Andrew Ebbett, Jordan Schroeder battle for vacant centre position
Training camp walk-on Cam Barker hopes he can provide needed mobility on defence
Vancouver Canuck coach Alain Vigneault confirmed Friday what most had already suspected: with Ryan Kesler out indefinitely, the auditions for his second-line centre spot will come down to wily veteran Andrew Ebbett and untested rookie Jordan Schroeder.
At least that’s the way Coach Vee had it down on paper. A Roberto Luongo trade could quickly throw that plan in the ashcan, however.
“It’s an opportunity to be had,” Ebbett, 30, nodded after the Vigneault news was delivered to him following a final pre-camp skate at UBC. “I’ve kind of been playing third and fourth line for the last couple of years so it’s nice to see that window where I can get in and prove myself and help out the team until Ryan gets back.”
Ebbett noted that he and Schroeder are pals after playing the first half of the season with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves. So you can dismiss the notion they’ll be trying to sabotage each other’s equipment in the dead of night.
“We’re in the hotel together, we’re good buddies and we’ve had a lot of fun together this year so it’s not anything like me versus him,” Ebbett said, smiling. “It’s not like we’re not going to talk to each other for the week or something. We both want the job so you just go in there, work hard for that hour-and-a-half each day and show the coach it should be you.”
Ebbett has 163 NHL games on his resume but refused to acknowledge his experience gives him a large leg up on the 22-year-old Schroeder. Neither has any size. Ebbett is listed at 5-9. So is Schroeder, although he seems smaller. Their second-line wingers, at least to start, will be Mason Raymond and David Booth.
“Well, we’ll see this week whether being a veteran helps,” Ebbett replied. “You never really know until you get out there. I mean, what are we going to have, four or five practices until Game 1? So it’s going to be a lot of pressure in those practices for both of us. You have to show some chemistry with David and Mason and, if we get two or three scrimmages, you’ll have your opportunity.”
Schroeder appeared tickled pink that Vigneault announced the two-man showdown for Kesler’s spot and didn’t immediately consign him to a position near the bottom of the depth chart.
“It means a lot,” said Schroeder, the Canucks’ first-round pick in 2009. “You don’t want to make it personal with Andrew but it’s what maybe it comes down to. I respect him as a player. Maybe we’re both competing for that same spot but, hopefully, we can both produce and be effective up here.”
BARKER-VILLE: Defenceman Cam Barker is a go for Canuck camp on a tryout basis. The 26-year-old, picked third overall in the 2004 draft, is looking for work after being jettisoned by the Edmonton Oilers. He wore his Oiler pants and gloves Friday for the final time. Vigneault indicated the team is seeking a puck-mover, rather than a banger, to fill out his blue-line, which is why Jim Vandermeer was not offered the same opportunity as Barker.
“Moving the puck is definitely something that is one of my strong suits and, if that ends up being the case, that’s phenomenal,” said Barker. “I’ve played a lot of games to be ready and I feel good about things.”
Vigneault figures he will have a very motivated defenceman in camp.
“He is a young player, 26 years old, who has gone through a couple of teams,” Vigneault said. “I would suspect there is a tremendous amount of urgency in him to get his career back on track.”
BE A PLAYER: After running Friday’s final pre-camp workout, Manny Malhotra admitted he is pleased to be hanging up his clipboard and all the other administrative duties he held during the lockout. He booked ice time for the boys and attended numerous CBA sessions.
“I don’t want to sound like a dumb jock but it will be nice to come to the rink and just play hockey and not think about anything,” commented Malhotra, 32. “It will be nice to just concentrate on improving your game and focus on playing the game as opposed to trying to organize drills and run somewhat of a practice out there.”
By the way, all the players on the ice Friday at UBC were wearing Canuck practice jerseys. The NHLPA apparel has been put away.
“Souvenirs, I guess,” Malhotra shrugged.
Quipped Kevin Bieksa: “They’ll be kept for the next lockout.”
WINGING IT: Chris Higgins appeared relieved Friday after Vigneault made it clear he would not be tinkering with his lines during camp, which means a left-wing spot for Higgins rather than a shift to centre to fill Kesler’s role. Higgins has played some centre in the past. He and Jannik Hansen will likely flank either Max Lapierre or Malhotra on the third line.
“Like I said, I’m happy to help out wherever, but I prefer wing,” Higgins said. “Wing is the position I’m most familiar with. You play along the boards and it’s a strength of my game. As far as Jannik goes, I just love the way he plays. He is a tenacious forechecker and a smart player and he has a good amount of skill. So I’m always happy to play with a player who has those attributes.”
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