VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks' 13th forward may in fact be a defenceman.
When the team declares its 23-man opening-night roster later Friday, don't be surprised if Jim Vandermeer sticks with the Canucks and it won't be because of his dazzling speed or deadly accurate wrist shot.
The Canucks like Vandermeer's toughness, more specifically his willingness and ability to fight, and figure he could fill in at forward while providing depth on defence. The idea of having a guy they can insert into the lineup against teams that might want to try and push them around appeals to the Canucks and head coach Alain Vigneault.
Vandermeer is happy to be that guy, even if it means skating on the wing.
"I'd obviously prefer not to, but if it's going to help me have a job and be part of this team, I'm going to do it," he said Thursday.
Not coincidentally, Vigneault planned to have Vandermeer skate on left wing at Thursday night's scrimmage at Rogers Arena.
Growing up in a houseful of brothers, the fisticuffs started early for Vandermeer.
"It's something I have done for a long time," he said. "It's something I grew up with. I grew up with five brothers and we were always trying to beat the crap out of each other. I have that protector instinct, I guess, and try to take care of the boys. I don't mind doing it. I'm not that bad at it. It's part of the gig."
Last season in San Jose, Vandermeer played 15 of his 25 games with the Sharks on the wing.
"Just call me a rover, I guess," he said with a smile. "My first year in junior I was actually a forward. In Calgary, when we'd be down by a goal and the team wasn't playing very good (coach Mike) Keenan would put me up on the wing and I'd either fight or go get a good forecheck and try to change the momentum of a game."
Vigneault didn't come right out and say it, but having Vandermeer available to fill that role here has some appeal.
"He's got an identity of a physical presence on the ice whether it be on defence or up front," Vigneault said.
Traditionally, the Canucks have kept 13 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders to fill out their 23-man roster. But Vigneault acknowledged it is a possibility that the team could keep nine defencemen. Under such a scenario, Vandermeer would probably see more ice time as a forward than on defence.
"They know that I am capable of doing it, so it has been mentioned, but it all depends on how everybody is playing, how everybody is feeling, if there's any injuries, how I am playing on the back end," he said. "Who really knows? It's kind of a wait and see kind of thing."
The Canucks are the seventh NHL team for the 32-year-old Vandermeer, who signed a two-way contract with Vancouver earlier this week. In 451 NHL games, he has collected 664 penalty minutes.
There is a feeling in some circles that the Canucks were a team that could be pushed around in certain situations. Asked about that reputation, Vandermeer didn't disagree.
"Well, you know, it is more of a skill team and when push comes to shove in the past there hasn't been much of a push-back," he said of the Canucks. "Sure, you can hit hard and stuff like that, but I think the intimidation factor wasn't really there."
Vandermeer's chances of sticking with the Canucks seem to be helped by the fact that rookie Jordan Schroeder is unlikely to remain with the team unless he beats out veteran Andrew Ebbett for the temporary vacancy at centre. Vigneault indicated this week he doesn't like the idea of keeping young players on the roster and then not playing them.
"I think players need to play," Vigneault said. "Especially younger players. A guy 22, 23, 24 that's still real young."
Last season with the Sharks, Vandermeer said he found himself playing both wings.
"Kind of all over the place," he said. "It depended on wherever they needed me. Sometimes played left, sometimes played right."
"Eventually I got comfortable, the first couple of games it wasn't quite as natural, you have to think and be aware of where you are and what you are supposed to be doing. Like anything, you do it a couple of times it becomes second nature."
Just like dropping the gloves.
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