WHISTLER, B.C. – Two of the newest Vancouver Canucks have already been introduced to what life will be like playing in a Canadian NHL market.
Radim Vrbata got spotted as soon as he landed, while Nick Bonino received some preferential treatment while out shopping.
For a pair that most recently plied their trade in the U.S. sunbelt, it might take some getting used to.
“When we got in at the airport (I got recognized) at customs. That was surprising,” said Vrbata, who signed a two-year deal with the Canucks in July after five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. “They knew (who I was) right away.”
Bonino, meanwhile, arrived in Vancouver as part of the trade that sent Ryan Kelser to the Anaheim Ducks and had a similar welcome-to-Canada moment.
“I was at the Apple Store and one of the guys was helping me out. I think I got a little quicker service because of that,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a change but it should be fun.”
The Canucks are putting a lot of faith in Vrbata and Bonino at training camp as the team looks to rebound after missing the playoffs in 2013-14 for the first time in six seasons. Vrbata has been slotted onto the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, while Bonino looks like a good bet to centre the second unit alongside Alexandre Burrows and Zack Kassian.
“It’s been good trying to learn how (the Sedins) play and what they like to do,” said Vrbata, who had 21 goals and 30 assists last season. “Once we start playing games I think that will tell more.”
Getting a player to succeed on the wing with the Sedins has been difficult at times, but Vrbata said he expects things to click.
“The chemistry might take a couple games or it might just take one game,” said the 33-year-old Czech. “You can have two all-star players and a lesser known guy and he clicks with those guys. Or you can have three superstars and they don’t click together. Chemistry is something you can’t put your finger on it.”
Bonino had 22 goals and 27 assists for Anaheim in 2013-14, but will have an expanded role on the Canucks after bouncing around from line to line with the Ducks.
“You want to build on every year. The biggest thing with me is confidence. Every year I’ve gained confidence. In this league you need it,” said the 26-year-old from Unionville, Conn. “If you’re the type of player I am who wants to make plays, wants to make passes, you can’t settle into a dump-and-chase game and make the safe play because at the end of the day you’re going to get nowhere with it.
“Playing with (Burrows and Kassian), we should be able to be creative. I think what you can expect from me is just good two-way hockey, pretty responsible in my end, and when that happens you’re usually in the other zone a lot.”
Bonino said getting accustomed to his new teammates in training camp is vital, but added the players know nothing is ever set in stone.
“You want to learn tendencies and feel out where they’re going to be on the ice, where they want you on the ice. That’s definitely something to keep in mind,” he said. “At the same time, you never want to not get chances with other guys. You want to see what kind of chemistry there is all over the lineup.”
Vrbata and Bonino have both gotten good reviews from teammates early in camp for their skill, commitment and ability to mesh with the core.
“Vrbata is a smart player. I’ve liked him from Day 1. It’s been really good,” said Daniel Sedin. “When we played (the Coyotes) that’s one guy we looked out for because he’s a great scorer. He’s also a smart two-way player. He’s got no real weaknesses.”
Added Burrows: “I really like what I’ve seen from Nick so far. I think he moves the puck extremely well, he’s got good vision, works hard and he’s a smart player. He’s going to make plays out there.”
Those plays will be critical for a team that had difficulty creating offence last season and has undergone a facelift in a number of areas since April.
“(Vrbata and the Sedins) have been good. They’re a real good line,” said rookie head coach Willie Desjardins. “They’ve all got skill and they’re all smart players.
“Bonino has stepped right in and played well. I think it’s another line that can play and has some real good ability.”
Vancouver also got reliable defenceman Luca Sbisa in the Kesler trade, signed veteran goaltender Ryan Miller, and acquired gritty forward Derek Dorsett in a deal with the New York Rangers.
“Derek Dorsett’s always been a favourite of mine,” said first-year general manager Jim Benning. “We like the way he plays. He’s a heart and soul guy. He leaves it all on the ice every shift. He’s a real good teammate. He does everything that he can to help the team win.”
Bonino said he doesn’t think about who he was traded for and won’t put pressure on himself to put up similar numbers to the ones Kesler produced during his time in Vancouver.
“I think any time you’re in a market like this with the media, with the fans, with a team in Canada especially, there’s pressure to win,” said Bonino. “Whether that means scoring goals or getting a ton of points, I think honestly it comes down to winning. If the team’s doing well then there shouldn’t be a problem. That’s the only thing I’m focusing on right now.”
But he added: “Definitely the media attention is something to get used to.”