrimmages, especially after such a long layoff. That definitely bodes well for the future success of the team because to win games you need your best players to be your best players. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true.
In addition to the stars, depth players like Micheal Ferland, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Adam Gaudette, and Loui Eriksson have also been noticeable throughout camp which just adds to the positivity for the postseason to come. Not only that, but Zack MacEwen, Olli Juolevi, and Kole Lind have been prominent as well, which is huge for the development of those prospects. There’s plenty more to talk about, so let’s get into my final takeaways from the last week of training camp.
Canucks’ Stars Have Come to Play
For the Canucks to make the actual playoffs and move further than just the first round they need their stars to perform. Fortunately for them, they have all looked fantastic in almost every scrimmage they have played in. Boeser’s shot looked in Calder Trophy finalist form, Pettersson was otherworldly as usual and Hughes looked stronger and even more confident than the regular season if that’s even possible.
In Friday’s scrimmage, Hughes danced circles around everyone before he set up Gaudette on a tee for a lethal one-timer on the power play. It was the Hughes Show and the Wild better have their heads on a swivel because he could legitimately take over the series with his elite skating and skill level.
As for Miller and Tyler Toffoli, they both had their moments too, but the young stars on the Canucks were definitely at the forefront of training camp, which is encouraging for the return of hockey to this city, even though it’s not actually being played here.
Markstrom Has Regained His MVP Form
After struggling to find his footing during the first week of training camp, Jacob Markstrom looked much better this past week. He was making his usual clutch saves and was in total control of his movements in every scrimmage he played in. I’m sure that came as a relief to many people because the Canucks will need him at his best if they are going to have any success in the playoffs.
After being off for so long due to his injury and subsequent pause to the regular season, he just needed a few practices to get his legs underneath him. Thankfully, he seems to have returned to form and should be ready to go for the series against the Wild.
Ferland, MacEwen & Roussel Could Be X-Factors
No one really knew what to expect from Ferland when training camp began. He was skating and appeared ready to go, but then he was declared “unfit to play” at the outset which obviously was concerning after his concussion history. Fortunately, he returned to the fold after missing just the first scrimmage and has been noticeable in camp ever since.
Ferland was intense in his physicality and even scored a couple of goals with his quick hands around the net. In the final scrimmage on Friday, he was one of the best players on the ice, which was exciting to see especially after what he did in the playoffs with the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes earlier in his career. His style of play is what the Canucks have needed in their lineup for a long time, and he should be able to bring it in spades now that he’s healthy.
For Ferland as a person and a player, it’s encouraging to see him healthy and ready to go. Hockey is his passion and you can tell he loves the game, so to have him have a positive outlook on life on and off the ice is great to see. Concussions are no joke, and having him say that he’s symptom-free is excellent news for his health and overall lifestyle.
He looks more alive, more engaged and you can tell he’s on his toes on the ice. A healthy Micheal Ferland is important. There’s a reason we signed him.
Head coach Travis Green on Ferland’s progression in training camp
Alongside him on Friday was Roussel, who is no stranger to playoff intensity. With the Dallas Stars, he was always a thorn in opponent’s sides, and now that he’s fully healthy, he should be at his agitating best. Having him and Ferland at 100 percent should be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
Finally, there’s MacEwen, who stood out in the best way possible during camp. He was probably the best of all the fringe players and has busted the door down for a roster spot. As much as Jake Virtanen appeared to improve during the regular season, he has passed him on the depth chart and could actually start on the fourth line when the games get going in August. If he does, he just adds to the physicality and size of the bottom six, which could be the difference in any series the Canucks participate in.
Canucks Will Need Others to Step Up
The Canucks will need all their players to step up at different times during the upcoming play-in series and subsequent playoffs. Even though Virtanen didn’t have a good training camp, he could still find himself as an impact player at some point. It’s up to him to be physically and mentally ready for when that eventually happens. He’s still a physically gifted forward with speed to burn, not to mention he can score as well. He may not have a spot in the lineup for Game 1, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be needed later on.
That goes the same for the rest of the depth players as well. Players like Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Tyler Motte, and Brandon Sutter will all need to bring their skills to the table at some point to help the Canucks win a faceoff, kill a penalty or even just win a battle along the boards. For them to progress through this unprecedented postseason, the entire team from the stars to the depth players has to be at their best. If training camp is any indication, I think we are in for quite an interesting and exciting ride.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
Now that camp is over, the Canucks will travel to Edmonton to get settled into the bubble they will be part of for the foreseeable future. They will play an exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets on July 29 before the play-in series gets going against the Wild on Aug 2. For that game they will be able to dress an extra player than normal, so that should be interesting to see. In any case, it will be exciting to get hockey back in our living rooms again!