Part 2: Luongo, young players, and new faces
By Paolo Anzovino, Contributor
Picking up from where we left off last week, here is part two of the storylines to pay close attention to this upcoming NHL season. This week, we’re focusing on Roberto Luongo, having the young players step up their game, and the new faces in the lineup.
The goalie controversy is over—for now. Canucks starting goaltender Roberto Luongo has said that he will show up to training camp motivated for this upcoming season and plans to honour his contract. After being the subject of trade rumours for over a year, no deal could be made with another team to move his massive contract, so Cory Schneider was dealt instead. With Schneider gone, Luongo will need to bear the majority of the starting goalie load, and could face upwards of 70 starts—something he hasn’t done since the 2007-2008 season. John Tortorella’s defensive system should make Luongo’s job easier and help improve his stats after a disappointing season. And if Tortorella’s system doesn’t help improve Luongo’s play in net, the motivation to start for Team Canada in Sochi definitely will.
Needing more from youth
“We need to get younger,” seems to be Mike Gillis’ favourite catchphrase this off-season. In keeping with this, the Canucks are focused on adding more youth to their lineup in the upcoming years.
For a second straight summer, Zack Kassian has been diligently working with strength coach Dave Orton in his bid to become a successful power forward in the NHL. Orton stated, “He’s eating really clean, he’s matured a lot. He came back from Vancouver ready to train.” Kassian will likely get to showcase his improved physical condition early on as John Tortorella has stated that he wants to put Kassian on the Sedin line to start the season. Since starting the lockout-shortened season with five goals in seven games with the Sedins, Kassian has been alternating as a Sedin linemate with Alex Burrows, and has had trouble finding consistency and chemistry with his constantly changing linemates.
After starting off slowly, Jordan Schroeder greatly improved as the season progressed. During the NHL lockout, Schroeder played with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate (at the time) Chicago Wolves, where he looked to have stepped up his defensive game. Once the lockout ended, Schroeder had his chance to shine with the Canucks since Ryan Kesler was injured and the team lacked centre-depth behind captain Henrik Sedin. He formed an almost instant chemistry with fellow speedster Mason Raymond, and showcased his playmaking abilities and willingness to fight for the puck in the corners despite his lack of size. Once Kesler was healthy and a top-six centre, Derek Roy was acquired, and Schroeder was sent back down to the AHL. He seemed to take his game to another level after getting some NHL experience, scoring at a point-per-game pace for the rest of the season with the Wolves. Unfortunately, his season ended with a shoulder injury that required surgery, but he hopes to be ready for the start of training camp where he’ll be competing for the third-line centre spot with Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, and newly-signed Brad Richardson.
Frank Corrado has been a pleasant surprise since being drafted in the fifth round, 150th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. After barely being edged out of a roster spot on the Under 20 Team Canada World Junior squad, he nearly doubled his point total from a previous year in the OHL and wound up playing for the Canucks towards the end of the regular season and playoffs. He’ll be competing with Andrew Alberts and newcomer defenceman Yannick Weber for the sixth defenceman spot on the opening day roster. If he is forced into a depth role, the Canucks may look into letting him play with their new AHL affiliate the Utica Comets to get more ice time.
After holding out for almost two months, Chris Tanev has a new contract and will be looking to be more than just a bottom-pairing puck-mover next season. To back up that ambition, he bulked up this off-season, adding a few pounds of muscle. Keith Ballard, his mentor and defensive partner for most of his NHL career, was bought out this off-season, and Tanev could be looking at getting a serious upgrade in Alex Edler or Jason Garrison as his new defensive partner.
Eddie Läck and former Philadelphia Flyers goalie prospect Joacim Eriksson will be competing for the backup Canucks goalie job, and the loser will likely be the starting goalie for the Utica Comets in the AHL. Lack spent most of the 2012-2013 season recovering from hip surgery and hopes to be healthy for the start of training camp. Meanwhile, Eriksson spent last season with Skellefteå AIK in the Swedish Elite League, posting an impressive .931 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average in 30 games.
Mike Gillis didn’t have much cap space to spend on free agents this off-season, so he brought in two depth players in Brad Richardson and Yannick Weber. Richardson is a very energetic and versatile two-way forward who got buried in the Los Angeles Kings’ roster. He can play all three forward positions, is good at face-offs, and isn’t afraid to use his body. Weber, a former third-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, is a young, right-handed offensive defenceman from Switzerland who gives the Canucks something they have been missing since Christian Ehrhoff signed with the Buffalo Sabres: a power play quarterback. While he isn’t the Weber that Canucks fans have wanted for a few years, he will hopefully do a better job running the power play than failed experiments Marc-André Gragnani and Cam Barker.
Next week, we wrap up this three-part roundup with John Tortorella, players hoping to have a bounce-back season, and the new AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.