PENTICTON, B.C. – School is over, now the final exams begin.
The drills and scrimmages during a three-day training camp gave the Vancouver Canuck coaching staff a chance to evaluate talent and school new players on the team’s systems.
The grading on who makes Vancouver’s roster will be made during the Canucks’ eight exhibition games. It’s a chance for a rookie to show he belongs or a veteran to convince coaches he can contribute another year.
“Exhibition is how they really evaluate who has a spot or if someone is coming in to steal someone’s job,” said defenceman Shane O’Brien. “Exhibition may not be the most fun time of the year for guys, but it’s a time where you have to go out and play your game and treat it like a regular season game.
“On a team which has as much depth as we have, no one is safe. I know a lot of guys are looking forward to showing what they’ve got.”
Veteran centre Brendan Morrison, who is attending camp on a tryout contract, said game speed is the true test of a player’s hockey intelligence.
“You can look tremendous in practice, look like you are head and shoulders above everyone else,” he said. “But when the puck drops, and you have to think a little, it’s a whole different scenario.”
The Canucks ended their camp at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Monday with a scrimmage that attracted a large crowd. Coach Alain Vigneault was pleased with what he saw over the weekend.
“I liked our focus and our work ethic,” he said. “Right now what we wanted to do was make sure our guys were game ready.
“Hopefully we have prepared them to play hard and play well.”
The Canucks play their first exhibition games Tuesday against the Calgary Flames. Half the team will play in Calgary, while the other half will face a group of Flames at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Other games Tuesday include Ottawa at Toronto, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Florida at Carolina, Columbus at Atlanta, Colorado at St. Louis, Tampa Bay at Dallas, and Phoenix at Anaheim.
The Canucks received good news Monday when centre Cody Hodgson was cleared to practise with the rest of the team and take some contact.
Hodgson, the 10th pick in the 2008 draft, missed most of last year with a back injury. It’s still not known when he can dress for an exhibition game.
“We keep testing it and throwing more stuff at it,” said the 20-year-old, who was the CHL player of the year in 2009. “If it keeps going well we will progress.
“That’s the way its been going and so far everything has been going really well.”
Some of the players getting their first taste of the Vancouver system were defenceman Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, plus forwards Manny Malhotra, Victor Oreskovich and Raffi Torres.
“It usually takes a little while,” said Hamhuis, a Smithers, B.C., native who was signed as a free agent after playing in Nashville. “I will be working as hard as I can with the coaches to get the system down.”
Ballard, obtained in a trade from Florida, and Hamhuis are key additions. During last spring’s second-round playoff loss to Chicago, the Canucks defence was unable to move players out from in front of the Vancouver net.
So far, Vigneault has liked what he’s seen from the new players.
“Ballard seems to be very competitive by nature,” he said. “Dan seems to be a little bit more quieter but seems to speak his mind.
“We’ll let them grow, get used to their new environment. We are confident we have two solid people here to help our hockey team.”
Malhotra and Torres were signed as free agents to add muscle and toughness.
For Torres, its a chance to revive his career after splitting last season between Columbus and Buffalo.
“I think it’s no secret what I do out there,” said Torres, who has never matched the 24 goals and 41 points he scored with the Edmonton Oilers during the 2005-06 season. “I go out, finish my hits and try and score some goals along the way.
“I’d like to be better defensively.”
Vigneault shrugged off worries about Torres’ work habits.
“I’m not interested in what happened to him in the past,” he said. “He has a clean slate right here.
“He’s got to come here and have the work ethic we are looking for. So far, that’s what I’ve seen.”
With forward Alex Burrows expected to miss the start of the season with a shoulderinjury, Mikael Samuelsson will likely move up to the first line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
That gives young Russian Sergei Shirokov a shot at the second line. Shirokov looked good in exhibition last year, but spent the season with Vancouver’s AHL farm team in Manitoba.
Some of the other young forwards the Canucks will want to look at include Jeff Tambellini, Bill Sweatt and Jordan Schroeder. Along with Morrison, veteran forward Peter Schaefer is trying to earn a job.
The camp also gave goaltender Roberto Luongo a chance to play with Ballard and Hamhuis, learn their tendencies and explain his preferences.
Luongo, who gave up the Canucks’ captaincy to concentrate on goaltending, said he’s anxious to play some games.
“I’ve been doing goalie drills for over a month now,” he said. “Just getting into practice these last couple of days has been a bit of a challenge to get the flow and rhythm going.
“The real test is to see how you feel once you get into the games. Nothing copies the intensity of a game.”