Iain MacIntyre: Baertschi accepts added pressure to produce for Canucks

 

Tough transition: It will take superb skating, an extra gear plus courage in greasy areas for small forwardto rise and shine

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) is pressured by Calgary Flames #23 Sean Monahan ( L ) in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) is pressured by Calgary Flames #23 Sean Monahan ( L ) in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

More on This Story

 

When it comes to scoring in the National Hockey League, many are called, few are chosen.

It’s far easier to establish a foothold in the league from the fourth line than the second. It’s easier to get hits and provide energy on the fourth line, then build your career from there, than enter on the second line and get goals and points under pressure.

Just look at the Vancouver Canucks. Since Danny and Hank Sedin were rookies 15 years ago, how many young forward prospects do you think have been plunked into the top three lines in Vancouver at the start of their NHL careers and actually stayed there?

Two, maybe. Cody Hodgson and Mason Raymond, and neither of them is getting his name on the wall of fame.

Think about it. Most scorers, before and after the Sedins, have come to the Canucks from other NHL organizations.

Among top-nine regulars the Canucks actually developed, Matt Cooke, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Bo Horvat all started on the fourth line with little or no offensive pressure, and moved up from there.

Now think of the draft picks or minor-league prospects who have failed in Vancouver the last 15 years when given the chance, however briefly, to seize an offensive role: Jordan Schroeder, Sergei Shirokov, Ryan Shannon, Jason Jaffray, Jason King, Brandon Reid, Josh Holden, among others.

Granted, the Canucks have done a pretty pitiful job of drafting and developing most of this time. But it’s startling how few offensive players Vancouver has incubated and succeeded in transporting to the NHL.

Which brings us to Sven Baertschi, the latest to try jumping from the Canucks’ minor-league team into an offensive role in the NHL.

He started the Canucks’ first four games on the second line. Friday, in Game 5 of the regular season, he sat in the press box as a healthy scratch and watched his team play the St. Louis Blues.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning surrendered a second-round draft pick to acquire Baertschi from the Calgary Flames in March, and in the three months that followed the Swiss winger was the best offensive player on Vancouver’s farm team in Utica, N.Y.

Baertschi turned 23 on Oct. 5. Turning into an NHL scorer is going to be harder.

“Yeah, but that’s what I always wanted, you know?” Baertschi said of the pressure to produce. “I think that’s what everybody wants — to be in the position where guys rely on you to perform offensively and put up points. That’s what I chose to do, and that’s what’s natural to me. Obviously, it comes with pressure. But I’ve been able to do it in a lot of places and I think I’ll be able to do it here, too. As soon as I find the groove, that good feeling, my game is going to take off.”

Canucks coach Willie Desjardins agreed that it’s harder to start in the NHL in an offensive role than a checking one.

“I believe it’s a lot harder,” Desjardins said. “I just think it’s a different dynamic. And I think it’s the hardest because you can lose confidence in your game when you’re not getting those results. Defence is just a lot of hard work and battling and it seems that’s more in your control. I think it was a little easier for Bo the way he came in (on the fourth line) and built his game. Saying that, he still did it. I think for McCann and Baertschi, it’s a little bit tougher to do.”

Jared McCann, a 19-year-old straight out of junior, was back in the lineup Friday as the third-line centre after sitting out Tuesday’s 3-0 win in Los Angeles.

But McCann, apart from possessing a gritty component to his game that might allow him to play on the fourth line, doesn’t have to make it this year. He can return to junior if he isn’t scoring in the NHL this fall. Baertschi can’t return to the American Hockey League without waivers, and the Canucks aren’t anywhere close to risking losing him.

So Baertschi, who has one assist and seven shots in four games, must figure things out here.

“I think if you want to score, you have to get into those (tough) areas,” Desjardins said. “If you just stay on the outside, you don’t score as much. So I think he has to look to come into those areas. But I think that’s true for every player.”

“I agree,” Baertschi said. “I think I can hang around the net a bit more, I think. You get beat up, but that’s where you score goals. That’s where I’ve got to go. At times, I’ve got to simplify my game and go with some easier plays.”

Mostly, Baertschi has to skate like he did at the end of last season. Even considering the steep step up to NHL pace, the winger hasn’t found the top gear that allows him to find space behind and between defenders. He is a 5-11, 189-pound playmaker without a physical element to his game. Baertschi won’t succeed in the NHL as an average skater.

“I think I have another stride to pick up somewhere,” he said. “In practices, I feel great. My skating has been really good, better than the last few years. Faster. Stronger. But I’ve got to bring that into the games somehow. To really get involved in the game, you have to get your legs going. I think I’ve got another gear there I can bring into my game. And my whole game is going to accelerate once I get going.”

imacintyre@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) is pressured by Calgary Flames #23 Sean Monahan ( L ) in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.
 

Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) is pressured by Calgary Flames #23 Sean Monahan ( L ) in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

 
Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) is pressured by Calgary Flames #23 Sean Monahan ( L ) in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.
Vancouver Canucks #47 Sven Baertschi ( R ) and Calgary Flames #24 Jiri Hudler ( L ) look for the puck in the first period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena Vancouver October 10 2015. The game was the 2015/2016 home opener for the Canucks.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice