Three questions facing Vancouver Canucks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

1. Will Elias Pettersson make the team out of training camp?

The Canucks hit a home run when they selected Petterson fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In his first season in the Swedish Hockey League, the 19-year-old led his team in scoring by a wide margin, as he racked up 24 goals and 56 points in just 44 contests. No other player on the team scored more than 41 points.

Pettersson doesn’t have anything left to prove over in Europe, so he has a legitimate shot of making the team out of camp. The Canucks aren’t necessarily the deepest team up front either. Brock Boeser was able to make an immediate impact in his first year, and the organization will have to hope the Pettersson is able to do the same thing during his first year.

If they want to ease his transition to the NHL, they could opt to put him on the wing instead of at center (at least for the first year), but that shouldn’t prevent him from earning on a top-six role on this team. It’s too bad that the fellow Swede won’t be able to play with Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but he should get every opportunity to help replace their production.

[2017-18 Review | Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser]

2. How soon before Thatcher Demko becomes the starting goaltender?

Heading into the regular season with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as your number one and number two goaltenders is less than ideal (unless you’re trying to lose). Markstrom was once considered to be one of the best prospects in the NHL when he was a member of the Florida Panthers, but he’s never reached those expectations. Even though he played in 60 games last season, he’s probably better suited as a backup netminder. As for Nilsson, he’s kind of in the same boat. There are moments when he looks like he can be a starter and then at other times, he looks mediocre. Consistency has been a problem for him. Both players are on one-way contracts, so there’s no reason to believe that they won’t start the year with the Canucks (Markstrom will earn $3.67 million, Nilsson will make $2.5 million).

From a talent perspective, Demko has the ability to become a starting goalie in the near future. How soon? That remains to be seen. But after spending two years in the AHL, you’d have to think that he’s close to being ready for the show. The 22-year-old improve his numbers from his first year to his second year in the minors. Last year, he posted a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage, which are pretty solid numbers by AHL standards.

Goalies always seem to take a little more time to develop than forwards do, but you’d have to think he’s close being ready for the next challenge. The Canucks aren’t going to be very good this year, so they might want to take it easy on a young goaltender. That doesn’t mean that he can’t get an extended look though. Once Nilsson’s contract expires at the end of the season, Demko could be in line for a full-time promotion.

3. How much will the team miss the Sedin twins?

For the first time since the 1999-00 season, the Canucks will be playing without Daniel and Henrik. Both players proved to be valuable contributors to the organization for the better part of two decades. They helped lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup Final and they carried them to the playoffs a number of times.

Even though they “only” combined for 105 points last season, there’s no denying that the Swedish twins will be missed. They weren’t the most vocal leaders, but they always managed to lead by example. With such a young roster, that type of experience would’ve been valuable to have around.

“You’re losing two Hall-of-Fame players out of your lineup,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You just don’t replace those elements to your game.

“You’re happy for them; they’ve had amazing careers. To see them go out on their own terms with the season they’ve had, I think, means a lot to them. It’s means a lot to me. But also, it’s sad.”

Veterans like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Jay Beagle will need to step up in that department, but none of those players can replicate the experience that the Sedins brought to the table. The Canucks have enough talented youngsters to replace the production, but it’ll be a while before any of them can fill the void in (quiet) leadership.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.