We're already into the home stretch. On Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks will hold their second and final evening scrimmage of this shortened 2020-21 training camp.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m., and there will be a livestream available at Canucks.com
Thursday was a team day off, giving Travis Green some time to assess his group's performance in camp drills and in Wednesday night's scrimmage. On Friday, the groups were changed up. We saw Group A resembling something that might be close to Wednesday's opening-night lineup in Edmonton:
Obviously, the big news there is that Nils Hoglander continues to hold onto his spot on the line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
In his media availability on Thursday, Hoglander talked about making the adjustment to the small ice, which he likes.
"It's a smaller rink, between here and Sweden," he said. "And it's going much faster. I like to play on the small ice more than home."
Apparently he's been showing his teammates how to do the lacrosse goal. And he certainly sounds open to trying it in a game situation if the opportunity arises.
"I think most players can do that," he said. "It's not as hard as it looks like. We'll see if I'm going to try that one day."
"Yeah, he's been good," said Horvat about his new linemate. "It's not easy for him — this is his first NHL camp. He's handled himself really well, not only on the ice, but off the ice, asking questions, just trying to get to know the guys as best he can. He's a great player, and he seems to be a really good person off the ice, too. It's nice to have him around, for sure."
Brandon Sutter added to the chorus of praise on Saturday:
While Hoglander's spot is looking pretty secure, Green did emphasize that Friday's group is not yet set in stone. On defense, in particular, it sounds like the battle for that last spot on defense is still on between Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield.
When I think back on how many times Jim Benning name-checked Chatfield during the offseason as a player that he thought was ready for NHL action, I'd say that Rafferty has done well to keep himself in the mix this week.
"I'm gonna kind of have the mainstay group together from here on in but, they're going to get their chance tomorrow in the game," Green said of how he plans to run camp the rest of the way. "I might flip some guys in and out of that group."
Rafferty said that, during the offseason, he took advantage of his gym time to immerse himself more deeply in the Canucks' playing style. Smart!
"Obviously, just in the gym and on the ice multiple times a week," he said of his offseason routine. "Mentally it was more just rewatching the games from last season, I watched a lot of the Canucks games even though I didn't play in any of them. When I was in the gym, riding the bike or working out, I'd have a game on the screen. Just kind of watching what guys do and you know, reiterating the systems in my head and kind of visualizing that. So that was something I did over the summer, in the fall."
The club also did some work on special teams on Friday, with Green taking a look at forwards including Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen and Antoine Roussel.
"Just looking at different scenarios," Green said. "Obviously, Jake's skating, that's something that we've thought that maybe he'd be a good penalty killer.
"For young, skilled players that come out of juniors or wherever — college — they've always played the power play. To become good penalty killers, sometimes that's harder than being a good power-play guy. So yeah, we're going to try to do this a couple days, where we get to look at a couple different penalty killers."
The Canucks also made one roster move on Friday. Lukas Jasek is now through quarantine and has been assigned to the training camp roster; defenseman Mitch Eliot is the first player to be officially loaned to the Utica Comets.
As for Travis Hamonic, Green says he expects the PTO defenseman to be available to skate with the team on Sunday. I imagine the hope is that he'll be able to slot into the right side with Quinn Hughes, but it's good to know that Green will have a couple of days to get a look at him before deciding whether he should slot straight into the opening-night lineup.
Hamonic hasn't played a game in nearly a year. As well as opting out of the summer Return to Play, he spent the last month of the 2019-20 regular season on the injured list. His last game actually was against the Canucks, a 6-2 win for the Flames at Rogers Arena on Feb. 8. He was cleared to return to action for the Flames right before the league shut down.
And one other note on an overseas player to close things out.
Patrick Johnston reported earlier this week that defenseman Viktor Persson is now set to finish out his season in Sweden.
Persson was called up from the Brynas U20 team to the big club in the Swedish Hockey League just before New Year's — but like many young players, his challenge now is to get ice time and a roster spot. He has only made it into one game so far.
On Friday, the WHL announced that it is planning for a 24-game regular season. Details are still to be determined, but here's a rough outline of what they're aiming for:
If games do take place on weekends only, then teams are probably looking at two games a week — maybe three? So the season would probably be somewhere between 8-12 weeks long.
That would put the regular-season end date somewhere in late April or May. So maybe we will still see Persson in B.C. before the end of this year...
Looking forward to the scrimmage tonight — to see how the vets look, and if any of the other prospects can made a Hoglander-like impression in their last real chance in the spotlight!