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Earn Your Bones

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The tides of NHL life wax and wane, and countless articles are going to be written soon on who is going to finish where. As usual they will be way more wrong tan right. Last year, it was the Kings that were at the top of a bunch of lists. That turned out well, didn't it ? Look for more than a few "Albertacentric" lists this time around.

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With camp starting soon after the upcoming Young Stars tourney, we will once again jump headlong into our collective obsession.  Don't let anyone tell you the end of summer is when the PNE closes.  It's the day the players report for physicals and the Sedins once again go one - two at the top of the list.  Pretty good for a couple of identical 35 year olds, eh ?

The vagaries of injuries, "camp surprises", and the fact that rookies will be ( potentially, camp should be pretty open this year )  in a few positions means that those of us that talk about hockey in public ( some for love, some for money ) are probably going to be right as often as wrong.  As a few of those that wrote about the Canucks for years "hang up their spurs", we say fare well, no hard feelings ( even though, man dude...really? ) and enjoy the time off.  Though, the way things go in this market, I am sure we will hear the Tony Gallaghers of the world on TEAMTSN1040 more often than we did before.

But that is neither here nor there.  They are gone, we're here, and there is a pretty interesting and pivotal camp and preseason coming up.  Of course, the Young Stars fun in Penticton will be the solid kick start it always is, and off we go once again.

Young Stars

- Jared McCann.  He wants to ( very much ) get his shot in cap right freaking now, thank you.  Had mono last year for this tourney ( and said it was a factor for him most of last year, where he was still pretty awesome in the OHL ).  I like he has a chip on his shoulder and is driven.  Could be another Kesler in training.

- Jake Virtanen.  The Top Ten pick is going to get a shot at the line up. This year.  With the news that he has slimmed down to the 215 lb ( at 19 years old !! ) playing  weight the team was looking for from him this offseason, that shot is going to be a real one.  Look for him to try and steal some of Connor What's His Name's thunder.

Ben Hutton and Jordan Subban. plus Guillaume Brisebois and Dmitry Zhukenov, will also each make their Young Stars tournament debut.  Three defensemen that will garner interest, and the talented Russian.  I'll be watching these guys the most.  With Hutton we'll be getting his first serious look for most Canuck fans.  Subban is always fun to watch as he progresses, although his obvious offensive talents sometimes get wasted with the  way this tourney can be a bit herky jerky and mistake filled at times.

Brisebois will get attention, for both the good and the bad ( you watch the serious Lack fans on twitter when and if he gaffes, lamented the "Loss of Eddie" ) , but I just want to see how he adjusts to the step up in competition.  Perhaps the most anticipated Young Star, for me though, is Dmitry Zhukenov.  In a mini tourney that will have the most eyeballs on yet another Oiler first overall pick, look for this kid to show some shifty, sexy moves that raise some eyebrows and steal some spotlight.  At least that is the hope.  Because, you know...Russians.


Camp

- Who took that next step ? That will be the top question, of course.  Out of the players slated to play in the Y.S , I am going off the board.  Alexandre Grenier will show enough to get the invite, along with Virtanen and McCann.  Another guy I am picking to be noticeable, and join the main camp ?  Brendan Gaunce.

- Line Combos, what you got ? If you go with Vrbata with the Twins as your first line, you get two "Number Two" lines that can both push the play and score, as well as play defense.  The second line of Baertschi, playing with two responsible vets in Burrows and Sutter , should be able to helped the talented Swiss born "rookie" not be a hindrance in the defensive end.  Bo Horvat slotting in with Hansen and Higgins gives us a Triple H line where familiarity ( Higgins and Hansen do the "straight ahead, 200' game" thing well, and they did all play together last year ) combines with the emerging talent that is Bo Horvat to at least get off to a solid start.  Bo will probably know a few different linemates this year.  And whether it is Linden Vey, or someone else centering the fourth line, that is one line I am not worried about.  In fact, considering how Brandon Prust was one of the best Canadians at generating scoring chances, having his alter ego on the other side is going to ensure that line is big on hustle, and more production and minutes than your "average NHL 4th line".

- Defensively speaking. Maybe the biggest area of interest, and / or concern ( depending on your philosophical bent towards the team, I suppose ;-) going into the year.  We love to talk blue liners almost as often as we remind each other that not having a "Norris calibre" defender equals no Stanley Cup.  You will have a rookie ( Frank Corrado ), a young guy with possible untapped talent that is a "GM's choice" ( Matt Bartkowski ), a fan's whipping boy, because he got paid a few hundred thousand dollars a year more than the Twitterati consider a "good deal", and we simply can't have a guy that makes mistakes around here you bastards ( Lucas Sbisa ).  A BC Boy on his last year of his current contract ( Dan Hamhuis ), and a guy who was better than everyone said he would be ( Yannick Webber ) playing for a richer deal after deciding to stay ( The Vancouver Effect...even w/o the love from the experts the team has gotten in the past, this team is still pretty desirable for players, just because of where they get to live ) .  They will join a Number One pairing that is underrated in the NHL, and, with Alexander Edler looking to solidify his status after a huge bounce back year, and Christopher Tanev looking to add to his already prodigious tool kit, a pairing that has even more room to get better.

