We’ve heard it before from the Canucks this preseason and some of the club’s key performers reiterated two important messages while visiting with the media on Wednesday.
The team has to get off to a good start and anything but a playoff berth is a massive failure.
“You can talk to everyone over the next two weeks and they all want to get out of the gate well,” Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday morning. “The great learning curve on that is that they didn’t get off to a great start last year and they saw what happened and how frustrated they were, when they thought they were a playoff team at the end of the year but they weren’t in the playoffs.”
He brought up the difficult season opening road trip; the Canucks will be making stops against the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Yet it’s obviously only a small part of a “good start”, remembering that last season the team went an impressive 3-2-and-1 on its opening trip before fading into the doldrums.
Earlier in the media chat, Boudreau went as far as to calling the concept of not making the playoffs this season a “big disaster.”
There are a few major differences to 2021-’22 when the team fell short.
First, Boudreau and his staff are in place for the full season as opposed to joining in progress like he did last December. The club was much improved after the coaching change, going 32-15-and-10. The players enjoy his communication skills and are excited for his first training camp.
“We’re a group that if we do get in the playoffs, or when we do get in the playoffs this year, we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko said. “We proved that last year, just so far behind the eight ball and the push that we were able to make trying to get in last year, it was really inspiring for the city and for our group too, to build confidence in those situations.”
While the team didn’t address its lack of depth on the right side of the D-corps, there is talk of moving top blueliner Quinn Hughes over to that side of the ice and playing him with present number-two lefty Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“I love our back-end, I thought we grew as a D-corps and as a team,” OEL said. “Super excited about that.”
Ekman-Larsson added that he has complete confidence in Hughes regardless of where he plays and says they’re both comfortable adjusting to any situation.
The Canucks did add some talent up front, adding one Russian from the Kontinental Hockey League in Andrey Kuzmenko, and another from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, Ilya Mikheyev.
“He has kind of another gear out there,” JT Miller said of Mikheyev. “I’ve been caught by him several times so far, so it’s pretty humbling. It’s just awesome now that he’s on our side and he’s just a guy who can push back the defence with and without the puck and create bad gap for the other team. I’ve played with some very fast players over the years and it’s really hard to play against when you have guys like that on the ice.”
Mikheyev plans to be a key performer on the penalty kill.
Kuzmenko, fresh from the KHL, is a bit more of a wild card.
“More with him it’s the pace,” Boudreau said. “I have to believe the pace in the NHL is a little quicker than the pace in the KHL. I think you get skilled players who stay on the ice a little too long in other leagues … there’s no doubt about his skill. He’s skilled, he can play, he’s excited to play, he’s a really colourful guy, I believe if he does good he’s going to take the town by storm.”
“He’s got a heck of a wrist shot and high-end skill level,” Miller said.
The Canucks added other new faces in right-shot centre Curtis Lazar and presumed back-up goaltender Spencer Martin.
Training camp begins Thursday morning outside of Whistler.