Injured Mikheyev’s grit will be missed on Canucks team limping to finish line

Vancouver Canucks forward Ilya Mikheyev discusses his season ending due to ACL surgery, sharing how he dealt with the injury he sustained in training camp throughout the Canucks' embattled season. Courtesy: Canucks TV

VANCOUVER — On the day the new coach wondered aloud, as the old coach had, about the lack of identity on the Vancouver Canucks, an injury to winger Ilya Mikheyev demonstrated there is at least some substance to the National Hockey League team.

General manager Patrik Allvin announced Friday night after the Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 – and Mikheyev scored – that the Russian was being shut down for the season in order to undergo surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in the pre-season.

Mikeyev made it to Game 49 and the NHL all-star break playing on one leg. He had 13 goals and 28 points and played regularly on the power play, penalty kill and on a key line with Elias Pettersson while averaging nearly 17 minutes a night.

And Mikheyev wanted to keep playing, Allvin told reporters in his post-game news conference.

“He’s the type of kid that he wants to keep playing,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet echoed. “Like, he wants to keep playing but it’s not the right thing to do. We care about the person and . . . he’s a high-character guy. For him to be emotional just shows you what kind of character. We’ve all been there before. He wants to help out. Things haven’t been going that great and he wants to be part of the solution.”

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Mikheyev, who signed a four-year, $19-million contract to join the Canucks from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, choked with emotion trying to speak to reporters Friday night.

The 28-year-old was unable to finish sentences when asked about leaving the lineup after keeping himself in the fight for nearly four months as the Canucks crashed through another poor season. Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach on Sunday.

“We work hard with medical staff and try to find some way I can play, how I can play much better, like, with this knee,” Mikheyev managed to explain.

“It’s not about pain, it’s more about like, power — power and stability.”

Mikheyev said the ACL ligament in his knee was almost fully torn in a Sept. 25 split-squad game against the Calgary Flames on the opening night of the Canucks’ pre-season.

He missed the rest of the pre-season and the first three games of the regular season, but appeared in 46 straight after that.

Mikheyev’s end-boards bank shot that made it 3-1 in the first period against Columbus was his first goal in 15 games.

His surgery is next week, which should allow the speedy forward to fully recover before training camp next September.

“It needed a surgery,” Allvin said. “You’re basically playing on one knee here and it speaks highly about his pain tolerance and what he’s willing to do.

“Our medical staff did a tremendous job here and made him ready to play every game. Again, this is a discussion with Ilya and our doctors and our medical staff and the timing was right. He wanted to keep playing.”

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Asked if shutting down Mikheyev represents an admission that the Canucks, 14 points out of a playoff spot and 4-11-0 since Dec. 27, are now focusing on next season, Allvin said: “What are we, 27th in the league? And really bad in a lot of underlying metrics. So yeah, we’re a long way to go here. For me, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about the process — playing the right way and finding our identity as a hockey club.”

On the job for five days and three games, Tocchet began Friday by talking about the Canucks’ identity issues.

“When you wear a Canuck jersey, what team are they?” Tocchet said after the morning skate. “What’s the identity? That’s my big thing: when you play the Canucks, what type of team are they? Hard team to play against? Smart team? Selfless team? Those are the attributes you want, that I want to find for the Canuck logo. That’s something we’ve got to find here.”

Two nights earlier, Tocchet called his new team “soft” after a desultory 6-1 road loss to the Seattle Kraken, which followed by 24 hours an impressive 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks when the Canucks allowed only 14 shots — a 12-year low.

Vancouver bounced back Friday with another 5-2 win against the lousy Blue Jackets. So, no wonder the new coach is unsure what he has inherited.

“We have to get the mindset different around here,” Tocchet said. “There’s got to be more trust with everybody. In that locker room, there’s just a little bit of mistrust. And that’s my job to make sure it’s trusting.

“We’re always looking for results (but) I’m looking for the process — and there’s another overused word. But it’s true. And it’s a mindset. We’ve got to change the mindset around here. I’ve only been here a week and there’s got to be a different mindset and different trust. The trust is there; we’ve got to find it.”

Friday’s game was one year and a day since Allvin was named the Canucks’ general manager, and he has been talking about the team’s identity and culture since then.

“To be honest, identity has been missing on our team,” he said Friday. “It’s hard to kind of predict night in and night out what you’re going to get from our group and, moving forward, that’s something we’ve got to set a stamp on here.

“Again, we’re 27th in the league. We’re not playing well. There is a lot of things that we need to correct here. Part of it is . . . finding an identity and finding out what kind of group we have.”

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The biggest piece of the Canucks’ leadership group, captain Bo Horvat, had four assists against the Blue Jackets. Their best player, Pettersson, had two goals. Defenceman Quinn Hughes and bruising forward Dakota Joshua also scored. Joshua has three points in three games under Tocchet.

While Pettersson and Horvat head to next weekend’s All-Star Game in Sunrise, Fla., the rest of the Canucks are off until Feb. 5, when they travel to New Jersey and practise at night before opening a four-game road trip against the Devils that Monday.

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