The Canucks play their first preseason game tomorrow and the most compelling competition for a roster spot this year is without a doubt for the third line centre spot. The competition is wide open, with some veterans, youngsters and raw rookies in contention. Lets look at the competitors:
Canucks management was probably quietly hoping that Gaunce, the team’s 1st round pick in the 2012 draft, could step up and win the 3rd line centre spot this year. Gaunce had a standout playoffs with the Belleville Bulls last season (22 points in 17 games) but didn’t impress much by most reports at prospects camp in Penticton. He also didn’t impress Canada’s world junior head coach Brent Sutter during summer tryouts. Apparently his foot speed is lacking, which will only get exposed more against NHL competition. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Gaunce is ready for prime time yet. There’s no shame in that, he’s still young and it’s probably best to give him another year in junior rather than to rush him. Still, he will have a chance to impress everyone during the preseason, but unless he turns a few heads in multiple games, I don’t see him in blue and green this season.
If Brendan Gaunce isn’t ready, then prized prospect Bo Horvat might be an option for the Canucks. The man acquired in the Cory Schneider trade is a year younger than Gaunce but has more potential. Horvat is in a similar situation to Gaunce in that he will need to prove he is an NHL player at this stage of his career. Both players can get 9 regular season games without burning the first year of their entry level contract, but if neither are ready then they might as well both go back to their junior teams.
Richardson is probably the most accomplished NHL player on this list, but is probably better suited to be a 4th line centre than a 3rd liner. He has played mostly as a 4th line centre the last few years in Los Angeles, although the Kings are very deep at centre. Richardson’s career high point total is a meager 27 points, accomplished in 2009-10.
If training camp scrimmages are worth anything, then perhaps Richardson is the favourite. John Tortorella put Richardson between third liners Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins. The line responded by scoring 4 goals.
Richardson is only 28 years old and wasn’t given many offensive opportunities in the last few years, so perhaps Richardson can show enough in the preseason to grab the job. He is the safe choice.
Mike Santorelli might be the most offensively gifted player in contention for the third line centre spot. He is certainly in the best physical condition.
Santorelli, 27, hasn’t produced very much in the NHL save for one season. That season was in 2010-11 when he scored 20 goals and 21 assists with the Florida Panthers. Interestingly enough, David Booth was a linemate of Santorelli’s for most of 2010-11.
An intresting X-factor for Santorelli is his prowess in the shootout. With a career shootout record of 10-for-20, Santorelli would be the Canucks’ best shooter.
For Schroeder, the Canucks first round pick in 2009, the time is now. Schroeder will turn 23 before the first game of the season and needs to show that he belongs this year. If it doesn’t happen this year, it may never materialize with the likes of Gaunce and Horvat coming up.
Schroeder showed flashes of brilliance last season, his first in the NHL. He didn’t produce much in the NHL, but put up 33 points in 42 games in the AHL.
Schroeder is quick and a good playmaker, but is awfully small (about 5’9″). He isn’t the prototypical third line centre, but I don’t think that should be the deciding factor. Like Santorelli, if Schroeder can show offensive flare without hurting the club defensively then he will have an edge. He will need to win faceoffs consistently, handle bigger opposing centres in the defensive zone and above all else, produce offensively.