If you haven’t noticed, the Vancouver Canucks have a glut of centermen both now and for the future.
They sent young guns Dmitry Zhukenov and Joseph Labate down to Chicoutimi and Utica respectively, but for some reason there’s still a gazillion centers – okay, 11. 11 centers – vying for the jobs down the middle on the big club.
Out of those 11, three of those are Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, and Brandon Sutter, who will presumably take the top three spots. Another spot can be removed for Brendan Gaunce, who’s good, consistent game will grab him a spot on the team while veteran Chris Higgins is out with a fractured foot. He’ll be filling in as left wing on the third line.
That brings us down to seven. Seven guys vying for one, maybe two spots. It were as if the depth chart was hosting its own Bachelor(ette) TV show. So who are these potential bottom-liners?
We’ll start off first with Linden Vey. He’s the only one on the team that is victim (or in this case, Vey-ctim. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) to more hate than Luca Sbisa. Brought in because Bo Horvat’s NHL status was questionable at the time, Vey started on the third line, then dropped down to the fourth line, and slowly became a rotation player who spent a fair bit of time in the press box. He worked on his conditioning over the summer, but his face-off game still seems a little weak.
Alex Friesen is next. He’s small – smaller than Vey, even. He has good skill, as he was a solid contributor in different ways to the Comets’ Calder Cup run this spring. But it is his size that sets him back. If he can show to play bigger than he is as well as win face-offs, Friesen shouldn’t have a problem making the cut. As opposed to being cut. From the team.
Adam Cracknell has looked nice in a Canucks jersey so far – scoring the game-winning goal in the Kraft Hockeyville game against the Sharks – but he’s a depth addition. He’s likely meant to take over Cal O’Reilly’s role as top centerman and leader in Utica along with Blair Jones.
Speaking of which, it’s Blair Jones! Jones has an absolute blast of a shot, and he’s not a half-bad skater either. He’s looked good (or at least, better than others) in the preseason games he’s played in. He’s a fairly good skater and could handle the fourth-line role if given to him. However, it depends on the play of others to see if his name will land in the fourth center role on the depth chart.
Making a name for himself as a Canucks top prospect, Cole Cassels gained a whole lot of fame this spring by shutting down Connor McDavid, playing through injury, and leading his team to a Memorial Cup championship. He’s got skills, no doubt about it. But in the preseason games he’s been in so far, he’s showed he does need experience in the minors. Although he’s shown promise, he’s also shown he needs a bit more time and experience in the minors. He’ll do nicely on a Utica team trying to outdo last year’s Western Conference championship. He’ll make the NHL next year, perhaps?
Jared McCann is standing out among the competition right now. He’s working hard, showcasing his skills, and is playing like a real NHLer. To boost his skills, playing in the AHL would be ideal. Unfortunately for management, McCann would have to be sent down to his OHL team because of his age. McCann does look like he could handle an NHL role, however, and if he’s consistent in the next three games or less, he’ll get at least the nine game tryout and potentially an NHL role.
Finally, there’s Brandon Prust. An acquisition in a controversial trade, Prust has looked somewhat decent in place of Zack Kassian. He brings toughness and leadership in the dressing room, which is what GMJB is looking for. He also happens to be pretty good at face-offs, boasting an average last year of 51.6%, a career average of 49.8%, and a career high of 60%, according to faceoffs.net. He’ll likely be 13th or even 14th forward, as he has to compete with Ronalds Kenins, Jake Virtanen, and McCann for a spot on the ice
Who would I place my money on for the role? As bad as it could be, Linden Vey. He’s got big-league experience and Coach Willie Desjardins loves him… for some reason. He’s not a bad prospect, but should not play center and would not look good as Horvat’s replacement. I’d love to see McCann or even Jones steal the spot. It would at the very least give the Canucks some new blood in the lineup.
EDIT: As of October 6th, Adam Cracknell is the Canucks’ 4th line center.