As feisty as ever. Conor Garland was back at it Saturday afternoon at Vancouver Canucks practice, digging in the corners, battling in two-on-two drills and water-bugging all over the ice. He was in severe pain and hobbled after blocking a Nikita Zadorov slapshot with four minutes remaining in Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary, but ultimately no worse for wear.
“It’s just sore,” he confirmed Saturday. “Just a sore foot.”
Garland arrived in Vancouver as part of the summer deal that brought veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) and his fat contract to Vancouver. It won’t seem as hefty if he lives up to it over the next six years at $8.250-million per season ($990,000 of that was retained by Arizona annually). Garland is making just under $5-million per season over the next five years, but management and fans seem just as excited about his arrival as they are about OEL’s. As they should be. He has a tireless work ethic and an offensive upside that’s only growing. He clicked for 39 points in each of his last two seasons with the Coyotes, in 68 and then 49 games respectively.
His fearless approach regardless of time of year or game situation is admirable, but comes with risks.
“My rookie year in the NHL I was having a good camp, thought I might make the team out of camp and I broke my hand blocking a shot against LA, so I missed about six weeks and fortunately only spent about another month in the minors and then made my way back up,” Garland said, “but that was pretty scary, I thought I was close to making the team, you never know.”
As referred to in our postgame notes Friday night, Garland famously scored a goal with his face in Edmonton back in January of 2019. While crashing the net and being knocked over, a point shot from teammate Jordan Oesterle hit him in the head and caromed into the net. Tough way to score a goal and to earn a dozen or so stitches, but the play was symbolic of his approach.
Part of that approach means using a short stick. To clarify, as he’s only 5’10” and that listing may be a wee bit generous, his stick appears to be cut for someone closer to 5’5″. VHN asked him Saturday if it was an optical illusion.
“For sure, it’s real short,” Garland said, “After my first year in the NHL I shortened it by about four inches and I played around with it more and I’ve probably taken off another inch and a half, so it’s really short. I might go up a little bit, I’ve been thinking about it lately, just to get a little more on my shot, but I keep it pretty short, I like to protect the puck, and have the puck in tight, and I skate pretty low.”
To each his own. Perennial Boston Bruins team leading scorer and general pain-in-the-arse Brad Marchand, listed at 5-foot-9, goes the other way.
“I think Brad Marchand is one of the best wingers in the league and I was fortunate to have a small chat with him in the summer about his stick and his is a really long one,” explained Garland. “So, it’s funny to hear his point of view as to why he uses it and why I use mine. He’s someone you can learn easily from, so it’s all preference, it’s all what you’re brought up with.”
The life and times of being undersized.
“For my first couple sticks ever my dad took senior sticks and cut them in half and put the wooden blades on, so I had two sticks out of one, because I was that small,” Garland explained, “and I ended up using such a stiff stick from that, that I’ve always liked a short stick, so the shorter it is the stiffer it is.”
Garland will be among the top-six forwards with linemates to be determined at even strength and with the power play units. With the imminent arrival of re-signed Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, the trickle down effect on the line-up will be immediate as will be the effect on eventual combinations. On the power play, Garland has worked everywhere.
“I can go anywhere,” he said. “I played net front my first year, I played the point, the top in juniors, and then I played the half-wall in the American League (and) sometimes in Arizona. I played the bumper (man in the mid/low slot) for a bit in Tucson (AHL), so I’ve played all five, I like that I get to play anywhere. I think that’s helpful, I know there’s some half-wall guys here, some great net-front guys and obviously one of the best point guys, so wherever I go, just try to help those guys out.”
With Pettersson and Hughes returning, Garland concluded “It looks like it’s going to be two really good units.”
The Vancouver Canucks host the Winnipeg Jets Sunday at 4 pm Pacific at Rogers Arena with 50-percent capacity allowed and a crowd made up exclusively of season ticket members and their guests.