Let’s just call Shirokov the first Sergei Shirokov

shirokovhushBack in the day, when Canucks hockey pretty much ruled my life, I remember sitting around with the regular group of buddies, and being so excited when the Canuck drafted Pavel Bure. My friends and I followed every detail of the story. From anxiously awaiting word from the NHL after other teams filed a protest of our pick claiming Bure was ineligible, to the politics of getting him here. The first night he stepped on the ice for the Canucks is one of my most vivid Canucks memories. As we all know, Bure came as advertised and to this day is the most talented player that has ever worn a Canucks uniform, in my opinion.

There’s a new Russian hope at training camp this year and after a few training camp sessions and a nice two goal performance against what was basically a roster of AHL players and juniors, Sergei Shirokov is turning a lot of heads. There are even fans comparing him to the “Russian Rocket”.

Now that I’m a bit older, I’m excited by Shirokov too, but not enough to make comparisons like that.

The Canucks drafted Shirokov 163rd overall in 2006, and this past summer signed the talented Russian after he decided to forgo more  guaranteed money in with CSKA Moscow to pursue and NHL career with the Canucks. Shirokov wanted to play so badly in the NHL he filed a lawsuit against his Russian team when they decided to try an block him from leaving.

“At the end of the day, this kid said: ‘I want to play in the National Hockey League and I’m prepared to do whatever I have to,’” Canuck assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said. “He’s on an entry-level, two-way contract. He understands he has to compete for a spot and if he’s unable to make our team, he’ll play for our minor-league team.”

That determination is admirable, and by all reports Shirokov is putting his talents on display so far in camp, but do we need to heap the pressure of being the next Bure on him? Is that even fair? How about we just look forward to what the first Shirokov can do?

Shirokov is a smallish player, listed at 5’10″, 176 pounds. He had 17 goals and 41 points in 56 games last season in the KHL. There are many who claim he’s played against men for a couple years now in Russia, and that he should be able to adjust to the pace and grind of the NHL quickly, however not many rookies can accomplish that. The NHL plays twice as many games as the KHL, not including playoffs, and it hosts the best players in the world. Shirokov, if he makes the team, is likely going to find that a big adjustment.

Then there is the culture.

His english is spotty at best, and there aren’t any other Russian players on the roster and the adjustment will be massive.

There is no doubt that Shirokov possesses the talent and determination to play in the NHL. There is also no doubt his scoring talents  would be a welcome addition to the Canucks offensive depth and trhe club and it’s fans would love nothing better for him to jump right in and bring fans out of their seats.

So start thinking of nicknames and order your Shirokov jersey. Just don’t be surprised if the transition from promising prospect to Canucks superstar take a little longer than a few training camp sessions and a minor league exhibition game.

Quick Hits:

Here we go! Areas to watch as camp gets underway.

This morning at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Canucks will open training camp on the 2009-2010 season. The off-season has been a productive one for general manager Mike Gillis and now the body of that work will take the ice to try and earn jobs on a team that is being regarded a real contender in the Western Conference this season.

Here’s a look at the key issues as camp opens this weekend.

Will he or won’t he and do you care?

Mats SundinLet’s get this out of the way right off the top since Mats Sundin doesn’t seem to want to make a decision. As far as I am concerned if Sundin doesn’t show up for his physical today, and he won’t, it’s time to turn the page on him and I hope the Canucks feel the same. Congratulations to Mats and his new bride on their recent marriage, and I’m sure Mats is having a lovely time in wedded bliss, but I don’t want the ‘will he or won’t he’ circus that preceded his arrival last year. I also don’t want a Mats Sundin who will use regular season games to get into shape.

Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald who was a guested on the TEAM 1040 yesterday, told Dave Pratt and Don Taylor he had been told that Mats wasn’t all that thrilled with his time in Vancouver, particularly with his ice time. Well Mats, if you had shown up in shape, we would have loved for you to get more ice time and be more effective for us, believe me.

Sundin doesn’t have the legs to compete like he once did. I would rather see a younger player be brought on to the roster and broken in than watch a former star of of the game play to half his capacity while he gets his legs.

Mike Gillis has maintained that Sundin, 38, would have to be in training camp from day one, so let’s hope he sticks to that deadline, and moves on.

Who’s got Roberto’s back?

Cory Schneider

With Roberto Luongo glued between the posts until your first born graduates, gets married and makes you a grandparent, the question turns to who will back him up. The Canucks signed Andrew Raycroft to add to the mix and of course Cory Schneider is still in the mix. The debate is who should go where? Schneider is obviously going to be moving on at some point. He’s a blue chip prospect who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level and could be a valuable piece to any trade package used to address another need. So, do you send him back to the AHL and let him play, or keep him here and hope that when he gets game action he showcases his talents? As with anything Mike Gillis does, he’ll take his time and let the situation unfold before him, but the goaltenders will certainly be an interesting group to watch.

