The timing is essentially back to normal, but the routines are still a bit different as the Vancouver Canucks kicked off their rookie camp on Friday at Rogers Arena.
Two years ago, in the beforetimes, media watched the rookie camp proceedings from the club seats behind the Canucks bench, then shuffled down to the dressing-room area to stick our microphones and recorders into the faces of director of player development Ryan Johnson and some of the players. Personally, I remember chasing down Arturs Silovs in the visitors' dressing room, to ask how he parlayed a sixth-round selection in the NHL draft into an entry-level contract and a rookie-camp invite over just a couple of months.
According to PuckPedia
, by the way, Silovs is repped by Paul Theofanous, who has previously driven huge deals for Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky and is currently playing hardball with the Minnesota Wild on the Kirill Kaprizov contract. Silovs' entry-level contract has slid over the last two seasons, so the first season should kick in this year, where I'd expect him to settle in as Mikey DiPietro's backup in Utica.
This year, Silovs and DiPietro shared the nets for Day 1 of rookie camp — although DiPietro wasn't technically on the roster; he was helping out so that they'd have two goalies on the ice.
Silovs, the taller of the two at 6'4", looked just fine. But DiPietro stole the show late in the small ice two-on-two competition near the end of the session, pulling out a series of acrobatic moves that drew some 'Wows' from the media members who were assembled on the 300 level — somewhat spread out, and certainly farther away from ice level than usual.
Mikey looks ready — and like he's in that positive headspace that he's known for, enjoying every minute on the ice.
I spent a good part of the session trying to keep my eyes on Vasily Podkolzin and, to a lesser extenet, Danila Klimovich — eager to see if their skills showed through, and how they were acclimating to a training session conducted in English.
To my eye, Podkolzin looked strong and confident. He didn't seem to beat the goaltenders too often, which kind of aligns with what we know about his history to date, but I'm also not going to jump to big conclusions on Day 1 of rookie camp. He does bring a big, solid physique, moved well on the ice, and showed some nice skating and puck-handling skills that seemed to put him a cut above most of the other players on the ice.
Rather than having the players available after the 90-minute on-ice session, Podkolzin and three others, along with Ryan Johnson, were made available by Zoom in the morning.
And while Podkolzin and Klimovich navigated their first Canucks' media availabilities with the help of an interpreter, Podkolzin was eager to jump in with English answers where he could. Through the interpreter, he said that he can now understand basically everything in English — and when questions were asked, he seemed to ask her to confirm if he was understanding correctly moreso than actually waiting for her to translate the question.
If you haven't seen the footage yet, it's worth checking out. Early on, when he sits backs and squares his shoulders, I felt his confidence ratchet up. In such an unnatural situation, he seemed to be taking it all in stride, showing his eagerness to put his best foot forward now that he's finally here in a Canucks uniform.
He may not light the lamp the way that Elias Pettersson or Brock Boeser did in their rookie seasons, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch his evolution this season.
As for Klimovich, I would put him more in the category of 'doing his best.' Two years younger, he's already similar to Podkolzin, size-wise, but doesn't have the same swagger or command of English just yet. He said in his interview that he's going to try to make the team, but I'd call that a major long shot at the moment.
Two other players also answered questions on Friday: Jett Woo, the second-round pick from 2018, who is going into his second pro season, and Viktor Persson, the seventh-rounder from 2020 who will be joining the Kamloops Blazers this fall after his first try at suiting up in the WHL was foiled by Covid last season.
I've always seen Woo listed as a right-shot defenseman, so I was interested to hear Ryan Johnson mention that he played on both sides last season in Utica.
"Growing up, my dad coached me through a few years of hockey," he said. "One of the biggest things that he wanted me to do is be able to play both sides, be able to hold and then be confident on both sides with the puck.
"So I did it a few times in junior as well, and I was very confident with it. In Utica, once we got the point where some of the top defenseman were hurt or were low in numbers, I wanted to make it clear to the coaching staff that I was very confident to play both sides, and I think that's kind of where it showed up."
Injuries have slowed Woo's development since he was drafted, but he played the full 28-game season in Utica last year and has had a healthy offseason of training, so I feel like he's poised to take a step forward this year.
As for Persson — he's pretty soft-spoken and wide-eyed at this point — taking his questions in English on his first-ever trip to North America, and calling his first chance to speak with the Sedins on Thursday "a big moment."
Ryan Johnson explicitly mentioned how much the players in Utica will benefit from the hands-on mentoring of the Sedins this season. And not surprisingly, the twins were on hand at the arena on Friday, sitting down in the 100-level with other members of the Canucks brass.
Rookie camp continues at Rogers Arena for the next three days, but my understanding is that the rest of the sessions will be closed to the media.