Friday, February 04, 2011

Rookies Impressing

The Vancouver Canucks continue to roll along, they now lead the Western Conference by 7 points, and lately they've been rolling with several rookies in the lineup. In the past few weeks Sergei Shirokov, Lee Sweatt and Cody Hogdson have all scored their first career goals (earlier in the year Bolduc, Volpatti & Bliznak had theirs) and Chris Tanev has caught everyone's attention with his great play.

In the salary cap era you need young cheap players to fill holes in your lineup. Canuck rookies have been delivering. Thanks to Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev the team hasn't missed a beat with Edler, Rome and Alberts missing from the lineup. This week Cody Hogdson has given the 4th line a boost, showing he may be closer to an every day NHL job than most people would have thought. And let's not forget Cory Schneider who has played superbly and has allowed Luongo to stay fresh.

Chris Tanev
Chris Tanev has been impressive, really impressive. He has shown great poise, intelligence and vision. His first pass is excellent and he routinely makes the right decision with the puck. Their is no panic in his game and he is always thinking. The Canucks haven't seen a rookie defenseman this poised since Alex Edler's rookie year. Tanev is making a strong case to stick with the team the rest of the way, but will most likely return to Manitoba if/when Salo joins the team.
Lee Sweatt
While Tanev's received most of the attention Lee Sweatt has quietly gone about his business. In only three games he has amassed some impressive statistics (1g 1a +4 4 shots), but more importantly he hasn't been "noticeable" in the defensive end and for a young defenseman not being noticed can be a good thing. Sweatt is looking like a pretty serviceable depth option. When injuries hit in the playoffs it's nice to have guys like this.
Cody Hogdson
Cody Hogdson picked up his first career NHL goal and it was a fairly impressive one. The biggest thing that stands out with Hogdson is that he is finally physically ready to play against men. In past pre-season action Hodgson could not skate well enough and didn't have the size or strength to battle with NHL players. It's only two games, but his skating is noticeably improved and he hasn't been physically pushed around or controlled by the opposition. Now that he is physically ready his talent can emerge, as it did on his goal.

The strong play of the rookies has opened up some options for Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault. While it's unlikely he will move one of his fringe veteran defensemen, the option is now open should a deal present itself. Up front Hogdson at centre gives the Canucks the ability to legitimately roll four lines. On any given night the 3rd and 4th lines can swap roles. Need a checking line for the night? You've got the Torres Malhotra Hansen line. Want a little more offense from the third line? Maybe you go with a Tambellini/Torres Hogdson Hansen line, with Malhotra dropping down to play with Glass on a 4th line checking unit. It remains to be seen whether Hogdson can stick for the rest of the season, the NHL schedule is a lot more rigorous than the AHL, but he has shown that he can contribute should he be needed.

Whether the rookies are all still here in two weeks or not, one thing is certain. The Canucks have a lot of young depth to call upon during an extended playoff drive.