The Vancouver Canucks wrapped up training camp in Whistler on Saturday and the preseason begins very soon.
On Sunday, the Canucks preseason begins with split-squad action with the Calgary Flames. So have your laptop or tablet ready for split-screen action.
There were plenty of storylines and questions at Whistler training camp. (Maybe one day Area 51 will be at a Canucks training camp) So let’s go over three of them.
Will Nils Höglander stay on the Canucks roster or get AHL time?
Nils Höglander went through the sophomore slump last season. While many of his teammates got a boost when Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green as head coach, Höglander did not.
He had 18 points in 60 games. That is a points per game rate of 0.3. In 2020-21, Höglander had 27 points in 60 games. That is a PPG rate of 0.45.
At training camp, Höglander looked good.
Look at him battling with Elias Pettersson.
Boudreau also thought that.
“He’s the best player on the ice right now,” said the Canucks head coach on the young Swede on Friday per Sportsnet 650’s Brendan Batchelor. “He looks so much faster than he did last year. He’s definitely ready, and I think last year was a setback for him, and he doesn’t want it to happen again.”
Of course, there is preseason to be played. Höglander will be part of the squad that goes to Calgary and will be on the top line with Curtis Lazar and Jason Dickinson.
He will be competing with Dickinson, Dakota Joshua and Will Lockwood for spots on the fourth line. Ideally, Höglander would be a top-nine player because he has the skill for it. However, it was a disappointing 2021-22 season for him and he has to earn Boudreau’s trust in the preseason.
Putting Höglander on the fourth line at the start of the season isn’t a bad thing at all. Let him work his way up the lineup. Sure, there are fewer minutes and he’ll be in a checking role. However, winning puck battles is something he is good at and that could turn into offence.
Do you know what else isn’t a bad idea? Sending him down to the AHL. He would play top-six minutes there and he could potentially put up a lot of offence. Höglander would work not just on his offensive consistency but his defensive game (something he struggled with last season) down in the Abbotsford. He won’t be down there long, however. One injury in Vancouver to the forward core and Höglander taking an Uber to Rogers Arena.
I would like to see Höglander start the season with the Canucks but won’t be upset if he does start in Abbotsford.
Will Quinn Hughes on the right side work?
I wrote about Quinn Hughes on the right side in Avid Thoughts a couple of weeks ago.
At training camp, Hughes was indeed on the right side. This is going to take some time to get used to.
Apparently, Hughes took some time adjusting and according to Thomas Drance of The Athletic, he improved.
“I’ve played right a lot growing up,” Hughes told the media on Saturday per the Rinkwide Podcast.” I actually think it’s a little bit easier defending off the rush because on the left it’s a reach and you can just poke check on the right.”
Again, I’m not against the idea of having Hughes on the right side. It makes that side even better.
But now the left side needs help. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best option on the left with Hughes on the right. Jack Rathbone has potential but the top four? Not yet. Travis Dermott is capable of playing on the left side and could work. There is also Danny Dekeyser who was signed to a PTO. He has struggled with injuries and has defensively declined since 2016.
Dekeyser will likely be the seventh defenceman or get time in Abbotsford if they do decide to keep him. I don’t like the idea of him with Hughes.
Hughes needs a partner who is defensively stable like Chris Tanev was. OEL was good defensively last season but that does not guarantee he will be this season. The pairing of OEL-Hughes is probably the best option.
I think Hughes will be fine on the right side. As I’ve said before, it will take a bit of time to fully adjust.
Will Jack Rathbone stick around in the NHL this time?
This year’s training camp and preseason are make or break for Rathbone. Well, maybe not that but this is Rathbone’s biggest chance to prove he is an NHL player. It’s his spot to lose.
Last season, he spent most of the year with Abbotsford and looked good down there.
“It’s my job to force their hand,” said Rathbone at the start of training camp per Jeff Paterson of the Rinkwide Podcast.
Rathbone has got the offensive skills and skating ability but his play away from the puck is what he needed to work on. According to an article by Canucks Army’s Noah Strang, Rathbone’s expected goals against per 60 minutes was 2.85. That was the worst of any defenceman that has played more than 50 minutes for the Canucks this season. The article was written in February but the stat is still accurate.
“I learned a ton, (last season)” said Rathbone per Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre. It was a little bit of stop and go, just with the injuries. But the time that I did get, both up and down, it was something that I don’t take for granted and something that I kind of gained confidence from and I’m able to come into camp this year just a little bit more ready to go.”
Rathbone has the chance to show that he has learned how to defend better in Abbotsford and must apply that to the NHL. If he earns Boudreau’s trust, we’ll see him in on the opening night lineup. He’s got the tools to be a decent NHL defenceman.
We all know the Canucks defence as a whole isn’t good but Rathbone can make it slightly better. If the Canucks want playoff hockey this season, Rathbone just can’t make the opening night roster, he has to show he can stick around.