Summer Is Over
| A relaxed-looking Alain Vigneault was all smiles as he met the Vancouver media on Thursday morning at General Motors Place. Friday, however, the reigning National Hockey League Coach of the Year will have his game-face on -- or at least his practice face when he and his coaching staff and team management begin the evaluation process to see what they’ve got in the 25 players they’re taking to the club’s Prospects Camp at Bear Mountain Arena in Victoria.
Vigneault will put the 14 forwards, eight defenceman and three goalies (recent draft picks, players on entry-level contracts and a handful of free agents) through a daily on-ice session that will include plenty of drills, but virtually no game action.
“We’ll probably have some three on three and maybe a couple little four on fours, but there won’t be any scrimmage officially,” said Vigneault as he prepares to begin his second tour of duty behind the Canucks’ bench and his third year with the organization after being promoted from Manitoba.
As Vigneault discussed his plans for the next week, the players that will be trying to impress him were being put through their physicals and a battery of strength and conditioning tests in the training room down the hall at the Garage. Some of the prospects – Luc Bourdon, Alexander Edler and Cory Schneider – are familiar to Vigneault and anyone who has followed the Canucks for the past few years, but many – like Juraj Simek, Daniel Rahimi and Pierre-Cedric Labrie -- are unknown commodities. And that’s one of the things that excites the head coach the most heading to the provincial capital.
“I don’t know all their faces. I know the names. And I’d have to say (of the players that are coming to camp) I’ve only seen probably half of them. For me, it’s fun, it’s great, it’s a chance to see where those kids are, to make assessments on where they are now and project, like scouts do, where they’ll be in the future,” he says.
“This is my third camp with the Canucks and this is the one where there’s the most enthusiasm as far as our prospects and our kids coming in. There seems to be a buzz around our organization right now that we do have some great kids that can play and will help us win in the future.”
Among the players sure to get a close look during the four-days of evaluation on Vancouver Island are forwards Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond and Michael Grabner along with Edler and Bourdon on the blueline and Schneider in goal. Chances are that those players will all be advanced to the Canucks main camp starting September 13th, and the coach says there’s room for more based on their performances in the prospects sessions.
“I would have to guess anywhere from 10 on up (will move on),” he says. “There’s some easy picks. But obviously if players in these next four days show that they deserve to come to the main camp, they will.”
With the on-ice sessions at prospects camp taking place each morning, that leaves the rest of the day for the Canucks brass to compare notes on the players who’ve separated themselves from the pack – for the right reasons or otherwise. And a couple of times during the stay on Vancouver Island, the club’s brain trust will gather to see what it’s got.
“We’ll probably do an informal setting once or twice during the week and a more formal one that Dave is going to run and get everybody’s opinion from scouts to management to all the coaches that are there,” says Vigneault. “If any young player comes in and deserves to stay with the Canucks because he makes us a better team and helps us win more game, it’s a happy problem that we have. Then what we have to do is make room for him. If that’s the case, I’m sure that’s what Dave will do. But obviously making the step to the NHL is not an easy one. Training camp is just the first part, but it’s an opportunity for all these young men to come in and show what they can do.”
Once his players hit the ice, it shouldn’t take Alain Vigneault long to figure out how much young talent the Vancouver Canucks have. And we’ll see if that smile that was so prominent on Thursday remains throughout Prospects Camp.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com
25 - Canucks Prospects attending rookie camp at Bear Mountain
19 - North American skaters
6 - Europeans
3 - First round picks
"It was hard to sleep last night, it's my first NHL camp, I just wanted to get the first day and all the testing over with.” - 2007 draft pick Taylor Ellington
“I didn't sleep the best to tell you the truth. I was a bit nervous about today. I got down here early this morning and just got ready for testing.” – Mason Raymond on his first NHL camp