Canucks roster taking shape

Vancouver slims down by another seven players, but the toughest decisions are on the horizon

Monday, 29.09.2008 / 9:41 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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Canucks roster taking shape
In what will certainly be remembered as one of the more intriguing roster battles in recent years for the Vancouver Canucks, casualties were unavoidable and on Monday the team announced another slew of cuts.

In total seven players were re-assigned by the Canucks, four were sent directly to the Manitoba Moose, Vancouver's American Hockey League affiliate, while three were placed on waivers with the purpose of them ending up with the Moose.

Forwards Michael Grabner, Dan Gendur, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and defenceman Daniel Rahimi will all join the Moose later on this week to take part in the remainder of training camp; forwards Jason Jaffray and Mark Cullen and defenceman James Sharrow will have to clear waivers before they can report to Manitoba.

GRABNER A SURPRISE

Of the seven players dispatched from Vancouver, Grabner is certainly the biggest surprise, he had shown promise in two pre-season appearances with the Canucks.

The Austrian born winger scored the game-winner in his NHL debut last Tuesday when Vancouver upended Edmonton and was a +1 with five shots overall.

The 21-year-old, who was fourth in Moose scoring last year with 22 goals and 22 assists in 74 games, isn't quite ready to make the jump to the NHL level, according to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, but he's close.

"When Mike (Gillis) and I met with Michael this morning, it went well in the sense that I think he's matured, he's taken his career into his own hands right now and he definitely understands the commitment as far as coniditioning goes, so we're very pleased with that," said Vigneault following practice on Monday.

Grabner, Vancouver's first round choice, 14th overall, in 2006, was questioned during training camp on how he'd handle returning to Manitoba if he didn't factor into the equation with the Canucks, he responded by saying that another year on the farm could be very beneficial in that it would allow him to further develop his offensive tools.

Coach Vigneault knows that Grabner has the ability to dangle his way to a great season in the AHL, but him doing it with some consistency is what the Canucks needs to see.

"Now he needs to do a very simple thing, he needs to dominate the American League with his strengths. His strengths being that he's an offensive player with great speed and that can put the puck in the net. He did it last year at times, he had some inconsistencies there, this year we expect him to do it and to do it consistently.

"If he does that then we're confident that we're going to have a young man that's going to help us out in the future, whether it be near or down the line as far as helping us with some offensive productions."

GENDUR, LABRIE & RAHIMI

Dan Gendur and P.C. Labrie represented themselves well throughout Canucks rookie and main camps, yet their departures are less than shocking. Gendur, 22, and Labrie, 21, both showed improvement from their time in Vancouver camp last year, Gendur pocketed the game-tying goal that forced overtime in the Canucks' first pre-season win this season, while Labrie recorded an assist in that same game.

Both forwards are young and their styles fit what the Canucks are looking for - Gendur is swift and smart and Labrie is brute and gritty - they simply aren't NHL calibre players yet.

That yet also applies to Rahimi, the 21-year-old made great strides last season as he jumped from the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings to Manitoba and established himself as a menacing blueliner with the Moose.

For all three players it was a matter of fitting into Vancouver's puzzle and they simply aren't the best available players for the Canucks right now.

JAFFRAY, CULLEN & SHARROW

Same goes for Jaffray, Cullen and Sharrow, it was believed to be a long shot for any of these players to be on Vancouver's season opening roster, yet Jaffray and Cullen boast NHL experience, so it's always tough to see players like that sent down.

The competition at camp this season has been intense, so the fact that guys like Jaffray and Cullen are being sent home bodes well for the remaining players and says a lot about their skill levels.

The Canucks now have 34 players remaining on their roster with another round of cuts most likely coming this Saturday, according to Vigneault, as there is still a lot to be determined.

ON THE BUBBLE

Players still on the bubble include Jannik Hansen, Kyle Wellwood and Rick Rypien, among others, with all three skaters having displayed the skills necessary to make waves in the NHL so far this pre-season.

Hansen is on the verge of being in a Canucks sweater for good because of his offensive poise, the 22-year-old is tied for the pre-season lead in scoring for Vancouver with one goal and two assists in two games played.

"It's a matter of putting out your effort and showing the coaching staff that you're here to compete for a job and make sure you play your best every time you're out there," said Hansen. "I feel pretty comfortable this year, the coaching staff has given me a lot of ice time so there's lots of stuff to work with and in all situations so I can't do anything but smile and appreciate it and do my best."

Wellwood, who has also sparked Vancouver's offense with a goal and two assists, has turned heads with his play so far, much to the delight of the Canucks' coaching staff.

"He's in a battle right now as far as an offensive spot on this team with some other players, just like there's a battle going on right now for energy, aggressive hockey players," said Vigneault. "Everybody knows that we would like to get a little more offensive production from some of our forwards and Kyle is in that state right now."

The Toronto product, who came into Canucks camp physically below NHL standards, was re-tested on Monday morning with positive results.

"He tested well, he is now at acceptable NHL standards, which from where he was coming from in the last two months, is remarkable," Vigeault evaluated.

Rick Rypien's name is also being brought up quite a bit regarding Vancouver's strong performances on offense so far this pre-season, he hasn't found the scoreboard but he's tussled twice and picked up 12 penalties minutes while displaying smart toughness that the Canucks lacked last season.

"He brings a lot of energy, he needs obviously to continue that, to continue being stronger on the forecheck, being an instigator on the ice with the way he plays," Vigeault said. "He has areas that he needs to improve, if he's going to kill penalties he has to become really strong on faceoffs, he's got to make sure that he's willing to, which he is, willing to block those shots and find those lanes to do that. He's still a very young man that's got in my mind tremendous upside and we'll let this next week to 10 days unfold and see who we're going to keep.

"We're still evaluating where guys fit in, where they could fit in, for the sole purpose of helping us win games. We're going to keep whether it be 13 or 14 forwards that are going to permit us to win hockey games and right now we still have 19 so we've got to cut between 5 and 6 guys."

The next round of cuts will undoubtedly be the hardest for Vigeault and company, but it appears as if the players they have to choose from are all ready to perform for the Canucks. If they can do so over the next week, they'll likely be doing it once the season starts.




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3 - Pre-season games left for the Canucks

6 - Days until Vancouver's next round of roster cuts

7 - Players re-assigned by the Canucks on Monday

10 - Days until Vancouver's home opener against Calgary

34 - Players remaining on Vancouver's roster