How will blue line look opening night?
The Vancouver Canucks opened their 2013 training camp over the weekend, beginning a six-day sprint towards opening night on Saturday.
As veteran players are given a chance to find their ice legs, younger teammates are prepared to battle for the few available spots on a talented Canucks squad.
While the absence of Ryan Kesler in Vancouver’s top-six provides opportunity for forwards to embrace new roles up front, the Canucks appear to have little room for competition on the blue line.
Bieksa – Hamhuis
Vancouver’s top pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis return to patrol the blue line together in 2013 and should have familiarity on their side to start the year after playing together for two consecutive seasons.
Both Bieksa and Hamhuis chose to be patient during the lockout and did not play professional hockey elsewhere this winter, so expect a touch of rust to be visible over the first several games. If anything, at least Bieksa’s love for ball hockey may have kept him in shape.
Edler – Garrison
Like Edler’s former defensive partner Sami Salo, Garrison brings a big shot to the ice and is expected to play a large role in Vancouver’s power play in the future. Edler and Garrison both spent the off-season rehabilitating back and groin injuries respectively, but were both given medical clearance to play in mid-December.
The NHL is sure to be rife with groin injuries due to the season’s sudden start, but as long as Garrison hasn’t been receiving rehabilitation tips from new teammate Ryan Kesler he should be healthy to start the year.
Tanev – Ballard – Alberts – Barker
With two defensive pairing seemingly set in stone, Vancouver’s final set of roster sports on the blue line come highly contested in the shortened 2013 season.
Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts are all familiar with the position and are expected to collectively make up Vancouver’s third pairing, but youngsters Kevin Connauton and Cam Barker are also expected to put the pressure on the team’s returnees.
Connauton will be hard-pressed to crack the Canucks’ roster during a short six-day training camp, but Barker’s previous experience seems to have convinced the Canucks of his value, earning him a one-year $700,000 deal.
Oilers fans who witnessed Barker’s struggles last season will tell you the Canucks are foolish to commit a year to the young defenceman, however the deal is ultimately structured to expose Vancouver as little as possible.
Under the new CBA the Canucks can send Barker down to the AHL to avoid his cap hit without having to risk re-entry waivers.
Derek Joslin and Peter Andersson are not expected to compete for a spot in Vancouver’s starting six anytime soon but could be called upon in a depth role as injuries pile up in a sudden and compressed season.
UPDATE: The Canucks have signed defenceman Jim Vandermeer, who is expected to join the cast of depth defenceman fighting for time on Vancouver’s third defensive pairing.