Believe it or not, the Canucks are now 75% complete their preseason schedule. That means some tough decisions need to be made by Alain Vigneault and the Canucks coaching staff, and they need to be made soon. There are only two games left before a long list of players on the bubble will find out where they will start the 2010-11 season. That list includes most notably Cody Hodgson, Brendan Morrison and Jeff Tambellini.
The Canucks will start the year with Alex Burrows and Sami Salo on the injured reserve and may carry 22 or 23 players. I’m guessing they will try to carry 23 players: 13 forwards, 8 defensemen and 2 goalies. With that said, lets see how their lineup projects with the players who are practically guaranteed a spot:
Raymond-Kesler-2nd line RW
4th line LW-4th line C-4th line RW
What Spots are Open?
If my projected lineup is an indication, there are five spots up for grabs on forward: 2nd line right wing, all three spots on the fourth line plus the extra forward. Lets meet the candidates.
The Canucks’ prized rookie is a player who is getting every opportunity to prove he belongs. In two games he has lined up beside Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, yet hasn’t shown a whole lot. He had a couple of moments in his first game against Edmonton and was invisible the next night against San Jose. In my mind he needs to show something significant in the last two preseason games or he should find himself starting the season in Manitoba. I think starting with the Moose would probably be the best thing for him. Get used to playing against men, build up his confidence and then put him in the lineup. Because he is a young player and a skilled player, the organization will not be interested in him playing on the 4th line.
Unlike Hodgson, Morrison has been consistently impressive in the preseason thus far. He is a candidate for the second line winger spot (which would require him to move to the wing) and the fourth line centre spot (which would require him to play more of a checking role). In both cases, Morrison would not be the picture perfect fit but I do believe he is the best they have at the moment. He would also be a nice insurance policy should one of their top three centres go down with an injury.
Jeff Tambellini has also had an impressive preseason thus far. He is a candidate for the second line winger position. He’s shown great speed and grit/determination but because of his size, I don’t believe he is a candidate to be a winger on the fourth line (that’s a spot that will go to the likes of Hordichuk, Rypien, Glass, Oreskovich, etc). If he were to find himself on a line with Kesler and Raymond, that might be the fastest line in the league. Based on his play, he deserves the spot.
Guillaume Desbiens, Bill Sweatt and Alex Bolduc will probably start with the Moose (no explanation needed). That leaves Sergei Shirokov, Victor Oreskovich, Peter Schaefer, Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, Joel Perrault and Tanner Glass.
Shirokov is fighting an uphill battle with the recent revelation that he took up Vladimir Krutov’s exercise regime over the summer. Still, if he impresses, he could find himself on the second line to start the season.
Joel Perrault is Brendan Morrison’s stiffest competition for the 4th line centre position, but I don’t think he has measured up to BMo, even though he is grittier.
Peter Schaefer is in a tough situation because he doesn’t have a contract and I don’t believe he’s gritty enough to play on the fourth line as a winger and he’s also not skilled enough to play on the second line. Still, he’s played pretty decently in the preseason and will get some consideration.
That leaves four tough wingers fighting for three spots: Hordichuk, Glass, Rypien and Oreskovich. I think the Canucks will want to have an enforcer, which will give Hordichuk an edge. Rick Rypien is a Vigneault favourite which is what will secure his spot. That leaves Glass and Oreskovich fighting for the last spot and at the moment I think it’s a wide open race.
I predict that Jeff Tambellini will start the year on the second line with Kesler and Raymond. I also predict that Brendan Morrison will be the team’s fourth line centre with Hordichuk, Glass and Rypien shuffling in as his wingers.