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I Watched This Game: Canucks’ AHL-heavy squad steamrolled by Flames A-team

Facing a veteran-heavy Calgary Flames team, the Vancouver Canucks' youngsters got walloped 10-0.
The Vancouver Canucks sent an inexperienced team to face a veteran-laden Calgary Flames and got destroyed in the first game of the 2023-24 preseason.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stipulates that teams must dress at least eight NHL veterans for every preseason game. On Sunday evening in Calgary, the Vancouver Canucks stretched the definition of "veteran" as much as they could. 

According to the CBA, a “veteran” is any forward or defenceman who played in 30 or more NHL games last season, a goaltender who played in 30 or more NHL games last season or dressed in at least 50, any player who has played 100 or more NHL games in their career, or a first-round draft pick from the most recent NHL Entry Draft.

Yes, a first-round pick from the last draft — someone who, by definition, hasn’t played a single NHL game — counts as a veteran for preseason purposes. In any case, the Canucks’ first-round pick this year, Tom Willander, is getting ready for his NCAA season, so he wasn’t available. 

The Canucks did their darnedest to avoid sending any of their core players to Calgary for their first game of the preseason. Just one of the eight “veterans” they dressed is a lock to make the roster — bottom-six centre Pius Suter.

The other seven “veterans” will all be battling for a roster spot: forwards Nils Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, Jack Studnicka, Dakota Joshua, Sheldon Dries, and Nils Åman and defenceman Matt Irwin. Essentially, the Canucks sent an AHL-caliber roster to Calgary with not even a handful of bona fide NHL players.

The Canucks’ AHL-calibre roster faced a Calgary Flames team that dressed something closely approximating their likely opening night lineup. 

The Flames’ lineup featured most of their top-six forward group — Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Yegor Sharangovich, Matthew Coronato — as well as a few other veteran forwards like Dillon Dube and Adam Ruzicka. 

On the blue line, the Flames dressed essentially their top-four defence — Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, and Jordan Oesterle — and their number-one goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, started in net. 

With those two lopsided lineups, it’s not surprising the Canucks didn’t fare well against the Flames on Sunday. But it’s still a bit alarming to see them give up ten goals and lose 10-0. It’s never a good thing to give up a ten-spot.

I repeated the mantra, “It’s only the preseason” approximately 6,000 times while I watched this game.

  • If you’re new to Pass it to Bulis, welcome to our regular post-game feature: I Watched This Game. It’s called that because I’m just a guy who watched a game, sharing some observations, quips, and quotes about that game. It’s a bit goofy and a bit silly, except when it’s way, way too serious — just like hockey.
  • Somehow, despite the 10-0 score, two Canucks managed to escape the game unscathed without a single goal against when they were on the ice according to the boxscore: Akito Hirose and Linus Karlsson. It feels like they deserve some sort of award or at least a commemorative t-shirt.
  • In truth, the boxscore was wrong and Hirose was on the ice for a goal against — the 6-0 goal. It’s just that the scorekeeper mistook him for the other Canucks defenceman of Asian descent, Jett Woo. There’s a lot to unpack there, especially because Hirose is a left-shot and Woo is a right-shot, so we’ll just try to think the best of people and assume they simply mistook Hirose’s #41 for Woo’s #44 and leave it at that.


