VANCOUVER – There’s a big smile on Steve Bernier’s face these days.
After being traded twice in one year, the big forward looks to have found a home with the Vancouver Canucks and will start the season playing on a line with Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Bernier knows his continued happiness could depend on his ability to mesh with the Sedins and help the line put points on the board.
“I need to figure out what they are thinking and when they are doing something,” Bernier, 23, said after Monday’s practice.
“They are very good at getting the puck in the corner, protecting the puck. I used to always be the guy to go get the puck. Now I don’t need to do it all the time. What I have to learn is to go somewhere (and wait to) get the puck and have a good scoring chance.”
Bernier also brings size to the line in case opposition teams try to intimidate the twins.
“If I would be playing with anybody that would be my job,” he shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. I like to do that.”
So far, Bernier seems to be doing well on the learning curve. In four exhibition games, the six-foot-two, 225-pound right-winger from Quebec City had two goals and an assist.
The twins haven’t clicked with a winger since Anson Carter scored 33 goals and collected 22 assists during the 2005-06 season. He left the next year as a free agent when the Canucks refused to meet his contract demands.
So far, Daniel Sedin has liked what Bernier has shown, but thinks more time is needed for the unit to gel.
“He’s big, he’s strong,” said Daniel, who had two goals and five assists in four exhibition games. “We haven’t used him enough.
“It’s too early to say but we have a good thing going. With Anson, it didn’t really work in the pre-season then all of a sudden it worked during the regular season.”
The Canucks obtained Bernier from the Buffalo Sabres for second-and third-round draft picks. He started last season playing for the San Jose Sharks but was dealt to the Sabres in February for all-star defenceman Brian Campbell.
In 76 games split between the two teams he had 16 goals and 16 assists.
Bernier was taken 16th overall by the Sharks in the 2003 draft. He showed flashes of talent but shuffled back and forth between the NHL and the minor leagues.
In 177 career NHL games, Bernier has 45 goals and 90 points.
He admits coming into camp with his confidence eroded.
“My time in Buffalo was short but I’m happy with what I did,” said Bernier, who signed a one-year, US$2.5-million with Vancouver. “I played good. Hopefully it (his confidence) is going to be built up for this year.”
As frustrating as the last year was, it also taught Bernier some lessons.
“It’s good to have a spot but you have to work when you have that spot to keep it,” he said. “If you take just one day off you can lose that spot and it’s very tough to get it back.
“If you don’t take it somebody is going to take it. You have to have that in mind.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault likes the attitude Bernier brought to training camp.
“He’s come in here with a mental frame to earn ice time,” said Vigneault. “He feels like he’s a very good offensive player and he wants to show that. When we made the trade, that’s what we thought we were getting and that’s what we’re hoping to get from his presence.
“He’s a big body. He goes to the tough areas. He’s good on the power play. As he gets more ice time, and more power plays with the twins, we think we have a pretty good player there.”
Goal scoring was a problem for Vancouver last year, when the team missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The Canucks are hoping the addition of Bernier and free-agent signing Pavol Demitra will give the offence some punch.
Helping the Canucks return to the playoffs is Bernier’s first priority, but he also has something to prove about himself.
“I want this year to be a breakout season,” he said. “The only way to do is it work hard and take the opportunity the Vancouver Canucks have given me.
“The only way to do that is work hard and be ready to be on the ice to take any passes or score any goals to get your confidence up.”