New head coach John Tortorella put new centre Brad Richardson between wingers Chris Higgins (L) and Jannik Hansen (R) and they promptly dominated the Saturday morning scrimmage, scoring four goals during the Vancouver Canucks' training camp. (File photo)
Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER – It's never too early to over-react at Vancouver Canucks' training camp and there is no sense in stopping now.
So here is Saturday's declaration: the hunt for a third-line centre may already be over.
New head coach John Tortorella put new centre Brad Richardson between veteran wingers Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen and they promptly dominated the Saturday morning scrimmage, scoring four goals.
Higgins had three and Richardson the other, the latter's a lovely individual effort in which he cut through the slot traffic and beat goalie hopeful Eddie Lack high to the glove side.
Tortorella didn't fool around with his line combos in the first two scrimmages. The Sedin twins skated with Zack Kassian while Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows were together as well, mostly alongside rookie Hunter Shinkaruk, who appears to be keeping a seat warm for the injured David Booth (ankle).
The defence pairings looked big league, too. Alex Edler skated with Chris Tanev, Jason Garrison with Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis with Frankie Corrado.
So maybe we should put a lot of stock into the Higgins-Richardson-Hansen trio. They all skated well Saturday, they moved the puck well and, of course, they finished against a goalie (Lack) who is supposed to be close to NHL-ready.
Richardson, naturally, emphasized it was far too early to jump to conclusions.
“I know you guys love to do that, I've noticed,” he said with a chuckle “I felt Jannik, Chris and I were reading well off each other but, I mean, it's so early and there is so much to go. You don't want to read too much into it. But it was a fun day. You want to develop chemistry early. It's better to do it now than trying to figure it out during the season.”
Richardson, 28, agreed to a two-year deal with the Canucks worth $2.3 million on the first day of free agency July 5. He wasn't promised the third-line centre position but was given every indication it was available for the taking.
“When I signed, they told me there was a spot there but that they weren't going to give it to me and I would have to earn it,” he said. “Nobody wants to be given anything. You want to earn it. Hopefully, I can do that and just keep moving forward.”
Based on the training camp alignment, Richardson has indeed received the first audition. He'll skate with different linemates on Sunday, though, as Tortorella explained at his Saturday press briefing that he didn't want to get “locked in” before giving other people opportunities.
“I don't want to make too many assessments, good and bad, on our scrimmage games,” Tortorella said. “We need to look at some kids here early on and I need to wait for the exhibition season. I just don't know how it's all going to shake out until that starts happening in a week or so. ”
But four goals by one line in one scrimmage clearly caught his eye.
“Sure, sure,” he continued. “As much as I say I don't want to put opinions (on scrimmages), you certainly look for chemistry as you go through this and, yeah, there were some good things. You write them down and when you're trying to put the lines together when your season starts, or maybe in the middle of the year, you may come back to it. So, sure, we look at that stuff.”
Richardson, originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round in 2003, spent the last five seasons with the L.A. Kings and was part of the team that rolled over the Canucks in the 2012 playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup triumph.
He's always been an energy player but did score big in junior, collecting 41 goals and 97 points in 2004-05 with the OHL's Owen Sound Attack. He doesn't see why he can't contribute some offence for the Canucks. The most he has scored in an NHL season is 14 goals and 27 points.
“At every level, I've put pucks in the net,” he said. “I know I can do it. You just need to be given the opportunity some time. I thought it was a good day today but there is obviously a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Higgins, like Richardson, was reluctant to become overly enthused with one stellar training camp scrimmage but did acknowledge a desire to make a good first impression with Tortorella. He played 55 games for Torts in 2009-10 when both were with the New York Rangers.
“I've had him before but, for everyone else, it's their first time around him and I think when you have a new coach in the organization, for sure you want to start off on the right foot and show you're committed to making this team better,” said Higgins, 30.
It's not hard to imagine Higgins, Hansen and Richardson being a true checking line, even though none of the three is terribly big. They can all motor, though, which is crucial to taking away space from opposing forwards, jumping on the defence and forcing turnovers.
“If it ends up that way, speed is going to become a pretty big component of the line, for sure,” Higgins said. “I've always noticed that Brad Richardson plays with a lot of energy and moves his feet well. Positionally, he's pretty on point so, hopefully, we can keep things going with him.”
Meanwhile, Lack didn't seem terribly disturbed about allowing five goals in Saturday's scrimmage. On paper, he is the No. 2 goalie in the organization despite having never played an NHL game.
“It's just part of training camp, it's going to be up and down,” Lack said with a shrug. “I felt a little bit better and a little bit fresher yesterday. Chris Higgins kind of had my number a little bit today. Maybe he's going to buy me lunch or something.”
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks re-assigned three players Saturday to their junior teams -- defencemen Anton Cederholm (Portland), Miles Liberati (London) and Evan McEneny (Kitchener) -- and released forwards Zach Hall and Kyle Hope... Farmhand Darren Archibald also scored for the Higgins-Hansen-Richardson side in its 5-1 scrimmage victory Saturday. Ryan Kesler netted the lone goal for his team, beating Roberto Luongo with a wrister off the rush... The Canucks will scrimmage again Sunday at 9 a.m. and then open their six-game pre-season schedule Monday night at Rogers Arena against the San Jose Sharks.
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