VANCOUVER – With self-improvement, as with many things, it’s easier to pledge something than deliver it. How many New Year’s resolutions have failed to survive January? Or New Year’s Eve?
But as far as Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin’s mission this season to get players to elevate culture by working every day to put the team ahead of themselves, sacrificing whatever is required to win, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes say they are fully onboard.
“Absolutely,” Pettersson, the 23-year-old centre, said Monday. “I mean, that's what it all comes down to. It doesn't matter if I play my best game, if we don't win, I'm still going to be mad. It's what it's all about. He's trying to create a winning culture and it's good to be a part of.”
Hughes, the 22-year-old defenceman, said: “I think that's a big thing with me. I don't have to be anyone but myself, but I want to win and whatever I have to do to make that happen, I'll try to do.”
Speaking to reporters at the Canucks’ annual Jake Milford charity event at Northview Golf Club in Surrey, Hughes said he believes players are embracing the challenge to change culture, issued directly by Allvin at exit-meetings last spring after Vancouver missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“I think it has been heard already,” he said. “I think guys have come into camp in good shape. Everyone did their bike test already and just asking guys what the numbers were, they said it was pretty good. I think everyone's really dialed in this year.”
The Canucks undergo medicals and further testing Wednesday before opening training camp on the ice Thursday in Whistler.
Culture will be discussed around the Canucks this season as if the hockey team were a fromagerie or the National Film Board.
But again, it’s easier to discuss than change.
Veteran Canuck leaders like J.T. Miller, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers have all talked about learning to win and the mindset and sacrifice it requires, but nothing improves without a universal buy-in, especially among the team’s younger stars.
Drafted a year apart, one of them a Calder Trophy winner and the other a runnerup, Pettersson and Hughes are hugely influential.
After a dismal start last season (four goals in 28 games) that mirrored the team’s start and contributed to the dismissal of coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning on Dec. 5, Pettersson exploded in the second half, amassing 26 goals and 51 points in his final 44 games under new coach Bruce Boudreau.
He was also bumped to the wing at times and moved up and down the top three lines by Boudreau, but was productive wherever and with whomever he played.
Hughes, who like Pettersson missed the first half of training camp while awaiting a new contract, took his overall game to a higher level. The dynamic skater improved his defensive play while still contributing 60 assists and 68 points, breaking long-standing franchise records for a defenceman, while averaging 25:15 of ice time.
During the off-season, Hughes told Boudreau he could switch to the right of defence from his natural left side if needed, and the coach told Sportsnet on Friday that the Canucks will try Hughes there through training camp. Boudreau is expected to partner Hughes with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which could give the Canucks a true No. 1 pairing capable of eating big minutes in all situations.
Hughes said Monday he spent the offseason prepping for right-side work. Training partners at his development-coach-dad’s elite camp in Michigan included Quinn’s brothers, Jack and Luke, Dylan Larkin, Zach Werenski, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Matty Beniers, among other NHLers.
“I started to work in the summer on some different packages and I think there's more things I can do offensively on the blue line on the right side,” Hughes explained. “Sometimes I find myself stationary on the left.”
Hughes said he played right defence growing up, but was moved to the left side for his two seasons at the University of Michigan.
“It's probably tougher in the neutral zone where I'm collecting a pass (on the backhand) and I can't just go up the wall,” he said of playing on the right. “But I think in other aspects, seeing everything on my forehand, being in the O-zone and (I can) take a step to and take a slapshot, walk into it. And I don't think anyone's seen me on the right side, so they don't know what to expect. I think I could catch some people off guard, but we'll see. I'd definitely like to try it out for a couple exhibition games.”
The Canucks’ pre-season starts Sunday with split-squad games, home and away, against the Calgary Flames.
“I like to think I learned a lot from last season,” Pettersson said. “And so I'm just trying to think of the positive and hopefully a better start this year.”
Pettersson offered a one-word answer for the stark difference between his first and second halves: “Confidence.”
What does he like most about his team?
“I like our creativity,” Pettersson said. “There's a lot of offensive-minded people, so I think we can create scoring chances on all four lines. The right answer, I don't know. But I think the second part (of the season) shows that when we play as a team, we can compete with the best teams in the league, which is the main goal -- to make the playoffs.”
That success or failure is how all the Canucks will be judged.