VANCOUVER - Once an elite prospect, defenceman Cam Barker has become something of a hockey vagabond the last few years, drifting from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Minnesota Wild and then Edmonton Oilers in the space of three seasons.
You remember Barker? He was the third overall pick by Chicago in the 2004 NHL entry draft and the first blueliner taken after forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. At that spot, you're not supposed to miss. But it never happened for Barker and now, at 26, he's unemployed and seeking a tryout contract, maybe with the Vancouver Canucks.
Barker certainly sent suspicious minds into overdrive Wednesday when he appeared at UBC to skate with most of the Canuck team. He was also conspicuous wearing Oiler blue and orange among a sea of Canuck blue and green.
Barker claimed he was just a dude looking for somewhere to skate. He most recently played for Canada -- and won gold -- at the Spengler Cup. Prior to that, he had a 23-game stint with the AHL's Texas Stars.
“My agent is talking to teams right now but I live in Penticton and there are not a lot of guys around there to skate with so I thought I'd come here,” Barker said. “Today was great.”
What would be even greater, he admitted, was to receive a training camp invite by the Canucks and then make the team as a depth defenceman. Barring injury or trades, the top seven appear to be spoken for with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Jason Garrison forming the first two pairings and then Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts settling out the final three.
Fellow free-agent Jim Vandermeer, who has been skating at UBC throughout the lockout, is also seeking an opportunity while Chicago Wolves callup Kevin Connauton appears to be in the mix as well. One may make it, the others (if signed) could be nothing more than training camp bodies.
“Obviously I'd love to play for the Canucks and I'd be grateful for the opportunity,” said Barker, listed at 6-3 and 222 pounds. “If that was the case that would be amazing. As everybody knows, it's a great organization and great team.”
According to Barker, injuries played a large part in his disappointing stints with the Wild and Oilers.
“I battled a back injury in Minny and the ankle injury last year in Edmonton was tough,” he explained. “It's really tough to play the way you want, or are capable of, but it was a great rehab in Edmonton and I had a great summer. I've played games this year and felt great. I am confident about my game right now.”
Vandermeer, 32, is married to a Vancouver woman and has been living in Gastown during the lockout. Like Barker, he has his agent exploring various tryout opportunities.
“We talked to the Canucks a couple of times but we've talked to other teams, too,” Vandermeer explained. “We're talking to everybody possible. We'll weigh the options and go from there. Absolutely I'd be happy to stay in Vancouver. It's one of the reasons we hung around this summer.”
Vandermeer dressed 25 times last season for the San Jose Sharks and has also suited up for the Flyers, Blackhawks, Flames, Coyotes and Oilers in his 461 NHL games. He has 105 points, 25 of those goals.
Connauton, meanwhile, doesn't have to fret about a deal, he just has to fret about performing. His numbers with the Chicago Wolves this season are hardly noteworthy: nine points in 31 games and a minus-12. He's in his third American League season after finishing his junior career as a Vancouver Giant.
“I'm glad my name was one they thought of among a group of guys to come up,” said Connauton, 22. “It's up to me now to prove what I can do, fight for that spot and take advantage of the opportunity. I think I've prepared myself over the last couple of years. My mentality is I want to stay here and that's what I'm going to be trying to do.”
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