Canucks youngsters running out of time to make an impression
‘I thought some of them look tired,’ coach John Tortorella says of top prospects in pre-season loss to Oilers
NHL 2012 first-round draft pick Brendan Gaunce (right) seems to have made the best impression out of all of their top prospects on the Canucks coaching staff so far this pre-season, scoring two of their three pre-season goals and showing some versatility by skating on the wing in addition to his normal centre role.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG
VANCOUVER — So far, the kids have only been all right and that must change in the next two pre-season games if any of them are going to crack the Vancouver Canucks’ regular-season roster.
Youngsters like Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce and Nicklas Jensen are running out of auditions.
Saturday night’s pre-season game in Edmonton (7 p.m. Pacific, CBC, Team 1040) and Monday night’s home date against the Phoenix Coyotes (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040) could be their final opportunities to make an impression.
Head coach John Tortorella has said he wants to use the final two pre-season games later next week as regular-season warmups for the players that will be on the final roster.
Tortorella said Friday most of the kids will play in Edmonton. He also suggested he was not overly impressed with many of them in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Oilers at Rogers Arena.
“I thought some of them looked tired,” Tortorella said.
Gaunce, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2012, seems to be making the best impression so far. He has scored two of the three goals the Canucks have managed in their two pre-season games to date.
“I thought Gaunce was probably one of our better ones, not just because he scored a goal (on Wednesday),” Tortorella said. “After watching the tape, he did a lot of good things.”
For his part, Gaunce isn’t letting himself get too excited about what has been a positive start to the pre-season.
“A goal is just another little play on the ice that helps your cause and helps your own confidence,” the 19-year-old said.
Gaunce simply won’t allow himself to look too far ahead.
“I had to worry about this morning when I got up this morning, I’ll worry about tomorrow when I get up tomorrow. You can’t look ahead to the future because there might not be a future. You have to worry about every day.”
Although listed as a centre, Gaunce has been playing some on left wing at camp and that versatility can only help his chances. Late last season, he spent considerable time playing left wing for his junior team in Belleville.
“I spent about 25 or 30 games on the wing last year,” he said.
Jensen, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2011, had a terrific rookie camp in Penticton, but has not shown particularly well at main camp. He did not manage a shot on goal in either of the first two pre-season games.
“I think it’s been okay,” Jensen said of his camp. “But I am not too satisfied with it.
This next game is important, especially for us young guys. We need to prove now that we can step up and do better and get more out of ourselves.”
Tortorella has said on several occasions that he hopes a couple of the youngsters crack the roster, but he needs those players to serve notice they are ready.
In Jensen’s case, that has not yet happened.
“Up and down,” was Tortorella’s assessment of Jensen. “I have heard a lot of good things about him, he’s done some good things and there have been some struggles just like any kid goes through, so we’ll keep evaluating him.”
Truth be told, there simply doesn’t appear to be many spots available for that injection of youth. When David Booth didn’t participate in the start of camp, that created a possible opening for a player like Shinkaruk. But Booth is back and will play Saturday in Edmonton, likely alongside Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.
There’s competition for the third- and fourth-line centre positions, but free agent signee Brad Richardson is going to get one of them. If Gaunce sticks, he likely has to beat out either Jordan Schroeder, who has a one-way contract, or Mike Santorelli, who has also had a strong camp.
On defence, 20-year-old Frank Corrado has shown well and is battling with Andrew Alberts and Yannick Weber for the No. 6 spot.
Schroeder will see his first pre-season action Saturday in Edmonton, along with Chris Higgins and defenceman Alex Edler. Schroeder said he expects to skate on a line with Higgins and Jannik Hansen.
“It will be good to get in some games and show them what I can do,” Schroeder said.
After watching the first two pre-season games from the press box area, Tortorella will make his first appearance behind the Vancouver bench Saturday in Edmonton.
He agreed the next two games are critical ones for players on the bubble.
“Yeah, for the guys who are going to play in these games, sure it is,” he said. “And again, it’s not just winning spots, it’s also where they are placed in our mind within the organization period. So the next couple of games, the kids will be in and we’ll keep on evaluating.”
Tortorella acknowledged he wasn’t pleased with the start of Wednesday night’s game against the Oilers, when the Canucks fell behind 4-0 early, He stressed, however, that he’s not concerned too much about wins and losses right now.
“Quite honestly, I really don’t care about the standings in the exhibition season,” he said.
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