3 Canucks prospects with a chance to make the opening night roster

Sep 12 2017, 7:14 am

Canucks training camp has begun and with preseason games beginning on Saturday, many fans are eager to see which young players will impress enough to win a roster spot.

With the signing of veterans like Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto, and Thomas Vanek, many prospects will be fighting an uphill battle in their endeavours to make the NHL team. Brock Boeser probably has the best shot at making it, but what about the other guys? Here are three young players with a shot at making the Canucks roster on opening night.

Jake Virtanen

To say Virtanen had a tumultuous season in 2016-17 would be an understatement.

After a strong end to his 2015-16 campaign, Virtanen showed up to training camp close to 230 pounds. This added weight hampered his speed, stamina, and overall energy on the ice.

After multiple healthy scratches and just one assist in 10 games, Virtanen was sent down to Utica to shed weight and work on his overall game. What transpired from then on was a borderline disaster, with Virtanen potting just nine goals and 10 assists in 65 games.

Virtanen has slimmed down and will need to impress Travis Green, who saw him struggle offensively in Utica.

As it stands, the sixth overall pick from the 2014 draft is on the outside looking in on a roster spot which means he’ll need to have a bounce-back performance in training camp to remain in the mix for a spot in the lineup. For Virtanen this means remaining engaged in the play with his physical tools. He’ll need to use his speed and quick release to create opportunities on transition plays, as well as his size and acceleration to force turnovers on the forecheck.

If he can manage all this, Virtanen will most certainly have a good chance at cracking the opening night roster.

Nikolay Goldobin

The centrepiece of the Jannik Hansen deal at the trade deadline, Nikolay Goldobin is a highly skilled player coming off of a relatively productive offensive season.

In a combined 49 AHL games between San Jose’s farm team and the Utica Comets, Goldobin produced at close to a point per game clip.

The 21-year-old Russian had trouble gaining the confidence of head coach Willie Desjardins, who appeared displeased with his lacklustre defensive play.

For Goldobin to take the next step, he’ll have to prove he can be responsible defensively without sacrificing offence. He needs to score goals, and he can’t hurt the team when he’s not getting the bounces either.

Consistency on both ends of the ice is imperative for Goldobin to be entrusted with top-nine minutes at the NHL level. While the signing of Vanek makes it more difficult to envision an NHL roster spot for Goldobin, although a strong two-way performance at training camp will elevate his chances.

Certainly he’s getting that opportunity by playing with Henrik and Daniel Sedin to start training camp.

Olli Juolevi

Defenceman Olli Juolevi is coming off a solid, if unspectacular season with the London Knights where he matched his 42 points from his draft season. While on the surface this may indicate stagnation, context is key in this situation.

The Knights lost Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak, and Mitch Marner to the NHL, resulting in 30 fewer goals scored compared to last season.

The absence of these marquee players resulted in a drastic decrease in the quality of teammates Juolevi played with. Deployment is also important, as Juolevi transitioned to a shutdown role with Victor Mete taking the reigns as the prime offensive threat from the blue line.

Meanwhile, Juolevi was entrusted with playing on the shutdown “second pairing” alongside 17-year-old Evan Bouchard. Head coach Dale Hunter’s focus last year was on developing Juolevi’s all-around game, as opposed to purely the offensive side of things.

While Juolevi has made strides when it comes to filling out his frame and developing his overall game, the logjam at on the left side of the blue line means that he will have to outplay one of Alex Edler, Ben Hutton, or Michael Del Zotto to earn a spot out of training camp. He’s still just 19 years old, and needs to play, so keeping him in the press box doesn’t make a lot of sense.

He’s too young to go to the AHL, but Europe remains a viable option if he doesn’t crack the Canucks’ roster. To make the Canucks, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft needs an excellent preseason displaying his poise, puck moving ability, and two-way awareness.

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