As we observed yesterday, Chris Higgins' injury, borne of a shot block and now confirmed to be a right foot fracture that will keep him off the ice for at least three weeks, means a golden opportunity for one of the Canucks' youngsters. Jake Virtanen. Brendan Gaunce. Alex Grenier. Hunter Shinkaruk. A fifth guy. One of these prospects is going to open the season in Higgins' hole. (Gross.)
But Higgins' misfortune doesn't just mean that the door is ajar for a prospect. It also means these prospects going to be asked about it, and that's a tricky thing.
Here's what you're not supposed to do: suggest that you're stoked that a teammate's been hurt. He's your teammate, after all. (Although a contrarian would argue that he's technically not your teammate until you make the team, so whatever about him and his health until then.) You're going to be asked about this. There's a right and a wrong way to answer the Higgins question.
The right way is to say nothing. I mean, sure, you have to say something. But if you're a student of the sports interview, you know that the veterans have figured out how to do both -- how to say words, and little else. This clip from Bull Durham is your Rosetta Stone on this issue:
And so. Every winger currently at training camp -- or at least the ones who have even an outside shot at that open slot -- is going to have to face the Higgins question head one. Let's take a look at how two of them handled it.
Jake Virtanen is clearly new to this. The 19-year-old is a raw prospect, fresh from the minors with just eight games of pro experience, and it shows in his handling of the Higgins question. From the Vancouver Sun:
“You never want to see your teammates get hurt,” Virtanen said before making his pre-season NHL debut Tuesday with the Canucks against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena. “I was watching the game (Monday night) and saw him block that shot. Chris is a great player and I hope he’s OK. But like I said, I just want to make this team, whatever way I can do that. I would love to be on this team.”
Ooh. Whatever way I can do that? So close. But right at the end there, I detected a glimmer of excitement. Excitement that a teammate is wearing a walking boot. I mean, sure, it's fully justified that this 19-year-old kid would be jazzed on the opportunity. But a team player gives Brad Ziemer a garbage quote. This quote hints at emotion. It suggests a youthful exuberance. It's a little bit honest. You can see the promise there in the way he shows some concern for Higgins. But then Virtanen blows the zone, suggesting he recognizes the connection between Higgins' injury and his increased chances.
Brendan Gaunce has the right idea. Here's a perfect example of the something-and-nothing approach to a trap question:
Gaunce was ready for the "Higgins Question" says his approach was always to make the team and he's focussed on pushing the pace to get there— Jon Abbott (@HockeyAbbs) September 23, 2015
Look at that magical tapdance. He may have been asked the Higgins question. He didn't answer the Higgins question. This is why you let your prospects hone their skills in the minors. A year in Utica has served Gaunce well.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say Brendan Gaunce is NHL-ready.