Canucks coach tweaking system to get more offence from defence

Sep 13 2018, 8:53 pm

Heading into the first Canucks training camp not featuring Henrik and Daniel Sedin in almost two decades, there’s an element of freshness this season.

But speaking with the media at Rogers Arena for the first time this season, Travis Green knows it has left a big hole in his lineup. The Sedins combined for 105 points last season, each finishing top-three in team scoring.

The second-year head coach proposes the team will fill their production “by committee,” because really, what other choice does he have?

While young players like Elias Pettersson and underachieving veterans like Loui Eriksson will be counted on to fill some of that gap, the committee Green is referring to includes more than his forwards.

Same guys, different result?

In contrast to the forward group, the defencemen on the Canucks’ training camp roster are anything but fresh.

The same eight blueliners that played the majority of games last season are back. The only notable newcomer is Olli Juolevi, who is expected to start in the AHL with the Utica Comets.

“We need to get more offence out of our defence. It’s simple,” Green said before conceding that it’s “easier said than done.”

Vancouver’s highest-scoring defenceman last year was Alex Edler, whose 34 points placed him tied for 40th in points among NHL rearguards. Michael Del Zotto and Derrick Pouliot tied for second place with 22 points each – placing them 85th. Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher had 11 points each – placing them 160th in the league.

“We hope Pouliot, [Ben] Hutton – young guys that are still trying to figure out what they are in the league – come back and have stronger seasons,” Green said.

But beyond merely just hoping his players come back better than ever, Green says he’s making changes on how the team plays.

“We’ve tried to tweak our systems a little bit to try to create some more offence from our back end. But we don’t want to give up more goals or more chances at the cost of trying to find offence.”

He could have added ‘easier said than done’ for that one too.

“We’re hoping that within this group that we can find some more offence,” he said. “We want to play an aggressive style of hockey. Part of that is defencemen looking to score as well.”

Where Hutton fits in

At the beginning of last season, Hutton was a player that featured prominently in the Canucks’ lineup. He played in all situations.

By the end of the season, he had no goals and six assists and was used to being a healthy scratch.

Back in better shape – something Green demanded – there’s hope for Hutton.

“I’m excited for Ben. I think he’s put a lot of work in this year,” said Green. “We challenged him last year. He had a hard year. I’m not going to sit here and say I didn’t make it hard on him. I did.

“I wasn’t happy with some of the things he did as far as his conditioning level. I didn’t think it put him in a spot to be the best player that he can be. I thought he had a lot more in his game.”

“It’s a clean slate this year. And trust me, if Ben Hutton’s ready to roll, he’s going to play.”

“Greener’s been nothing but honest with me,” Hutton said. “I feel that if I have a good camp, a good preseason, that I can come in and earn my ice. There’s a clean sheet. We have no hard feelings.”

Hutton looks leaner following a summer of working with a new trainer that included workouts alongside Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

He now weighs 205 pounds – down from 210 – and says his body fat’s “real low.”

It’s music to Green’s ears.

What about Stecher?

While confidence from the coach diminished for Hutton last season, for Stecher, it grew.

Beginning the year on a third-pairing without any time on special teams, Stecher was relied upon much more as the season went on.

While he was good defensively, his point-production dried up. Scoring just one goal and 10 assists in 68 games, Stecher knows he’s one of the guys that Green will look to to help produce offence.

“It’s tough to score goals in this league, that’s for sure,” said Stecher.

Like Hutton, Stecher found it easier to produce offence in his rookie season. He scored three goals and 21 assists that year.

“I’m just trying to find ways to get the puck to the net. Trying to find different options. Trying to use the back wall or trying to find a stick – a lot of the time you’re not going to have a direct lane [to the net].”

“Last year we struggled as a group trying to contribute offensively and it’s definitely been a focus heading into this summer.”

The fun begins on Friday when players hit the ice for training camp for the first time this season. The first preseason game is at home on Tuesday against the Oilers.

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