The Vancouver Canucks begin a new epoch this season and while there are many great storylines to follow, it’s hard not to think about the legacy of the Sedin twins. Without the retired Swedish wizards, the Canucks will need new leaders - not to mention a completely different strategy on the power play - but for veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson, it’s all part of the fun in rebuilding.
“As a group, we’re going to be challenged in ways that we haven’t been challenged,” he said. “They’ve held down the fort and set the standard for so many years. We have to create that now. It’s an exciting time for us.”
Gudbranson is coming off a tough 2017-18 campaign that saw him injured multiple times, including setbacks involving his shoulder and back. He will also be challenged to keep up with the go-go style that has enveloped the NHL in the past few years. As an old-school defenseman whose standout attributes are his size and snarl, Gudbranson recognizes that he needs to continue working on his game.
To that end, he trained in Toronto this summer, instead of Vancouver. On the advice of frequent defense partner Michael Del Zotto, Gudbranson trained with Matt Nichol, the famed fitness expert who also runs the BioSteel Camp highlighted by attendees such as Connor McDavid and Tyler Seguin. On top of that, Gudbranson had agent Mark Guy recommend a skating coach in Toronto, which led him to Dawn Braid. She’s one of the best in the business, having worked with numerous NHL teams and players such as John Tavares. So what was the focus?
“Just getting back to basics,” Gudbranson said. “Picking at little things, making adjustments - it has worked out well, I feel good out there.”
And Gudbranson will need to keep up, because the Canucks have some top-tier talent coming. The newest shiny toy is center Elias Pettersson, who destroyed the SHL last season and is ready to make noise on these shores.
“His highlight videos are ridiculous,” Gudbranson said. “I saw him play two years ago, they were playing a 3-on-3 at rookie camp and the way he commanded the middle of the ice was impressive. He dominated the rink within the rink at a young age and I think the kids we have coming up have a lot of hockey sense. They’re fast, smart players and we should be very excited for them.”
Pettersson will be a key piece of Vancouver’s offense very soon. Someone who has already made an impact is right winger Brock Boeser, who was a Calder front-runner last season until a back injury ended his year (he still finished second in voting to Mat Barzal of the Islanders).
“He’s got a ridiculous release,” Gudbranson said. “The puck is on and off his stick in a split-second. The control he has on his wrist shot is extremely impressive.”
In terms of external moves, Vancouver GM Jim Benning brought in veterans Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel and Gudbranson was happy to see a little more grease coming to the club.
“We picked up some guys that we really needed, guys that will take pucks to the net and get in the dirty areas” he said. “In certain swings of the year last season, we got caught playing towards the outside and not commanding the center of the ice. That’s where the game is won. If you win the middle of the ice, you should win the game. We brought some guys in who will get their noses dirty.”
Will it turn into a playoff spot? That’s going to be a tall order this season, but with growth from the youngsters and the continued ascent of a player such as Bo Horvat, at least the Canucks are on the right path. The Sedins were too unique to ever replace, but the Canucks can definitely do the twins proud.