VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s not every day a rookie gets called up from the minors and finds himself skating on the big club’s top line.
But that’s the result of injuries to five regulars on the Vancouver Canucks as they prepare for four games in six nights starting Friday in Calgary.
With top-six forwards Daniel Sedin and Pavol Demitra on the shelf, Michael Grabner arrived Wednesday to try and pick up some of the lost scoring punch in his first taste of NHL action.
“It’s up to me now,” the 22-year-old Austrian said after practising with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows.
“I’m playing with good players. I’ve just got to take the chance and try to score some goals. They’re great setup guys.”
The Canucks had high hopes for Grabner this season but he was sent down to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose after what coach Alain Vigneault called an average training camp.
But things change when you start the season 0-3 and get bit hard by the injury bug.
The 2-3 Canucks now find themselves in desperate need of offence and Grabner, a blur down the right wing, has four goals in five games with the Moose.
“He needs to use his speed,” said Henrik Sedin, whose twin brother Daniel is out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his left foot.
“He’s extremely fast, he’s a good skater. If he plays the same way, we know what he can do and he’s going to be a factor for us.
“To have him use his speed and try to beat guys one on one, it’s going to open up a lot of space for me and (Burrows).”
The Canucks lost Daniel Sedin, their leading scorer last season, and Sami Salo, a shut-down defenceman who gets power-play minutes, in a two-game span.
Daniel Sedin took a teammate’s shot off his foot in a 7-1 win over Montreal on Oct. 7 and Salo suffered a knee injury in the next game, Sunday’s 4-3 shootout victory over Dallas.
It was career injury No. 38 for the brittle Salo, an 11-year veteran who somehow reached the 600-game plateau this month. He could be out five weeks with sprained ligaments.
Demitra, a second-line winger, is having a slow rehab from shoulder surgery but defenceman Mathieu Schneider, who also had his rotator cuff surgically repaired, could return later this month. Both were injured in the playoffs.
Also missing is third-line right-winger Jannik Hansen who broke his hand in a pre-season game fight.
“Obviously we’re facing adversity right now and once again, since I’ve been here the last four years, we’ve been facing some injuries every year,” said Burrows.
“I thought we always responded pretty well and it’s going to be different now that we’ve got a little more depth. It’s early in the year but that’s going to make us stronger down the road.”
With Salo out, defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, obtained in an off-season trade from the salary-dumping San Jose Sharks, expects to see more minutes especially because of his power-play passing ability.
“It’s always nice to get challenged in that kind of way,” said Ehrhoff, who leads Canuck defencemen with five points in five games. “Everybody has to step up.”
But that isn’t easy for a newcomer.
“It’s early in the season and the coaching staff is still adjusting to my style of play,” Ehrhoff said. “They’re still trying to figure me out.”
Aaron Rome, a free agent with 26 NHL games of experience who was signed as defensive depth, will get his first start Friday.
“I’m going to just try and make the easy plays, make a good first pass and try to be physical and hopefully that’ll be good enough,” Rome said.
Vigneault, meanwhile, is looking for versatility from his four lines because the busy schedule won’t allow him to shorten his bench.
Mikael Samuelsson, who plays right wing on the second line, could be on the point during power plays like he was last season in Detroit.
“Players who can play more than one position is definitely something that we need,” Vigneault said.
“We’ve got a couple of key components to our group that are missing and this is a great opportunity for some other guys to step in.”
Burrows, who took Daniel Sedin’s place on the power play and responded with a goal on Sunday, could also see more ice time.
“I don’t think I’ll replace Daniel,” said Burrows who blossomed into a 28-goal scorer out of a checking role last season. “He’s such a great player but I’ll try to do my best.
“It’s not going to take one or two guys to replace Daniel and Sami, it’s going to take the whole group.”