Reality may check youth plan
Rogers arena: Canucks determined to get younger, but kids may not be ready to play
In a perfect world, Zack Kassian would step on to a first line with the Sedins and give the team the 25 goals and 55 points they've come to expect from that spot.
Brendan Gaunce, meanwhile, would establish himself as a bigbody presence on the third line and be a solid contributor throughout the season. Nicklas Jensen, for his part, would make the team and start developing along the lines of a Jannik Hansen. And while we're dreaming, Hunter Shinkaruk would emerge as a Calder Trophy candidate on the second line, while Bo Horvat - returned to London, Ont. - leads Canada to a gold medal at the World Juniors and the Knights to a Memorial Cup.
That, at least, is the dream for the Canucks. As for the reality, well, if one or two of those things come to fruition, they should consider themselves fortunate. The Canucks are committed to getting younger this year. That's the easy part. The hard part is getting kids who are barely old enough to vote to contribute in the toughest league in the world.
"You hope it's a long audition," said Shinkaruk, the personable 18-yearold from Calgary shortly after the Canucks dropped a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. "Obviously you don't know what the coaching staff is thinking. But every day you're trying to prove you belong here. Every game is big."
Big for these players. And big for the organization.
Under ordinary circumstances, the second pre-season game shouldn't engender a heightened level of scrutiny but, as new coach John Tortorella has said, these aren't ordinary circumstances for the Canucks. They want to get younger. They believe
they have kids who are ready to step into key roles on their team. And they've been given every opportunity to show they belong.
The results? As you might have guessed, they're inconclusive. But it's also fair to say not one of the kids has separated themselves from the pack and you'd hoped that would have started by now.
Kassian, the 22-year-old man child, is auditioning for the plumb role alongside the Sedins and Wednesday night he was like a lot of his teammates: OK in flashes but no sustained brilliance. He finished minus-two and with one shot on goal. He had an impact on the power play but it went 0-for-2. It was a similar story for the Canucks' other prospects. Shinkaruk
and Horvat played on what amounted to a second line with Hansen and produced a couple of chances, most notably when Horvat put Hansen in cold in the second period. But they didn't hit the scoresheet after Shinkaruk scored a spectacular goal against the Sharks on Monday night.
He was asked how he felt about his game. "OK," he said.
He was asked if OK is good enough for someone in his spot.
"No, not at all," he said. "If I want to make this team I have to be great every single night. I'm trying to give them as little reason as possible to send me back."
Gaunce scored the loan Canucks' goal, his second of the pre-season, and has been a steady presence in a third-line role. As for Jensen, suffice to say it was a forgettable night.
Again, you don't want to judge a kid too harshly on one night but the plain fact is the Canucks only have four more pre-season games left and those will go a long way toward answering some big questions for the team.
Tortorella, meanwhile, has said he won't force any of the youngsters into his lineup and therein lies a tale. Five years ago, the Canucks opted to base their player-development policy on the Detroit Red Wings' template. The plan was to assemble a group of prospects, develop them within the organization and promote them to the NHL club only when they were ready.
The Wings, of course, had done it for years, refreshing their lineup with a seemingly endless supply of youngsters and making it look easy. Turns out it wasn't that easy. Cody Hodgson was the crown jewel for a couple of years but he had a falling out with the organization and was traded for Kassian. Yann Sauve never panned out. Anton Rodin was a bust. A first-rounder went to Florida in the Keith Ballard trade.
Add it all up and the drafts from 2008 to 2010 didn't have the desired effect and those are the players who should be pushing for spots now.
Given their credentials, it's hard to see the same thing happening with the current group. But these things also take time, even in a perfect world.
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