It's all beginning again...

With the Canucks prospects camp beginning Saturday, the hockey season is inevitably here and the season really begins.

Friday, 12.09.2008 / 9:22 AM / Features
By Jeff Paterson
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It\'s all beginning again...
At last – at long last – hockey season is here again. And while it’s only the start of Canucks prospects camp, it’s undeniably hockey season.

For a city that has spent most of the summer consumed by Mats Sundin speculation, the start of this weekend’s workouts at the University of British Columbia finally allows Canuck Nation to focus on a group of guys who are quite certain they want to play hockey for a living.

The events of this weekend won’t answer the many questions about what the 2008 Vancouver Canucks will look like when they start playing for keeps early next month.

But the three-day camp along with rookie games against Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames hopefuls should provide management, coaches, media and fans alike a glimpse into the future of the hockey club.

INSIDE THE BOX
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

E-mail him at jeff.paterson@team1040.ca
With so much turnover at so many levels of the organization this off-season, the prospects camp will provide many of the Canuck decision-makers with a first glance at what the club has on the farm and in the junior ranks in terms of young talent.

To Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman, most of the prospects are only names on paper at this point. This weekend will allow them to see for themselves what some of the team’s top hopefuls are truly capable of.

For Alain Vigneault, who has enough on his plate during the season to be able to keep close tabs on young players in Canucks’ system, the prospects camp is a chance to see how far a number of players have progressed since he saw them a year ago. He will also have an opportunity to assess which of the 22 players deserve an invitation to the Canucks main camp.

2006 first rounder Michael Grabner should standout at a camp like this one. He’s been through the grind of prospects camp a couple of times now and knows the drill. He also knows what’s expected of him and has been in Vancouver for much of the summer training hard to be ready for the start of camp.

In today’s National Hockey League, successful teams are getting significant contributions from talented young players and theCanucks are hoping that Grabner can push for a job on the big club after leading the Manitoba Moose with 22 goals in his first full season as a professional last year in Winnipeg.

Like Grabner, Cory Schneider adjusted to life as a pro by spending all of last season with Manitoba. After a slow start on the farm, he came into his own after Christmas last year and showed the form that made him a first round draft pick in 2004.

While Schneider is slated to spend the bulk of the year on the farm proving he can be a go-to-guy night in and night out, this should also be the year he gets a chance to make his NHL debut.

Injuries are part of the game and while the Canucks don’t want to entertain the notion of something happening to Roberto Luongo, should one of the team’s top two netminders get banged-up, Schneider has to be ready to answer the call he’s been waiting for.

Much attention this weekend will be focussed on Cody Hodgson and Yann Sauve – the Canucks top two picks in June’s entry draft.

While management has suggested that Hodgson will be given every opportunity to play his way on to the big club, he’d have to be considered a long shot at this point. But turning heads at this weekend’s prospects camp would be a great way for Hodgson to introduce himself to the city and the organization.

Among others to keep an eye on over the next week, big winger Pierre-Cedric Labrie who’s going to have to provide some muscle in those games against the Oilers and Flames rookies.

Juraj Simek is two years removed from a 28-goal season with Brandon in the Western Hockey League, but managed just seven goals in Manitoba last year.

And at 25, hulking defenseman Travis Ramsey -- 6’4” and 225 pounds -- is the oldest of the Canucks prospects. The Lakewood, California native joined the Manitoba Moose late last season after four years at the University of Maine and got into seven games late in the American Hockey League season.

With next week’s main camp being just two days long, players won’t have much of a chance to make a statement in Whistler. That’s why this prospects camp and the rookie games that follow should be a terrific opportunity for the youngest and least-experienced members of the Canucks organization to step up and show what they’ve got.

The Canuck prospects are on the ice between 10 and noon on Saturday and Sunday and from 11-11:45am on Monday at Thunderbird Arena. All workouts are open to the public free of charge.