Boudreau calls Nils Hoglander the "best player" early in Canucks' camp
When Bruce Boudreau spoke as training camp began earlier this week, he suggested that he would try to keep his line combinations together as much as possible during the on-ice sessions at Whistler.
And he's been true to those words. Everything looks to be status quo for Day 3 on Saturday at the Meadow Park Sports Centre.
So far, it sounds like everyone is healthy and most players are doing a solid job of impressing their coaches.
Nils Hoglander, perhaps, has earned the most effusive praise.
"Let me talk about Hogs, because I think he's the best player on the ice right now," Boudreau told the media on Friday. "He looks so much faster than he did last year. Determination. He's definitely ready and I think last year was a little bit of a setback for him. He doesn't want it to happen again."
As discussed in the last blog, Hoglander is starting with a bit of an uphill battle to make the Canucks' opening-night roster — skating at camp on a line with Nils Aman and Linus Karlsson. But there's some runway still to go before the regular season begins on Oct. 12 in Edmonton. And while Boudreau hasn't said it out loud yet, the usual mindset is that when a player earns a spot, coaches find ways to make room for him.
Working against Hoglander — something I'd forgotten. He's still waiver-exempt for one more year.
Will Lockwood is also waiver exempt: he'll almost certainly start on the farm in Abbotsford. So are Vasily Podkolzin and Andrei Kuzmenko, but they've pretty much locked down spots on the big club.
Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev did an availability together on Day 1. Kuzmenko handled himself pretty well in English — including the assertion that he believes the smaller NHL ice surface will suit his offense-oriented game better — but Mikheyev was able to lend a hand when his countryman ran into unfamiliar vocabulary.
Kuzmenko's easy smile and a confident personality make it easy to see why Boudreau believes he'll "take the city by storm" if his game does translate effectively to the NHL.
For now, I'm not going to read anything into his performances at the scrimmages. This is a big adjustment, and he may not be fully processing all the instructions and systems quite yet.
The same is true for me with Quinn Hughes playing on the right side.
Reading between the lines, Boudreau didn't sound 100 percent sold on what he's seen so far. But he's in no rush to change anything.
"He could play left, right, middle — doesn't matter where he plays, he's good," Boudreau said Friday. "And if he's comfortable at it, it's more important than whether I like him there. He said he really likes it there — he told me that today. So, we'll keep doing it until till something better comes along."
Having Hughes on the right opens up space on the left — which will most likely be filled by either Jack Rathbone or PTO candidate Danny DeKeyser.
Boudreau said he's planning to take a long look at Rathbone and has scheduled him to skate in six preseason games — essentially the maximum, since the two games on Sunday run concurrently. Rathbone's paired with Luke Schenn in camp, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him with at least one different partner in exhibition play. Turning 33 in November, Schenn is the oldest player on the Canucks' roster this year. I don't think it makes sense to over-tax him too early, especially given his physical style of play.
With Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Travis Dermott slotted in on the left, does the battle for the third spot come down to Rathbone vs. DeKeyser?
DeKeyser has been paired with an established NHL partner, Tyler Myers.
"Wth an NHL guy, we want to put him in a position to succeed, to show us his best play rather than putting them in with some untested young guy that's more nervous than comfortable," Boudreau said. "I think it's important to play guys where their comfort level is."
As for what DeKeyser has brought on the ice, "He's looked really steady," Boudreau said. "You can tell he's been in the NHL — his angles are really good.
"When you play another team, you don't notice, sometimes, a defensive player. But you certainly can tell that he's been in the NHL before. He looks healthy. He looks ready to play, so that's a real good sign."
I also found the mic'd up clips from new assistant coach Mike Yeo quite interesting. He seems very enamoured with winger Phil Di Giuseppe, who didn't get into any games with Vancouver despite a couple of recalls last season, and is now back for his second season with the organization.
We'll start to get a bit more of a taste of what this year's Canucks will bring when we see them in their split-squad games against Calgary on Sunday. Puck drop for the home game at Rogers Arena is at 4 p.m. PT, and the game will be broadcast on Sportsnet. The game in Calgary starts at 5 p.m. PT, and I believe that will be streamed on the Flames' website.
If you're hungry for hockey right away, preseason action has begun on Saturday, with four games on the slate — and three of them televised. Two of them are split-squad games between Ottawa and Toronto — and as I type this, the Leafs have taken a 3-1 lead in the second period, off a flurry of goals from Alex Steeves, Denis Malgin and Justin Holl. Tim Stutzle opened the scoring for Ottawa in the first.
The Sens are debuting their new top line of Stutzle, Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, while the Leafs are giving ex-Canuck (and Senator) Adam Gaudette a golden opportunity by skating him with John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
The early game is on Sportsnet while the rematch goes at 4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet One. That's also the game time for the beleaguered Philadelphia Flyers' first exhibition contest, as they host Boston — and that game's free to watch on Sportsnet Now.
Enjoy the games!