Make-or-break time for Goldobin, Leipsic with Canucks

The debate on HC @ Noon covered whether Vancouver fans will be patient during a rebuild or not, if Boeser can score 40 and if Linden and ownership saw eye to eye.

VANCOUVER – There are so many names flooding the National Hockey League transaction wire these days that Adam Gaudette’s probably didn’t get much attention Thursday outside of Vancouver when the Canucks assigned him to their minor-league team.

But Gaudette, a versatile forward from the Boston area and one of the Canucks’ top prospects, is the Hobey Baker Award winner who led U.S. college hockey in scoring last season before signing a pro contract and getting a five-game trial in the NHL last spring.

Outside of world-class prospect Elias Pettersson, the Canucks’ rookie-of-the-year candidate from Sweden, Gaudette was regarded when training camp opened as the prospect most likely to make a rebuilding Vancouver team that is desperate for talented, young players.

But after an excellent prospects tournament, a solid NHL camp and three scoreless pre-season games, Gaudette was dispatched Thursday to the Utica Comets. He is following to upstate New York other good forward prospects – highly-drafted Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich – who proved unready to make the jump to the NHL in their first seasons of professional hockey in North America.

The inability of these players to force their way into the lineup of a Canucks team that had 73 points last season reflects not their shortcomings but the foolhardiness in projecting neophyte pros from much lower leagues to make an NHL roster on their first or second try.

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But this is Canucks winger Nikolay Goldobin’s fourth NHL training camp and fifth season of professional hockey. Speedy forward Brendan Leipsic is also starting his fifth year as a pro.

As the Canucks, with just nine goals in six pre-season games, five of them losses, lurch towards their final warmup Saturday in Kelowna against the Arizona Coyotes, and next week’s regular-season launch, Goldobin and Leipsic are the last hopes among Vancouver prospects who could help the attack this fall.

Both have shown offensive flashes in the pre-season but not the consistency and overall game required to make them everyday NHL players. Yet, they’re still here.

Goldobin practised Thursday on the first line beside Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Leipsic skated on the second line with Pettersson and Loui Eriksson. That’s how badly the Canucks need Goldobin or Leipsic or both to make their team.

What coach Travis Green hopes is that the players, at crossroads in their careers, are equally desperate to make it.

"This is a big camp for both of those guys in their careers as far as playing in the NHL," Green said after practice at Rogers Arena. "They need to play in the NHL pretty soon or they’re not going to make it.

"How good is the opportunity right now? It’s good. There are 25 guys here. There are 15 forwards and I know we’re keeping at least 13. They’ve got a better chance than they had yesterday."

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A little more than a week before his 23rd birthday, Goldobin has played 61 games in the NHL, including 38 last season when he scored eight times during a pair of extended call-ups from the American Hockey League.

He should be ahead of all the talented kids the Canucks have in their development pipeline, and when Goldobin scored in the pre-season opener and logged 18:22 of ice time on a line with Pettersson, the Russian winger looked close to a sure thing for the regular season.

But in his next game, Goldobin was demoted in the third period and Green said after the game that he needed to work harder.

Leipsic, who is from Winnipeg and already with his fourth NHL organization at age 24, has struggled to recapture the dynamic, offensive flair he displayed soon after the Canucks acquired him at the trade deadline from the Vegas Golden Knights. He has one goal in four pre-season games after collecting nine points in 14 games with the Canucks at the end of last season.

Goldobin, a 2014 first-round pick lifted from the San Jose Sharks two seasons ago, understands what’s at stake this weekend.

"I’m imagining it like it’s my last chance," he said. "It is, kind of, if you look to my contract. I want to play in this league and I want to play on this team.

"I feel like I’m growing as a player. I have one year left on my contract, so this is important. I feel pressure on me, to be honest. But I’m trying to do my best. Hopefully, it will be good enough."

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Goldobin, whose next pro contract could be back in Russia, has not always been given the best linemates or the best chance to succeed. But this month, he is getting both. The opportunity to make the Canucks is genuine and obvious.

He and Leipsic have only to seize it.

Notes: Green announced that goalie prospect Thatcher Demko, who was expected to be sent back to the AHL this week, is undergoing concussion protocol after being injured during Monday’s morning skate before the Canucks lost 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in Salt Lake City… Fifth-overall draft pick Olli Juolevi and Brendan Gaunce, who must first clear waivers, were also assigned to the AHL on Thursday.

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