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The Canucks Are Eager To Show They're Worthy Of A Playoff Spot This Season

The Vancouver Canucks are determined to prove their second-half run in the 2021-22 season was no fluke, and that they belong in the playoffs.
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The Vancouver Canucks are determined to prove their second-half run in the 2021-22 season was no fluke, and that they belong in the playoffs. 

"It's something that you dream about as a kid," said goaltender Thatcher Demko as the Canucks kicked off their 2022 training camp with media day on Wednesday. "To do it in a Canadian market, more specifically in Vancouver, it'd be unbelievable. 

"That's something that this entire group is looking forward to this year. And I think we're a group that, when we do get into playoffs this year, we're going to be a hard team to beat.

"The push that we were able to make trying to get in last year was really inspiring for the city and for our group, too, to build confidence in those situations. So we're really excited to bring that atmosphere."

A slow start derailed the Canucks last season. But after new head coach Bruce Boudreau took over in early December, the team posted a 32-15-10 record for a .649 points percentage that was 11th-best in the NHL.

Now, Boudreau takes the reins for a full season.

"Every coach wants us to work hard," said captain Bo Horvat. "I think Bruce is really excited to actually get training camp under his belt, kind of get to know guys a little bit better and kind of kick things off the right way.

"Obviously, we have to work hard and it starts now."

With one year remaining on his current contract before he can potentially become an unrestricted free agent, Horvat was widely expected to have a new extension in hand by the time camp opened. 

That's not the case. But the 27-year-old reiterated that he doesn't intend to let the ongoing negotiations become a distraction.

"I put it completely aside," he said. "For me right now, it's just focusing on how I'm going to make this team better.

"It's just being the best leader, the best captain. Try to be that 200-foot guy that you can rely on every single night."

Along with Horvat, most of the Canucks' key faces remain the same. J.T. Miller signed a seven-year extension on Sept. 2, Demko will make the majority of the starts in net and Quinn Hughes anchors the defense.

Without much depth on the right side of the blue line, Hughes may switch to his off-side to start the season, potentially on a pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

"I think it'll be a lot of fun to play with Quinn," Ekman-Larsson said. "I'm kind of the guy that just feeds off the other D partner that I'm playing with. I think that won't be any problem if that's the case, that we're going to play together. So it'll be fun. 

"And I think he's going to help my game as well. He's moving the puck so good and skating so well. I think he'll create a lot of chances for me."

Last season, the Canucks opened camp without Hughes and Elias Pettersson, both restricted free agents who had not yet come to terms on new contracts.

This year, everyone is present and accounted for. Boudreau added that, to his knowledge, the club would be starting camp with with all players healthy.

"We're all excited about getting ready," said Boudreau, who has been meeting daily since September 1 with his staff which includes head goaltending coach Ian Clark, assistant coach Jason King and new assistants Mike Yeo and Trent Cull. 

"As coaches, we'll sit there and we'll go, 'What didn't I really stress last year at the beginning and it went a little haywire? We get do-overs, so I think that's a real exciting part for coaches to start the year."

The Canucks got deeper up front over the summer, which gives Boudreau plenty of options when it comes to setting his lines. To begin, at least, he'll run Miller, Horvat and Pettersson as his three centers. He'll also take another look at Conor Garland on the left side after he finished well on his off-wing at the end of last season.

As for Vancouver's key free-agent signings, Boudreau is intrigued to see what KHL scoring star Andrei Kuzmenko brings to the table.

"There's no doubt about his skill," Boudreau said. "He's skilled, he can play. He's excited to play — he's a really colorful guy. I kind of believe if he does good, he's going to take the towel by storm.

"But it's the rigors, the physicality. Can he handle the physicality? Is he willing to go to the the the dirty areas to get the goals that I don't think other leagues provide stiff competition for? Those are the things you're going to look for."

With Ilya Mikheyev, Boudreau knows he's getting speed to burn, and a high-end addition to a penalty kill that struggled early in last season, but got better as the year went on.

"I think he's just a good PK-er overall," Boudreau said. "It's great that he scores goals; the No. 1 goal is to make sure the other team doesn't score on the power play. So he's going to add to that dimension and he's going to add to the speed dimension with the team. 

"People would have said that we weren't the quickest team last year. This is an added thing that's going to be great."

The on-ice portion of Boudreau's first Canucks training camp will run from Thursday to Saturday at Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler, B.C. Sessions are open to the public, and included scheduled scrimmages each day.

Vancouver's pre-season schedule opens with split-squad games against the Calgary Flames on Sunday: at 7 p.m. ET in Vancouver at Rogers Arena and 8 p.m. ET at the Saddledome in Calgary.

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