VANCOUVER – To understand how starkly different the Vancouver Canucks’ landscape looks without Daniel and Henrik Sedin, imagine the city’s own landscape. Now take away the mountains and ocean.
Sure, there are still majestic trees, about 10,000 cappuccino joints and half that many bike lanes, but Vancouver isn’t on anyone’s most-beautiful-cities-in-the-world list without the Pacific Ocean and Coast Mountains.
And so it is with the Canucks minus the Sedin twins, the future Hall of Famers who retired in April at age 37 while still productive National Hockey League scorers.
For the first time this century, the Canucks open training camp Friday without the Sedins, who apart from becoming two of the most consistent scorers of their generation were the conscience of the hockey team for the last dozen years.
The Canucks choreograph their pre-camp press conferences the way lions eat. The leaders go first. Instead of Danny and Hank sitting behind the head table Thursday in the media room at Rogers Arena, the leaders were Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson.
“You’re not going to replace the twins,” Edler, whose 758 games in Vancouver are nearly double the next longest-tenured Canuck, told reporters. “That’s impossible. But together, I think we can work together and lead the team. Everyone has to be part of that.”
“For sure we’re going to miss those two guys,” Eriksson said. “But now it’s a totally different team.”
The two guys who matter most to the Canucks were in the third press conference: Brock Boeser, 21, and Bo Horvat, 23. Horvat should be the next captain, although coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning made it clear they see no need to quickly stitch Hank Sedin’s ‘C’ on to anyone.
The most exciting stories of training camp with be rookie prospects Elias Pettersson, 19, Jonathan Dahlen, 20, Adam Gaudette, 21, and Thatcher Demko, 22. These players are, in order: the best player from the Swedish Hockey League, the best player from Sweden’s second division, the Hobey Baker winner from U.S. college hockey, and the minor-league prospect considered about the best goalie in hockey not already in the NHL.
Outstanding offensively at last weekend’s Young Stars tournament in Penticton, Pettersson already seems to have a Canuck roster spot to lose. But any of the other three could also make the opening-night lineup if he has an excellent training camp and pre-season.
The skaters will be pushing an incumbent group of pros only a few years older than they are: Markus Granlund, 25, Ben Hutton, 25, Brendan Leipsic, 24, Brendan Gaunce, 24, Derrick Pouliot, 24, and Jake Virtanen, 22.
“We have some young players that need to take that next step,” Benning said. “They’re 23, 24 years old, they’ve been around now for a couple of years and they have to, you know, take that next step whether it be offensively or whatever their game is. I’m excited about that.”
“First of all, everyone should feel pressure; our team had 73 points last year,” Green said. “Everyone has pressure to become better hockey players and we’ve made that clear. That’s part of the business – you’ve got to perform.
“There’s a lot of ‘what ifs?’ There’s a lot of: ‘How’s this guy going to look?’ We don’t know yet. That’s going to be a good problem to have if we have a lot of young guys ready.”
Green said the Canucks could have two or three “true rookies” make the team, plus others who have some experience but are still trying to build their careers.
Pettersson, who could centre Vancouver’s second line and play on the first-unit power play, has Calder Trophy potential. He is the most gifted Canuck prospect since Pavel Bure.
But it’s last season’s Calder Trophy runner-up, Boeser, from whom so much is expected — and required if the Canucks are to somehow eclipse last season’s 73 points and climb away from the bottom of the overall standings.
By Christmas of his rookie season, Boeser was Vancouver’s best player. He led the Canucks with 29 goals and co-led them with 55 points despite missing the final 16 games with a broken bone is his lower back. Boeser also required a medical procedure on an injured wrist and wasn’t fully cleared for off-season training until July.
If he and Horvat, his linemate who had 44 points in 64 games, don’t reach another offensive level this season after the depature of the Sedins and their combined 105 points, the Canucks have no chance to be any better than they were last year.
“Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure yet,” Boeser told Sportsnet. “But training camp hasn’t even started. That could change once the season gets going. I don’t like to sound cocky (but) I expect to score. Even when I’m skating in the summer and practising, I expect to score.
“This is the strongest I’ve ever felt. I’ve gained eight to 10 pounds without gaining any body fat. I don’t think Bo and I need to do anything more than what we’ve been doing. We’re both competitive kids. If we play our game, we’ll get the numbers we got last year and, hopefully, even better.”
The Canucks may not be any better this season. But with a wave of talented prospects surging towards the NHL, they should be more fun to watch.
“I’m excited,” Green said. “It’s a different era in Vancouver.”