- Prince George. I love when they go to different locales for the training camp.  This is truly B.C's team, and I am sure the folks in PeeGee will surpass expectations and show the team a welcome that will be talked about.

Preseason

The Canucks will play eight pre-season games, beginning Sept. 21 against the Sharks for the latest Kraft Hockeyville. They will play four games at The Rog', playing S.J ( the 22nd ), Calgary ( 26th ), Arizona ( 28th ), and Edmonton (Oct. 3rd). The Canucks play on the road in Calgary ( Sept. 25th ), S.J ( 29th ), and in Edmonton (Oct.1st ).

- Three versus San Jose.  The Sharks were the bigger disappointment of these two teams last year, and after that disappointment, they moved none of the vets.  Will play some "youth" I am sure, and will be as competitive as they always are.  But I don't think the Canucks should fear the Sharks as much as they might have in the past. ( oh yeah, their GM is a bottom dealing, two timing, four flusher.  OK, not that bad, but the deal that was supposed to net a pick this year instead of next for Bieksa, and then wasn't was definitely not kosher by NHL standards. A deal is supposed to be a deal man ! )

- The Fri / Sat Flames Away and Home.  This may be the most intense couple of games of the preseason, as there will be Flames thinking they are the "shit" after the six game first round win, and Canucks looking to prove the opposite, of course. A toss up with the other Albertan team on which games will be the most "NHL like" in the preseason.

- The Oilers are going to be really good.  Everyone says so.  #GretzTwo means that they blow right by the 101 point Canucks and send them to the Western basement.  With the Oil being the last preseason opponent, look for the messages to get sent in both these games, as they will probably be as close to NHL hockey as the preseason gets.  The Canucks want to keep it in their heads that the Oil can't get over on the Canucks for a while yet.

- Phoenix might have a chip on their shoulder this year.  Loaded with youth, we'll see how another season of potential rumours ( still unsettled in Glendale folks, the City Council there is hostile to hockey now ) and small crowds works on this team this year.  Hopefully they either get it finally and completely solved, or just move the damn team.

- How Good Could it be ? You guys know me.  I am a positive guy.  Honestly though, while I was happy my best case predictions from last year worked out ( with another 100+ year ), the playoff thud did shakes the confidence a bit.  I do feel positive about Frank Corrado.  I am excited for Jake Virtanen, and think that both Grenier and Gaunce are going to show well in camp.  Just one of the three making the team will add size and skill.  Obviously, the former is the guy getting all the pub' right now as the guy to do it, because he has to clear waivers this time around.  The latter two will probably fall into "first injury calluup" kind of roles.  Youth is going to be served this year, so who knows ?  Honestly, while I called last year the "Tabula Rasa", this year might be more apt for that designation.  The slate is definitely blank going into this year.  With all the variables, how good they could be this year really is going to be a game by game thing.  Exciting times.

- Really...that bad ? Look.  I know we like to look for the negative in Lotusland.  I would imagine it is the first round losses for every year since the last playoff success, and the fact that the West just gets better every year.  There are a bunch of teams the pundits and experts can point at as sexier picks.  But here is the thing.  The Canucks Have a pretty strong "esprit de corp".  They have a strong veteran base that will ensure the team will be, regardless of how it might go this year, working hard.  The chemistry that is already there, with the further injection of youth, is why I am feeling guardedly optimistic this year.  The experts are going to point at the other teams all year.  They are going to pick the other teams all preseason in their "expert" opinion instead of the Canucks.  That could be because this year might be the one where a step back happens before Jim Benning has all those options that he set up as possibilities in the next season after that.   But with another year to get better at Willie Desjardin's aggressive system, and the Twins leading them once again perhaps it won't be as bad as those "experts" assume.  With all the questions, and the possible adversity placed in their path, the kids ( especially, the second and third year guys too ) are going to "earn their bones", regardless of the final results.  That is a good thing.

The best part of the sporting year is about to begin.  This year, we have the Blue Jays filling the "local" quotient in the summer sport that will end as ours begins, and of course The Cheaters in the NFL will get fill the sports talk shows down South for a while as that sport begins.  Throw in the NBA, the CFL ( if that fills your Hoser heart with glee ), and the Whitecaps actually in the hunt for MLS glory, and it is going to be a busy time for sports fans....

And here we....GO.