No rest for the defense

Besides locking up his franchise player Roberto Luongo, Gillis’ biggest accomplishment in the off-season was adding layers of depth to his already talented stable of blueliners. Last season when Sami “Don’t sneeze on me” Salo (Just kidding Sami, kind of) the Canucks breakout game and power play suffered. This year with the addition of Christian Erhoff and Mathieu Schneider, the Canucks have some back up depth in those areas. As the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap reports Schneider may not be ready for the regular season opener, and won’t be rushed back following off-season shoulder surgery, so that depth is already coming in handy.

However, there are lots of other battles on the blue line and something will have to give, especially with the club still needing another top 6 forward in many people’s opinion, and still needs to get to the cap, leaving some room to avoid the situation the Calgary Flames found themselves in last season. The chips to make that deal will likely include one of the 15 training camp defensemen looking to make the team, and with as much depth in camp as there is, only about 5 of those players can be considered locks.

The Hodgson watch

Cody Hodgson is the most anticipated prospect the Canucks have had in a long time. A back injury currently hampers the progress of the talented young forward who has the potential to become the next Trevor Linden of this hockey club. Asked recently whether Hodgson is a lock to make the team, Gillis wisely answered that he’ll have to earn his spot just like every other player. Going into camp  Hodgson will no doubt be given every chance to compete, but the back injury which was reported as no big deal at one point is now about 6 weeks old, and we’ll have to see how it holds up through the rigors of training camp. The Canucks will play it safe with Hodgson, and ease him in slowly.

Where art thou scoring?

With Pavol Demitra on the shelf to start the year, and Mats Sundin doing whatever he’s doing, the Canucks only real weakness may be up front. The Sedin’s will be as consistent as they always are, and Burrows will be given the start on that line. Mikael Samuelsson, acquired a s F.A. from Detroit and the redesigned Steve Bernier could really help things by playing key roles. Ryan Kelser will look to advance even further in his development as a player, but without Demitra will need some offense added to that second line. There are also prospects Sergei Shirokov and Michael Grabner to keep an eye on, as well as Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Kyle Wellwood to look to for offense. With more scoring expected from a restocked blue line, as well, the team could have some time to let things settle, before going the trade route if they need to.

All in all it’s going to be an exciting and competitive camp for the Canucks, with many interesting battles taking place for roster spots. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Calm, Cool & Collected – Gillis leads by example

As training camp gets set to open officially tomorrow morning at UBC when players report for their physicals, we’re starting another year of Canucks hockey here at Canucks Corner. 13 years have gone by and we’re still kicking, entering our14th year of Canucks hockey on the internet. I’m pretty excited about the coming year not only for the site, but the team on the ice. There is a real buzz in Vancouver, and it’s a little different than it has been in the past.

Fans are starting to buy into the Canucks regime that is lead by the calm cool and patient Mike Gillis. With a summer full of big hurdles to overcome, Gillis handled them all with the quiet confidence that has become his trademark as the leader of the organization. Signing the Sedin’s and getting Roberto Luongo signed long term were no easy tasks for any GM to face going into the off-season. Then he goes out and dips into the thre free agent market adding Andrew Raycroft for depth in goal, Mikael Samuelsson up front and adding Mathieu Schneider, Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich to an already deep blue line corp.

He has youngsters Sergei Shirokov, Michael Grabner and of course Cody Hodgson among others vying to crack the roster, and a young blue chip goaltender in Cory Schneider to use anyway he sees fit and then there is the continued maturation of players like Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

And if that weren’t enough Gillis is about to extend the contract of coach Alain Vigneault to add even more stability to the club.Vigneault has his fans and his detractors but he and Gillis seem to be on the same page when it comes to building this hockey club, and that’s half the battle.

Yes, heading into camp the Canucks and their fans have a lot of reasons to be excited about. But that’s not to say there still isn’t work to be done. The Canucks will need to whittle their salary structure down by October 1st to get under the salar cap, something Gillis says will be done through competition at camp. Gillis feels this camp is different than the last due to the fact he was new last year and no one knew what to expect from him. Now with his retooling and stabilizing project nearing completion, all players should be entering camp ready to be at the top of their game, or they may not make the team.

With the Northwest division taking a drop off in quality according to many, the Canucks should be in a position to contend for the division and perhaps even the conference. So sit back and get ready for another wild ride. Just try and take it day by day…like our calm cool and collected GM.

Quick Hits:

  • This from Hosea Cheung on Twitter: (@hosea24hours) The Canucks have cut Matthew Ford, Mitch McColm, Bobby Nadeau, and Joe Plekaitis, James Reid, Justin Taylor, and Michael Ward following prospects camp. prior to the start of the main camp.
  • TSN says no Sundin is not negotiating, Sportsnet claims he’ and the Canucks are talking. Here we go again? God I hope not. Either Mats shows up for his physical tomorrow or move on.
  • As I said in the intro I am really excited about the direction this site could be heading this year and the things we have in store working with the Canucks on the Fan Zone at Canucks.com. We have a great group of creative people who are really going to try and do some cool things this season. You’ll have to stay tuned for more, but safe to say if you follow these folks on Twitter you’ll never be out of the loop: @CanucksHockey @mozy19, @Hgiraffe, @vancanucks, @miss604
    @canucksoutsider
    , @johnbollwitt, @crazycanucks and of course follow us at @CanucksCorner.