Wednesday night’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets won’t mean a damn thing.
At the same time, this is a crucial game for players on both sides to get their feet underneath them in real game action. Next time the puck drops for either of these teams, it’s onto do or die hockey.
Travis Green now has his 30-man roster for the Stanley Cup qualifiers, and he certainly still has some things to figure out tonight before the begin their battle against Minnesota on Sunday.
Here’s what you should be watching for tonight.
How will Ferland look in game action?
Before we touch on Ferland, a word from Kevin Bieksa.
"I respect the way he plays the game. When he finishes his checks, you're going to pay. He's a guy (the Canucks) need in their lineup"@kbieksa3 on Ferland— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) July 29, 2020
By all accounts from training camp, Ferland is locked, loaded and ready to go. The next big test for him, of course, is real game action.
As Ferland mentioned before, his biggest problem was tracking movement and players, citing that it made him feel dizzy or “drunk” (Ferland has been sober for years). Since it’s almost been six months since he last played an NHL or AHL game, let’s hope that those symptoms are now behind him.
He’s become the X-factor for this team, and I think his performance is the number one story going into the exhibition tilt tonight.
How will Green construct his bottom six?
Throughout training camp, Green tinkered and toyed with his bottom six quite a bit, so seeing what he rolls with to begin the game tonight will be telling.
It appears as if Ferland will start on the third line with Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel, although that’s largely hypothetical since media doesn’t have access to the Canucks practices in Edmonton.
However, Ferland was one of the best forward during Canucks camp, and he lined up with Gaudette and Roussel in the final scrimmage where the trio was noticeable.
It’s also no secret that Green probably wants a heavy checking fourth line, which probably leaves some combination of Jay Beagle centering any of Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Tyler Motte, and to a lesser extent, Zack MacEwen.
I’m on the record saying that Tyler Motte is the Canucks best fourth liner and best penalty killer, but it seems more likely that Green goes with the veteran influence of Eriksson and Sutter. Some might even call them The Buyout Line.
Will Jake Virtanen play?
You might notice that the only bottom-six forward I didn’t mention in the last section was Jake Virtanen.
It’s been a weird camp for the Abbotsford native. After his best offensive season to date, he seemed to do himself no favors during the COVID break, and once again showed up at camp and gave a lackluster effort.
With 15 forwards realistically battling for a line-up spot in game one you have to wonder, does Virtanen even suit up tonight?
He doesn’t really have a place in this line-up with Ferland stealing his spot on the third line, and MacEwen passing him on the depth chart as well. However, the Canucks can dress 13 forwards tonight, which improves Virtanen’s chances of stepping into the line-up ever so slightly.
Who steps in as the seventh defenceman tonight, if anyone?
Just like the top-six forwards, the Canucks top-six on defence seems set with Hughes/Tanev, Edler/Myers and Fantenberg/Stecher.
Normally, Jordie Benn would be the seventh guy, but he’s still in Dallas with his wife awaiting the birth of their child.
Based on training camp reports, Jalen Chatfield is probably the next guy up on the depth chart. Although he provides next to no offence (having not scored an AHL goal since 2017-18), he is an aggressive, smart, and reliable defender who brings a physical edge.
The next guys up on the depth chart both come with a higher ceiling and a little more risk in their game. That would be both Brogan Rafferty and Olli Juolevi. You could make an argument for either to get game action tonight, but chances are Chatfield gets the nod.
One other thing Green could do here is go with 14 forwards and six defenceman. He clearly still has to figure out his bottom six, so perhaps he opts to load up on forwards tonight instead of dressing a seventh defenceman.
Does Boeser get a sniff on the top line?
Throughout training camp, the newly-acquired Tyler Toffoli has been stapled to the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.
If this is the beginning of the “extend Toffoli coup” by Jim Benning and company, they’re off to a good start.
However, I think there’s a decent argument to be made that Toffoli is a better fit alongside Bo Horvat on the second line. Brock Boeser also had a great training camp, and should be motivated going into a play-in against his former team.
With the outcome of this game meaning nothing, you have to wonder if Green will give Boeser another look on the top line, just to tease the fan base a little.
Will Green throw his lines into a blender?
Anyone who’s spent time watching the Canucks this year knows that Green likes to shake things up with his forward combinations. That could ring true tonight especially with the outcome not meaning a damn thing.
Will he begin to experiment in the latter half of the contest? If so, what do those experimentations look like?
Can everyone stay healthy?
This really is the worst fear of both fans and teams in this one meaningless exhibition game. If yesterday’s exhibition games taught us anything, it’s that injury scares can happen, and guys surely aren’t treating it like the first exhibition game in September.
Took a Voracek one-timer right on the in-step. That looked crunchy.— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) July 28, 2020
Zack Kassian lays the boom in the Battle of Alberta pic.twitter.com/JLmh5vdddc— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) July 29, 2020
Those are just two examples from yesterday’s action in which players either got rocked physically or were shaken up after blocking a shot, even if neither of them actually had to leave the game.
And let’s be serious, how many of you would be surprised if Chris Tanev blocks a slapper tonight and hobbles off the ice?
Again, let’s hope for the healthiest version of the Canucks (and the Jets, for that matter) as we head into this play-in series. The Canucks will need a full stable of healthy bodies as they try to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in five years.