Every season, NHL teams overhaul their rosters, and welcome new players to training camp.
For the Vancouver Canucks, training camp this year will be littered with new arrivals.
Jim Benning was a busy man over the summer, adding more than a dozen new players to the team in a matter of days.
Some of the big acquisitions, like Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jason Dickinson are expected to make an immediate impact. However, there are a number of unheralded players who are entering Canucks training camp with a dimmer spotlight. That doesn’t even include some of the returning players who are fighting for a spot in the NHL.
Here are six under-the-radar players who could make some noise at Canucks training camp, which begins next week.
1. Justin Dowling
There’s a chance that Justin Dowling could play more games for the Canucks this season than anyone on this list.
The 30-year-old veteran of nearly 500 AHL games suited up for 27 games with the Dallas Stars last season. As a responsible depth player, Dowling has had some success at the NHL level… at least at the Canucks expense.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) November 15, 2019
Dowling will be an easy guy to cheer for. After going undrafted, he scratched and clawed his way through the minors being making his NHL debut at 26 years old. He’s also played 56 NHL games over the last two seasons.
One reason why he has a decent chance to play for the Canucks this season is because he’s basically fifth on the depth chart at centre behind the oft-injured Brandon Sutter. One injury to Sutter, and you could easily be looking at Dowling at the team’s fourth-line centre.
2. Phillip Di Giuseppe
It’s clear that 11 of the Canucks’ 12 starting forwards are set heading into training camp. In a battle for the 12th and final spot on the fourth line, the front-runners are likely Matthew Highmore and Phillip Di Giuseppe.
The 27-year-old is a defensively responsible forward who posted 1.47 points-per-60 last season with the New York Rangers — a credible third-line rate.
Di Guiseppe is a veteran of 201 NHL games, and he should reasonably challenge for a roster spot with the Canucks.
3. Justin Bailey
Justin Bailey is entering his third season with the Canucks organization. The 26-year-old earned a spot on the Canucks taxi squad last season, but a hit from Milan Lucic ended his season after three games.
Bailey has been recovering from a separated shoulder, but if healthy, he could have an outside chance at cracking this roster. He’s a streaky offensive player who possesses good speed and size, although it’s fair to wonder if a defensive, fourth-line role is best suited to his skill set.
Nonetheless, the Canucks clearly have valued his skills enough to give him NHL playing time in two straight seasons.
4. Will Lockwood
The most obvious underdog to crack the Canucks roster out of camp is 2016 third-round pick, Will Lockwood.
The 23-year-old played four seasons at the University of Michigan after being selected by the Canucks in 2016. Last year, he finally made his NHL debut despite middling AHL production (11 points in 24 games).
However, there’s an argument that Lockwood’s skill set is best suited for a fourth-line role. He’s a tenacious forechecker despite standing at just 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. You could make the argument that he looked more comfortable in his two NHL games last season than Kole Lind did, despite the latter being a much more prolific scorer in the AHL.
5. Brad Hunt
While Brad Hunt is on the outside looking in heading into training camp, history suggests that it would be foolish to bet against him.
The Maple Ridge native hasn’t played an AHL game in five seasons. Last time he was in the AHL was during the 2016-17 campaign with the Chicago Wolves, where he led all AHLers with 29 points in 23 games… an incredible mark for a defenceman.
While Jack Rathbone likely has a leg up for the last starting job on defence, it’s easy enough to envision Hunt supplanting him with a strong training camp. Hunt also has experience playing the right side, where there are question marks with Travis Hamonic, Tyler Myers, and Tucker Poolman.
6. Brady Keeper
Brady Keeper will almost assuredly begin the season with the Abbotsford Canucks, but he’s an intriguing player to keep an eye on during training camp.
The 25-year-old has overcome numerous obstacles, highlighted by his incredible journey from the isolated Pimickikamak Cree Nation community of Cross Lake to the NHL.
Keeper spent most of last season on the Florida Panthers’ taxi squad, suiting up in a combined 12 games between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
While he won’t provide much in the offence, Keeper is a physical defenceman, with noted speed and good transitional play. He might not be an underdog who will make the team out of camp, but don’t be surprised if he earns a recall to the Canucks at some point during the regular season.