To steal a phrase from Allen Iverson, today I'm sitting here talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice.
So just keep that in mind, okay.
The Vancouver Canucks prospects took to the ice at Rogers Arena on Saturday morning for a two-hour session that included drills and situational play. Early indication is the Canucks will deploy a top line of Jordan Schroeder centering Bill Sweatt and Kevin Clark when the team opens the Young Stars Tournament against the Edmonton Oilers at the Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton on Sunday. The Oilers are expected to counter with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Chris Vande Velde. For those just returning from Superman's lair, Hall was the top choice in this past June's NHL entry draft.
Anyway, the Canucks line is an interesting combination for no other reason than Clark, who played last season at the University of Alaska, is at camp as an unsigned, undrafted player. Schroeder, meanwhile, is Vancouver's top pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft (22nd overall) while Sweatt was signed as a free agent after failing to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who acquired the former 2007 second-round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Kris Versteeg deal.
Putting the 23 skaters and two goalies through their paces was Manitoba Moose head coach Claude Noel. He and Moose assistant coach Keith McCambridge will be the ones behind the bench for Vancouver's games against the Oilers, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks prospects. Watching from the stands, just like he will be in Penticton, was Alain Vigneault. The Canucks head coach was joined by a number of the team's upper management and scouting staff, including assistant general manager Laurence Gilman, senior advisor to the GM Stan Smyl, director of player development Dave Gagner and chief amateur scout Ron Delorme.
Oh, also taking in the view from the freshly painted lower bowl was defenceman Yann Sauve, who will not be attending the Young Stars Tournament due to injuries suffered from being struck by a car in downtown Vancouver one week ago today. It was hard not to feel for the 20-year-old Montreal native, who often could be seen wringing his hands, I'm sure out of frustration with his predicament. Sauve was Vancouver's second-round pick (41st overall) in 2008 and was expected to compete for a spot on the Moose this season. He's still not been medically cleared to skate and may not be ready in time for the main camp. The Canucks aren't saying anything, but word out of Saint John, N.B. – where he played the past four seasons with the Sea Dogs of the QMJHL – is he's got a concussion. Sauve's only noticeable injuries are abrasions to his face and arms, but he otherwise seemed to be moving okay. He has one year of junior eligibility remaining.
Oh, and speaking of the Canucks' 2008 draft class, the team's first selection that year, Cody Hodgson was no where to be seen.
But back to – wait for it – practice. The past two days have been primarily a chance for the coaching staff to to put some names to numbers and numbers to faces. It'll be from the games where the tough decisions will be made.
"I've wanted this since I first came to Vancouver, you get such a better evaluation of your young talent,” said Vigneault, about the format of this year's rookie camp. “This is going to be really good for us. I don't get much of an opportunity to see them during the winter – beyond maybe a game on TV and I went to Abbotsford the odd time last year – so I'm looking forward to seeing our prospects and how they've developed since the last time I saw them. I expect it to be a lot of fun and very competitive.”
Vigneault wouldn't specify how many rookies will be invited to the team's main camp next Friday, but expects there to be some crossover. Schroeder, Sweatt along with defenceman Kevin Connauton are the early favourites to nake the jump.
“I don't really want to get into any specific players,” he said. “I want to keep an open mind. Everyone has a clean slate and I'm just looking forward to see what they can do. They'll be some, obviously it's going to depend on their play. The ones that do play well and do deserve to make the main camp will.”
Schroeder is one player who is confident that his play will warrant at least an extended look. The former University of Minnesota star said the fact he'll be able to display his ability in a game setting should only help his cause. The 22nd pick two years averaged nearly a point a game in the regular season and playoffs after joining the Moose at the end of his college season.
“On skill level alone, I think I deserve to be there, but at the same time I have to be physical and intense,” said the 19-year-old native of Prior Lake, Minn. “Being able to show what I can do in game situations rather than one-on-one in practice will be a benefit as I'll be able to use my teammates.”
Noel singled out Schroeder's line, Aaron Volpatti and Connauton as players who stood out on day two.
“A lot of the guys we have were pretty good,” said Noel, who takes over the Canucks' AHL affiliate from Scott Arniel, who is now the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I like our defence and the line of Sweatt, Schroeder, Clark is a good line. Volpatti I liked. There's some good players. I saw some real good things that encouraged me to think with a little work, in two or three months, we'll be in pretty good shape. If I get them. I anticipate getting them, but we'll see what happens.”
He's right. Only time will tell.