VANCOUVER – The irony in the battle for jobs at the bottom of the Vancouver Canucks’ mosh pit of forwards is that the guy who is so clearly winning has virtually no chance of making the team.
Second-year pro Adam Gaudette was one of the best Canucks in Wednesday’s 6-2 pre-season loss to the Ottawa Senators. Gaudette scored the first goal and set up the second in the first period before the Senators pumped six in a row past Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko.
Brady Tkachuk had two goals and two assists for the Senators, who were outshot 46-29, but got 44 saves from goalie Craig Anderson.
Gaudette played 56 National Hockey League games last season because of Canucks injuries, but displayed little of the offensive ability that made him the 2018 Hobey Baker winner in U.S. college hockey. He has four goals in five pre-season auditions this month, one less goal than he scored in more meaningful games all of last season.
The centre still makes mistakes in his own zone – not many on Wednesday – but Vancouver coach Travis Green explained last weekend what he liked about Gaudette: “He’s trying to make the team. Other guys should take notice.”
Gaudette is still trying but, really, almost nothing will be enough to keep him in the NHL for the Canucks’ regular-season opener next Wednesday in Edmonton.
Vancouver still has 17 NHL forwards on its roster. Only three can be dispatched without waivers to the minors, and the Canucks aren’t sending down Elias Pettersson or Brock Boeser. So, Gaudette’s got to go.
With the Canucks squeezed by salary cap and roster limits, Gaudette’s demotion is the easiest part of a solution. And at age 22, he’ll actually develop more playing 20 minutes a night in a prime role for the AHL’s Utica Comets than eight minutes at the bottom of an NHL lineup.
Still, the imminent injustice is hard not to notice, not only because of Gaudette’s play, but the lack of a push from others also trying to cling to one of 13 or 14 forward spots.
Green’s plea for others to “take notice” was a not-so-subtle challenge to players like Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen as well as, perhaps to a lesser extent, veterans Sven Baertschi and Loui Eriksson.
Baertschi, who is trying to restart his career after missing most of last season with a concussion, had his best pre-season game so far, joining Gaudette’s slipstream to contribute a goal and assist.
But Virtanen and Goldobin were largely ineffective again against the Senators.
Goldobin made a couple of nice passes and finished with three shots on net, but went pointless again and is stuck on one assist through four exhibition games. And the former first-round pick, once regarded by some as a golden child on the Canucks, has to build his NHL career as a scorer.
“He’s been a little bit quiet,” Green said of Goldobin after Wednesday’s morning skate.
“I haven’t seen a lot of offensive stuff from him. I’m not expecting him to run over people or be some physical force on the ice. But today’s game, it’s so obvious you have to be able to stall the puck or come up with the puck the way the game is changing, and how fast it is and how aggressive it is.
“It’s a pressure game today and you’ve got to be able to either apply pressure with your body or your mind, with your stick, and be in the right spots. I do believe he’s working harder, but I think he’s had a quiet camp. I think that’s honest and fair to say.”
It’s also fair and honest to say that, on merit, Goldobin is probably in 17th place among Canucks forwards. He is the most likely seatmate for Gaudette on the flight to Utica – if no other team is tantalized enough by Goldobin’s puck skills to claim him on waivers.
The Canucks’ decision just three weeks ago to re-sign the 23-year-old Russian to a one-way, one-year contract for US$900,000 was questionable then, and looks wasteful now.
Virtanen hasn’t been much better in the pre-season, especially if you take away his September debut when he scored both of his goals during a split-squad game in Calgary. But unlike Goldobin, Virtanen can run over people, which is partly why he’ll be on the opening-night roster if not in the actual lineup. That, and also that he was general manager Jim Benning’s sixth-overall pick in 2014, scored 15 NHL goals last season and would not clear waivers.
Neither would Gaudette if had enough experience to require them.
“I’m doing all I can right now,” Gaudette said after the game.
“I’m giving it my all. I hope I’m doing enough to solidify a spot here. I’ve just got to keep going until it’s all said and done. I don’t’ have control of who goes where. I can only control what I play like out there and what I can do. Wherever I end up, I’m just going to work on my game. I’m hoping for the best and trying to do all I can to stick.”
Others really should take notice. The Canucks’ final pre-season game is Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena.
Winger Brock Boeser missed his first game since Monday’s hit-from-behind by Ottawa’s Chris Tierney sent the Canuck star into concussion protocol. Green said Wednesday: “I think it was a dirty hit. Now that I’ve had some time to watch it, it’s not a hit that I like. I don’t like that we’re missing one of our marquee players.” The Canucks remain hopeful that Boeser will be ready for the season-opener.