The Vancouver Canucks wrapped up their three-day training camp on Saturday in front of their biggest crowd to date at the Abbotsford Centre.
The preseason begins on Sunday in Spokane, WA, which is when the real evaluations will begin in earnest, but some players gave themselves a leg up heading into the preseason, while others placed themselves on shakier ground.
Let’s hit a few stories from the last day of training camp.
The impressive Danila Klimovich
On Wednesday, head coach Travis Green offered up Danila Klimovich as a player who has surprised him at training camp. Day three, Klimovich showed he had a few more surprises up his sleeve.
Klimovich’s hands are exceptional, as he pulled off some NHL-caliber moves in drills and in the mid-practice scrimmage.
Klimovich has definitely turned some heads at camp, leaving some to wonder if the QMJHL — his expected destination — is the right place for him to play this season. Klimovich is eligible to play in the AHL this season and there’s something to be said for having the big Belarusian close by in Abbotsford to oversee his development.
He certainly doesn’t lack confidence and he’s been playing against men in Belarus, so maybe he can handle the AHL. Keep in mind, this is the kid who, when asked about his shot, said, ““I'm trying to compare myself in the future with Kucherov and Ovechkin.”
Juolevi is in trouble
At the other end of the spectrum is Olli Juolevi, whose training camp left him gasping for breath and potentially on the outside looking in when the season starts. The book is far from closed for Juolevi — preseason games will offer a better opportunity for evaluation — but there’s a sense that it might be time to turn the page.
“I don’t think he did himself any favours,” said Green on Saturday about Juolevi’s training camp, particularly in the day one bag skate. “There’s a battle going on for that spot. He’s been through it before, I would have expected him to do better than he did in the skate.”
With Jack Rathbone looking very good at camp and Brad Hunt presenting himself as a reliable, low-maintenance veteran option for the left side on defence, no one else will do Juolevi any favours.
Bo Horvat certainly didn’t in the scrimmage, blowing past the young defenceman with a slick spinorama.
Boeser giving Höglander the gears
Two players who have been joined at the hip at camp are Nils Höglander and Brock Boeser. They’ve been on a line with Nic Petan for drills and scrimmages and it seems like they’re interested in seeing if those two can gel as a duo.
“Me and Högs played together a little last year and I thought we had pretty good chemistry,” said Boeser. “He works extremely hard and you see how good he is down low with the puck. When I see him doing all those loops in the offensive zone, I'm just trying to get open in a shooting spot.”
It’s easy to see how comfortable Boeser is with Höglander, as the more experienced winger has started joking around with him more and more.
“He kind of knows our systems now, so he's familiar and he's not messing up drills, so that's pretty big for Hogs,” said Boeser with an impish grin. “I guess that's probably the biggest difference is he's not making us go again.”
With Sutter out, Miller could wind up at centre
Petan at centre between Boeser and Höglander seems like a clear placeholder for Elias Pettersson, who remains unsigned with the preseason beginning. That means Höglander could start the season on the top line instead of J.T. Miller.
Part of the reason for that is the uncertain status of Brandon Sutter, who has been held out of training camp with what Benning described as “fatigue.” Sutter was one of the two dozen Canucks struck by COVID-19 during their outbreak last season and fatigue can be a long-term consequence of COVID-19 but the Canucks have not confirmed anything about Sutter’s status.
Three other Canucks — Tyler Motte, Carson Focht, and Guillaume Brisebois — have skated separately after the rest of the group at camp. Sutter has not joined them on the ice.
Meanwhile, Miller has skated at centre all camp, with Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin on his wings.
“Right now, it’s obvious with Petey not being here that we’ll put Miller in the middle,” said Green. “I think he’s just a good player in both spots...I think last year was a bit of a learning experience for Miller playing a lot of centre, he hadn’t played it a ton in the past.
“With a player of that caliber, his second year if we did decide to play him at centre, I think he’d be even better in the positiono in certain areas of the game.”
With Sutter up in the air, Miller could end up at centre even if Pettersson signed before the start of the season. His line with Garland and Podkolzin has been compelling at camp and is one of several options for how the team could line up on opening night.
For his part, Miller doesn’t care where he plays.
“It doesn't excite me more to play centre or play wing, but it excites me if I could slot in a spot to give us a better chance to win,” said Miller heading into camp. “I don't care where that is, if it's first line or fourth line, it doesn't matter to me.”
If no Hamonic, who plays with Hughes?
Speaking of players missing from camp, Travis Hamonic has now missed the entirety of training camp after assurances from Jim Benning that he would be here. It’s an open question whether he’s even in BC.
Where is he? The Canucks haven’t budged from declaring it a “personal matter” and have offered no further comment.
The uncertainty surrounding Hamonic could potentially affect another uncertain element of the start of the Canucks season. If Hamonic isn’t here, who would partner with Quinn Hughes?
And, if there’s no clear partner for Hughes, does that affect when he signs his new contract? Would he and his agent want a resolution to the Hamonic situation before making a commitment?
After Hamonic, the Canucks have Tucker Poolman, Tyler Myers, and Luke Schenn, then AHL-bound players like Jett Woo, Madison Bowey, and Kyle Burroughs.
Schenn isn’t the right fit for the big minutes Hughes plays, Poolman is earmarked for Oliverr Ekman-Larsson’s pairing, and Tyler Myers isn’t strong enough defensively to play with Hughes.
Some might dismiss such concerns and say that there’s nothing to worry about with Hamonic, but there are rumblings that the Canucks are legitimately concerned. Benning said Hamonic would be at camp and he wasn’t. This is a problem.
Brady Keeper leaves camp with a leg injury
Training camp ended on a sour note when young defenceman Brady Keeper suffered an ugly injury during the second on-ice session of the day. Keeper’s left leg twisted painfully, causing him to scream in agony.
J.T. Miller was immediately at Keeper’s side and confirmed the seriousness of the issue, calling out for the medical staff, while Tyler Myers alerted the paramedics standing by. Keeper’s leg was immobilized and he was stretchered off the ice.
“It’s unfortunate, for sure,” said Green. “I thought his game had gotten better as camp had gone on these three days. You never like to see anyone laying down on the ice and get carried off in that way.”
The Canucks had no update on Keeper’s condition.