Let the jockeying for roster spots and ice time begin.
While the Vancouver Canucks have struggled for most of the past decade, it’s made for intriguing training camps.
Guys like Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, Nils Höglander, and Kyle Burroughs are all examples of players who locked down full-time NHL roles after beginning training camp further down the depth chart.
Although the Canucks are deep at forward, it’s created a different kind of lineup intrigue.
We’ll reflect that in this look at top battles to watch as the Canucks open training camp this week.
1. Open spot for top-four defenceman
Players to watch: Travis Dermott, Luke Schenn, Tucker Poolman
In a perfect world, none of these defenders are playing in a top-four role for the Canucks.
Yet, here we are.
Patrik Allvin was unable to clear cap space during the offseason, therefore he couldn’t meaningfully upgrade his blue line.
This creates an interesting training camp battle with a couple of names to watch.
Luke Schenn filled in admirably in that role last season after Tucker Poolman went down with injury. With Poolman reportedly healthy, the two could be battling with one another for a top-four role.
Travis Dermott has the highest upside of all three players mentioned. However, he has struggled in top-four minutes during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jack Rathbone is unlikely to go straight from AHL to a top-four role, although he has an even-higher ceiling than the aforementioned Dermott.
2. Bottom-pair left defence
Players to watch: Jack Rathbone, Travis Dermott, Christian Wolanin, Wyatt Kalynuk
The most likely outcome here is that Rathbone begins the 2022-23 season as a bottom-pairing defenceman on the left side, just like he did last season.
However, he’ll face some competition during training camp.
If the Canucks decide to go with Schenn, Poolman, and Tyler Myers on the right side, then Rathbone could be in a competition with Dermott for an everyday spot in the lineup.
The Canucks also signed two left-shot defencemen for depth during the offseason. One of those guys was Wyatt Kalynuk, who looked like a full-time NHLer with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020-21. He had five goals and nine points in 21 games while playing a top-four role. Christian Wolanin could also push for a roster spot after playing 70 NHL games since 2017.
3. First-line centre
Players to watch: J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson
As soon as October 2018 rolled around, Canucks fans believed they were looking at their franchise centre for the next 10-15 years.
Fast-forward to 2022, and that presumed first-line centre has fallen down the depth chart.
The Canucks are loaded with some of the best centre depth in the league. That’s part of the reason why Pettersson’s even-strength ice time has dipped.
Until further notice, Miller is the Canucks’ first-line centre, especially after Bruce Boudreau mentioned that he does plan to play all three guys down the middle. However, if Pettersson looks as good in camp as he did during informal scrimmages, perhaps he can wrestle back the No. 1 centre title from Miller.
4. Who rides shotgun with Miller or Pettersson?
Players to watch: Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko, Tanner Pearson, Nils Höglander
The Canucks winger watch will be in full force throughout training camp and the preseason, especially after the team added Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko.
Brock Boeser seems like the only bonafide top-six lock here. Conor Garland was an even-strength beast last season, although his third-most common linemate was Bo Horvat (behind Tanner Pearson and Pettersson).
Ilya Mikheyev and Vasily Podkolzin should get decent looks at top-six minutes, although both have already shown success in checking roles, which could make them candidates to play with Horvat as well.
Kuzmenko and Höglander are both wild cards entering training camp.
5. Fourth-line wingers
Players to watch: Nils Höglander, Jason Dickinson, Dakota Joshua, Will Lockwood, Phillip Di Giuseppe
While it’s not quite as sexy as the battle to play with Miller or Pettersson, there’s still lots of intrigue on the Canucks’ fourth line.
Newly-signed Curtis Lazar fills the organizational need for a right-shot, fourth-line centre, but who he plays with is still somewhat of a mystery.
The favourites heading into training camp, surprisingly, are Höglander and Dakota Joshua.
It’s quite a fall for Höglander, who nearly led the Canucks in five-on-five scoring during 2020-21, to play on the fourth line. However, it might be the perfect spot for him to feast on weaker competition.
Dakota Joshua has only played 30 NHL games, but Patrik Allvin spoke highly of his skillset after signing him in July.
That could leave Jason Dickinson and his $2.65 million salary on the outside looking in to begin camp. Will Lockwood and Phil Di Guiseppe also have a shot at a fourth-line role, although they’ll need standout performances during the preseason.