There’s an old joke about how to make a statue of an elephant. All you need to do is get a big block of granite and chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.
The same could be said of creating an NHL roster. The Vancouver Canucks started training camp with 54 players and have been chipping away everything that doesn’t look like their opening night roster.
The first cut sent a massive hunk of granite crashing to the ground, as 16 players were sent to the Abbotsford Canucks or their junior clubs. The next couple of cuts have been a little smaller, as the team sent Danila Klimovich to Abbotsford and waived Jonah Gadjovich and saw him get claimed by the San Jose Sharks.
Now the Canucks have chipped away two more players, neither of which had much of a chance of making the opening night roster. One of them, however, could see some significant time in Vancouver depending on the circumstances.
Prospect goaltender Mikey DiPietro was sent to Abbotsford, while veteran forward Sheldon Dries was placed on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to Abbotsford.
Call him Mike, Michael, or Mikey: just call him up to the NHL
DiPietro has long gone by Mikey, but made it clear to reporters that if they wanted to call him “Mike” or “Michael,” it doesn’t bother him in the slightest. Some reporters felt like “Mikey” was a childish nickname, but let’s keep in mind that some of the best players in NHL history have gone by “Bobby” instead of “Robert.”
With the newly-extended Thatcher Demko and veteran backup Jaroslav Halak ahead of him, the odds of DiPietro making the Canucks out of camp were longer than a flight from Utica to Vancouver. That didn’t dissuade DiPietro from entering camp with the mindset of making the team.
“My goal is to make the Vancouver Canucks,” said DiPietro during the offseason. “My goal is to make it extremely hard for them to send me down.”
He was a little more philosophical in the midst of training camp, reflecting on a difficult year where he barely got any playing time at all.
“I’ll just take it day-by-day. Sometimes, when you have plans, things happen,” said DiPietro. “That’s what this past year has taught me, to just kind of enjoy the moment.”
DiPietro looked fantastic right from the start of rookie camp, which he attended solely to provide an extra goaltender. He did his best to squash the spirit of the Canucks’ rookie forwards, making stunning saves to ensure there were no easy goals.
“If you like getting scored on as a goalie, there’s something wrong,” said DiPietro with a grin when asked about his competitive nature in practices. “It’s just who I am...I think it’s a good thing when you bring it in practice because that translates it into the games.”
It definitely translated. DiPietro was in fine form in his two preseason appearances, making 32 saves on 35 total shots for a .914 save percentage. His style is a fascinating combination of calm, positionally sound saves and acrobatic desperation.
DiPietro has always had that athleticism and the competitiveness to use that athleticism to keep the puck out of the net in any way possible. Now he has a firmer foundation for that athleticism. Some of his most impressive saves were the ones he made look the easiest.
DiPietro will head to Abbotsford, where he’ll be expected to start a lot — and I mean, a lot — of games for the AHL Canucks.
Of course, he’s also just an injury away from being in the NHL. If either Demko or Halak is unavailable at any point this season, DiPietro will be a short drive down Highway 1 from Vancouver.
Opportunity dries up: Sheldon Dries on waivers
Sheldon Dries had a chance to make the Canucks out of camp but it was a slim one. With Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte injured, there was a clear opening on the fourth line and Dries could have challenged for one of those spots with his experience at both centre and on the wing.
The 5’9” Dries does have NHL experience. He played 40 games for the Colorado Avalanche in the 2018-19 season but only 8 games in two subsequent seasons as the Avalanche’s improved forward depth pushed him down to the AHL.
Dries got a solid shot in the preseason, appearing in four preseason games. He just never did enough to get noticed.
It doesn’t help that the Canucks seem intent on playing J.T. Miller at centre, pushing Jason Dickinson down to centre the fourth line. With the versatile Justin Dowling seeming to earn a spot on the fourth line and bigger players like Justin Bailey and Zack MacEwen also pushing for a spot, there was no room for Dries.
Dries will be a welcome addition to Abbotsford. He plays a high-energy game and can put up points at the AHL level, including 21 goals in 50 games in the 2019-20 season. It’s not out of the question that he’ll earn a call-up to Vancouver but he’ll have a lot of competition if a spot opens up due to injury.