The assignment of Jacob Markstrom to the AHL has left the Vancouver Canucks with one roster spot for a young forward to grab.
Tonight, the three leading candidates to grab that roster spot — Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Nicklas Jensen — will skate together as a line when the Canucks host the Coyotes in preseason action.
“They have all worked hard and deserve a chance,” said coach Willie Desjardins, per the Vancouver Sun. “It will be good to see what they have. I think they bring energy, I think they bring lots of things. They all have different aspects of their game that are good and they are a good mix to be a good line. It’s a test that they want, too. It’s getting deeper into the preseason and the teams are getting better so it’s a good challenge for them and we’ll see how they play.”
The current favorite to make the opening-day roster is probably Horvat, if only because he’s not eligible to be sent to the AHL. For the 19-year-old, it’s either make the big club or go back to junior, where he has little left to prove.
Theoretically, the Canucks could keep Horvat for the nine regular-season games before his entry-level contract kicks in, then reassess the situation. Meanwhile, Shinkaruk and Jensen could be sent down to Utica to start the season, then called up at any time.
That said, the issue with keeping Horvat over wingers Shinkaruk or Jensen is that Horvat is a center, and it’s a top-six winger that may be Vancouver’s most pressing need, considering the preseason struggles of both Zack Kassian and Alex Burrows.
Kassian won’t play tonight versus the Coyotes.
“Kassian has just been banged up,” said Desjardins, per The Province. “We’ve got to give him a couple days to get going. He’s not playing the way he can play. He’s just not skating quite as good. He’s been sore. There’s no sense pushing guys at this time of year. We might as well get them ready, so they can go hard.”
Burrows is expected to skate on a line with Nick Bonino and Shawn Matthias.