Storylines to watch this upcoming season

Part 1: Olympics and prospects

By Paolo Anzovino, Contributor

With training camp right around the corner, it’s time to start focusing on hockey again. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering topics that fans are paying close attention to all year long. To kick off the first batch of topics, we have the 2014 Winter Olympics and the Canucks top prospects.

Canucks at the Olympics

A handful of Canucks hope to represent their nation at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but some will have a harder time making the cut than others.

Roberto Luongo will be competing with Carey Price, Corey Crawford, Mike Smith, and Braden Holtby for one of three goalie spots on Team Canada. Luongo has the most experience (NHL and international) and helped Canada win the gold medal when he stepped in for a struggling Martin Brodeur in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Unfortunately, Luongo had some struggles last season, posting a .907 save percentage—second worst only to his rookie season with the New York Islanders more than a decade ago. He’ll need a strong bounce-back season if he wants to lead Canada to their second straight gold medal.

Dan Hamhuis will have a much harder time securing a roster spot on Team Canada, competing with Duncan Keith, Jay Bouwmeester, Karl Alzner, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Marc Staal, Dion Phaneuf, and Marc Methot for one of four left-handed defencemen spots. There may be even less room for Hamhuis if Team Canada decides to use a right-handed defenceman on the left side since most of Canada’s top d-men are right-handed. Guys like Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, P. K.  Subban, Kristopher Letang, Dan Boyle, and Brent Seabrook are all right-handed and very capable of representing our nation’s hockey team.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin should be locks to make Team Sweden, and Alex Edler will probably secure a spot as well. Ryan Kesler will likely be representing the USA in February, but his biggest challenge is keeping himself healthy.


Top Prospects Watch

First-round draft picks Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, and Hunter Shinkaruk were invited to the Team Canada U20 World Junior Championship evaluation camp in early August to compete for a roster spot and should warrant a good hard look. Roster cuts will be taking place later in the year, with the tournament starting on Boxing Day. Cody Hodgson was the last Canucks prospect to be part of a U20 Team Canada squad, back in 2009.

Bo Horvat, recently drafted ninth overall by the Canucks from the pick acquired in the Cory Schneider trade, is probably going to have a memorable season regardless of where he plays. If he impresses the coaching staff and management in training camp, he could end up getting to play in the NHL at the age of 18. If they feel he needs more time to develop, he will spend another season with the London Knights in the OHL, host of the 2014 Memorial Cup, where he could be named team captain and would play on the first line. The Canucks may give him a chance to play up to nine games with the big club since it won’t eat a year off his entry-level contract. Once he plays his 10th NHL game for the season, he can’t be sent down to the CHL, and he isn’t old enough to play in the AHL.

Mike Gillis has stated that Brendan Gaunce will get a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp, but if he fails to do so he’ll be spending the season as captain of the Bellville Bulls in the OHL. Hunter Shinkaruk may also get a chance to compete for a spot, but will likely be playing in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Nicklas Jensen will get serious consideration for a roster spot, but if there isn’t room he’ll spend another season improving his consistency and intensity in the AHL and will likely be the first player called up if a forward gets injured.

Be sure to check out part two next week, where I’ll be talking about Roberto Luongo, the young guys on the team who should take on a bigger role, and the new faces in the lineup.