  • This was still a rough game for Jett Woo, who was on the ice for five — not six, like the boxscore says — of the Flames’ ten goals. Some of that was bad luck — the Flames’ first goal took a double deflection and went in off Woo’s skate — but some of it wasn’t. He got badly burned in the neutral zone by Kadri on the 5-0 goal leading to a 2-on-1 that Huberdeau finished, then chased way too high on the penalty kill leading to the 8-0 goal. It was a messy performance for Woo.
  • We can only hope that for Woo, this is like Agent Jimmy Woo getting flummoxed by Scott Lang’s closeup magic and that this is the beginning of a redemption arc, where eventually he’ll be pulling all the tricks that fooled him on other people.
  • It wasn’t a great night for Jack Rathbone either, who lost more battles than Luigi Cadorna. He couldn’t pin the puck on the boards on the 2-0 goal, then got taken apart by Matt Coronato on the 9-0 goal. For a 24-year-old defenceman who is now six years removed from being drafted, he should not be losing battles that easily if he has any hope of being an NHL regular.
  • Dakota Joshua was voted the Canucks’ unsung hero last season but he’s got a lot of competition to even make the roster this year. That makes his underwhelming performance a concern. On the penalty kill in the first period, he chased the puck instead of staying within the structure, leaving the middle of the ice less protected than an Indianapolis Colts quarterback. Jonathan Huberdeau ended up with the puck and toe-dragged around a sprawling Noah Juulsen to snipe the puck past Arturs Silovs it 3-0.
  • That was part of an ugly game for Juulsen, who also got victimized by Kadri, who beat him behind the net, and then was completely unbothered by Juulsen as he sent a spinning backhand over Silovs to make it 4-0. Far worse was Juulsen's atrocious second-period turnover in front of the net that Coronato quickly turned into the 6-0 goal. Then he went puck-chasing on a third-period penalty kill, leading to a wide-open Coronato to complete the hattrick to make it 10-0. On a Canucks blue line that was all aboard the struggle bus, Juulsen was the bus driver.
  • You know what, not every Canucks defenceman was on the struggle bus. Cole McWard was actually pretty good at both ends of the ice. In fact, shots were 10-to-3 for the Canucks when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. Maybe he missed the bus and took an Uber.
  • Poor Arturs Silovs didn’t deserve to have such a confidence-shattering game to kick off the preseason. When Danila Klimovich was caught too deep in the zone, allowing Hanifin to step into a bomb of a slapshot over Silovs’ glove to make it 7-0, Silovs was mercifully pulled from the game. He gave up 7 goals on 18 shots but given the mess in front of him, he deserves only forgiveness.
  • Not everyone was bad in this game, to be clear. Aatu Räty’s skating looks like it's taken a significant step and he showed some heart in puck battles, such as one first-period battle that he turned into a backhand chance from the slot. It was a promising performance from the Canucks' top centre prospect.
  • Jack Studnicka had an awful season with the Canucks last year, earning one of three Fs in my final report card. He seems well aware of how much he struggled because he came into camp with something to prove and has been a standout so far. The Canucks out-shot the Flames 10-to-6 at 5-on-5 when he was on the ice and he was in on the Canucks’ two best chances, setting up Åman for a shot from the slot that Markstrom snagged with his glove and forcing a brilliant save from Markstrom with a shot of his own.
  • The Canucks’ best player was arguably Nils Höglander, though he didn’t have a perfect game, including some turnovers when he overhandled the puck. At the very least, he looked like an NHL player with the way he moved, made plays, and battled. He utterly crushed Dennis Gilbert with a massive hit in the second period from which Gilbert unfortunately did not return.
  • “I thought [Höglander] was one of the positives tonight,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “He’s just got to learn that you can’t try to stickhandle through — don’t get frustrated and try to stickhandle through guys, you’ve just got to stay in yourself. That’s the next level for him but I do like his effort.”
  • Höglander had previously been hit hard by Gilbert in the first period, leading to Matt Irwin stepping in to drop the gloves with the Flames defenceman. That’s the type of thing that the Canucks likely want to see from Irwin for him to make the team as the seventh defenceman and we’ll just ignore that he was on the ice for five goals against.
  • While Höglander stood out positively, his fellow 2019 draft pick, Vasily Podkolzin, looked terrible. It started right from his first shift, when he panicked under no pressure and turned the puck over at the blue line. 
  • Later in the period, he twice lost track of his man in the defensive zone, getting lost in the Flames’ rotation around the zone. That’s a really troubling sign, especially for a player who is supposed to have a strong two-way game.
  • It’s just the first game of the preseason and this was an unbalanced matchup, but it was still concerning to see so much over-aggressive puck-chasing on the penalty kill. If the penalty kill is going to play that aggressively in the regular season, the Canucks could be in trouble.
  • “Guys start chasing and get out of the system,” said Tocchet, speaking more generally of the entire game. “Three or four guys were playing man-on-man out there when we started to panic and that’s what I don’t like, just stick with the system. But it’s a learning experience.”
  • The final 10-0 score doesn't look quite so bad if you convince yourself that NHL scores are recorded in binary. Then it was only a 2-0 game and 2-0 is the worst lead in hockey.
  • It’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason it’s only the preseason.
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