With hundreds of local hockey fans in attendance, the Vancouver Canucks kicked off their pre-season with a three-day training camp at Whistler’s Meadow Park Sports Centre from Thursday, Sept. 22 to Saturday, Sept. 24.
The 60 players in attendance were split into three groups, with each participating in a roughly hour-long practice each day followed by an inter-squad scrimmage, as well as plenty of time in between spent interacting with fans and signing autographs.
On top of seeing their hockey heroes up close, some lucky local kids like Ronin Kester and Logan and Peyton Hoverd, among others, got the chance of a lifetime to skate on the same ice as some current NHLers as well as Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“Amazing. Amazing,” said Logan. “I’ve watched them for a bit, so it was cool seeing them. We did a few passing drills and skating, and then we did some rotation drills and then at the end we got to play a game with them, which was cool.”
For Peyton, the highlight of the weekend was collecting signatures from all the players who they were able to skate with.
Meanwhile, Kester walked away with an extra special souvenir when Vasili Podkolzin gave him his stick at the end of practice.
“It was really cool,” he said, still beaming with excitement from the experience.
YOUNG GUNS LOOK TO IMPRESS
With only unofficial individual and group skates before it, the Whistler training camp offered the first opportunity for young players and new additions to impress the Canucks coaching staff ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Of the many storylines to follow throughout the pre-season, and across all the players looking to make a strong impression early in the year, it was 2019 second round draft pick Nils Hoglander who had head coach Bruce Boudreau’s attention after Day 2 of camp.
“I was going to say, let me talk about Hogs, because I think he is the best player on the ice right now,” said Boudreau. “He looks so much faster than he did last year, determination, he’s definitely ready. I think last year was a little bit of a setback for him, he doesn’t want it to happen again.”
After a promising rookie season in 2020-21 that saw him finish the year with 27 points in 56 games, the sophomore season didn’t go quite as planned for Hoglander, who struggled to find consistency and ended up with just 18 points in 60 games before his season was shut down by a groin injury that required surgery.
Now fully healthy, Hoglander has his sights set on forcing his way into a roster spot again this year and taking his game to the next level.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be a real tough spot to take, but I’m excited for it. I feel really good … so I’m ready for this camp,” he said. “[I just have to] show what I can do. My first year and half of the second, I think I played really good, so just keep going from there. I know what I have to work on, and now I just go out there and play the way I know I can.”
Other standouts from training camp in Whistler included new signings Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko. It was Mikheyev’s blazing speed and Kuzmenko’s heavy shot—which he used to score several goals during the group ice times to the delight of the fans in attendance—while playing on a line with Elias Petterson, which had some of the team’s veteran defensemen on notice.
“The first thing you notice with [Mikheyev] is his speed, and when you look at [Kuzmenko], for me, I think the shot is the first thing I’ve noticed,” said Tyler Myers. “But you can tell both are going to be very effective players for us this year. Really good additions to the team, going to provide a lot of depth for us and makes it that much more exciting starting up.”
While the younger players are hoping to impress the coaches enough to get a spot on the opening night roster, veteran players, whose jobs are secured, often use training camp more for getting their legs under them and getting ready for the regular season in October.
But that’s not the case for 10-year NHL veteran Danny Dekeyser, who, after spending his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings, now finds himself on a professional try-out with the Canucks.
“I think you see it a lot nowadays, especially with how the [salary] cap is, and everybody being so tight against it, sometimes guys get squeezed out and you‘ve got to try to grab your opportunity or a chance when you can,” said Dekeyser, who chose Vancouver because of the potential fit he saw here for his defensive-style game.
“I’m just here to grab a spot if I can and play as hard as I can, so for me that’s to be responsible defensively, move the puck out of the zone as quick as I can and help out on the PK. I’ve been playing on the penalty kill my whole career, so that’s something that I’m comfortable doing and I feel like it kind of comes natural to me, so that’s where I think I can help out.”
One promising sign for Dekeyser is being paired with fellow veteran defenseman Myers throughout camp, something Boudreau said he does on purpose to give NHL guys a fair chance to show what they can do while playing with other experienced players.
With camp ending Saturday, the Canucks opened up their pre-season schedule the following day with half the players travelling to Calgary and half staying in Vancouver for split-squad games against the Flames.
The Canucks take the ice again Thursday, Sept. 29 when they face the Seattle Kraken at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The regular season kicks off for the Canucks on Oct. 12 against the Oilers in Edmonton.