This year has been the most competitive Canucks camp in recent memory, with so many players with a realistic chance to make the team. Head coach Alain Vigneault has a lot of tough decisions ahead of him, particularly concerning players on the bubble. Numerous young and old guys are fighting for spots at forward, defense and in goal. Here’s where the “bubble boys” stack up so far:
Perhaps none of the battles have been as close as Schneider versus Raycroft for the backup job. Both have played well in their games, but conventional wisdom would suggest if it’s close, they’d give the job to Schneider. One would think that the Canucks want desperately to shop Schneider and then trade him as soon as possible while his stock is high. The thinking is that Schneider has already done everything he can do at the AHL level and that his trade value can only go up if he proves something in the NHL. It wouldn’t come without consequence though, Schneider’s cap hit of $1.084 million is more than double the minimum wage $500,000 hit from Raycroft. Raycroft would also have to clear waivers, while Schneider doesn’t. Should be interesting to see how Gillis makes the jigsaw puzzle come together.
Shane O’Brien has been impressive so far in the preseason, looking more mobile and making good decisions with the puck. Everyone knows he’s tough, but he’ll need to be reliable defensively to deserve his new $1.7 million deal. Christian Ehrhoff has 4 points in 2 games, and is looking like he is solidifying a spot on the first unit power play. Brad Lukowich is a steady defensive defenceman, which means he won’t dazzle anyone, even when he’s at his best. Look for Lukowich to be their #7 or 8 defenceman, along with O’Brien. Mathieu Schneider hasn’t played a game in the preseason yet, presumably resting the 40 year blueliner for the regular season. It would be hard to imagine them not having him in mind for their top 6 if they are resting him in the preseason. Another impressive player in the preseason has been Aaron Rome. Barring injury/trade, I give Rome very little chance at cracking the Canucks roster. The resumes of the other 8 defencemen in camp are far superior and I don’t think there’s anything Rome can do to change that.
The Canucks currently have 13 proven NHL forwards under contract and I believe that all of them will make the team. Mason Raymond and Rick Rypien in particular have looked very impressive. Of the 13, Jannik Hansen is in the most danger of being thrown on waivers. That list of 13 forwards also includes the injured Pavol Demitra, which means that at least one of the bubble players will get a shot on opening day.
That’s where things get interesting. Cody Hodgson, Michael Grabner and Sergei Shirokov make-up the list of youngsters trying to crack the Canucks roster for the first time while Mark Parrish, Ronald Petrovicky and Dave Scatchard are all veterans on tryout contracts. None of the veterans have shown enough to earn an NHL gig thus far. Michael Grabner appears to be a young sniper who doesn’t score, and that’s a bad combination. Cody Hodgson has looked ok, but I don’t think he looks quite at home in the NHL yet. I think there’s a good chance that Hodgson will be sent back to junior. That leaves Sergei Shirokov. He’s impressed everyone since his first day at rookie camp and, assuming he can recover from his minor injury set-back, is my pick to make the Canucks roster.
And now for a trip back down memory lane… Possibly the greatest preseason goal ever scored: