VICTORIA – It should have come as no surprise to Vancouver Canucks management, coaches, players or fans that Elias Pettersson opened the scoring in Saturday’s first training camp scrimmage. The National Hockey League’s reigning Calder Trophy winner and the team’s goal-scoring leader last season picked up where he left off scooping up a loose puck in the offensive zone, shifting past a couple of defenders before tucking the puck into the net.
After racking up 28 goals and 66 points in his first NHL season, the 20-year-old has shown already to be an elite level offensive producer. And while responsible defensively as a rookie, Pettersson says he worked hard over the summer to increase his strength and endurance. As a centre that’s likely to attract the attention of top players on other teams, Pettersson knows his biggest challenges this season will likely be in the defensive zone.
“Playing centre you move a lot more than the wingers because in the d-zone wingers can mostly just chill up top with their D,” he explains. “I feel great. I feel I’ve got good conditioning, but I learned to take care of my body more and, of course, I feel stronger.”
Like Pettersson, Adam Gaudette returns after his rookie campaign in the NHL. Unlike Pettersson, however, Gaudette struggled to produce offensively in his first full season as a professional. While he had five goals and 12 points in 56 NHL games, Gaudette went the final 20 games of the season without finding the back of the net. The 22-year-old comes to camp looking to push incumbents Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle for one of the centre positions behind Pettersson and Bo Horvat. Waiver exempt, however, Gaudette will likely be in tough to crack the Canucks' opening night roster.
Still, he put in the work this summer that he hopes will allow him to make decisions difficult on the Canucks' coaching staff. Gaudette says he processed the ups and downs of last season over the off-season and has come to camp bigger and better than a year ago.
“I’ve always had an offensive side to my game and I think with the work I put in this summer I’m a little more confident and I’m not so concerned about being one of the weaker guys out there,” Gaudette says of the growing pains that come with the jump from college to the NHL. “I’m more confident playing defensively and being stronger on pucks and I think that’s going to help me be more confident in the offensive zone. I’m looking to go out there and put up points and not just go out there and get by. I want to be an impact player and put some points on the board.”
While Gaudette was putting in the work in the Boston-area, fellow New Englander Tim Schaller was at home in New Hampshire gearing up for his second training camp as a Canuck. The first, as Schaller recalls, did not go as well as he would have liked and that set the tone for a spotty season in which he had difficulty cracking the line-up with regularity. A year ago, Schaller said he had trouble ‘getting his motor running’ at camp and through an ineffective preseason and that carried over once the Canucks started playing for keeps.
The 28-year-old winger now admits that the difficulty of Travis Green’s training camp in Whistler caught him off guard.
“I worked maybe twice as hard this summer knowing that camp was a little tougher than what I had been used to in the past,” Schaller says. “So I worked on conditioning a lot. If I can come out with an edge to my game and with a little more confidence because I did so much work this summer, I’m in a really good mindset right now and if I go out there work hard, play my game I think anything will be better than last year.”
Schaller suited up for 47 of the Canucks 82 games last season scoring just three goals (all against Dallas). It was a significant drop from the dozen goals he registered for Boston before signing a two-year free agent deal with Vancouver in July 2018.
With the Canucks bolstering their forward ranks in the off-season, Schaller finds himself in a battle to keep his job in the big leagues. He’s hoping his work as a penalty killer may give him an edge on others when the coaching staff begins to make difficult decisions selecting the skaters that will be on the opening night roster.
“I’d like to kill penalties a lot more this year,” Schaller says. “I’m willing to block shots and do the dirty stuff, so if I get the opportunity to kill more penalties that’s one area of the game I have confidence in and I’d definitely flourish with that opportunity.”Schaller and the Canucks wrap up their three-day training camp on Sunday. There is no word yet on the line-ups the team will ice for its split-squad preseason openers against Calgary on Monday.