Monday, February 23, 2009

How Swede it is...

The Vancouver Canucks continue their trip through Eastern Canada tomorrow evening (Feb. 24th) in Montreal, and all eyes will again be on Mats Sundin. After wins in Ottawa and Toronto, the Canucks find themselves in 5th place in the Western Conference standings, two points ahead of the surging Columbus Blue Jackets. As you may recall, the Habs were one of the many off-season suitors for the former Leaf Captain; sending Toronto a draft pick for the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract before Sundin hit free agency last July. Expect more jeers than cheers at the Bell Center, as spurned Habs fans voice their displeasure.

While the focus has been on Sundin, after 18 games in a Canuck uniform he has 6 goals and 12 points; the Sundin saga should not distract the fans, media, and the 29 other NHL teams. Vancouver is for real, and after 59 games the Canucks are 30-21-8, they have gone 8-1-1 in their last ten games, and are currently on a four game winning streak. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, have emerged as a true force in the league during the final year of their contracts with Vancouver. Both are having career years at the right time, which should translate in to a raise from their $3.575 million salary. They lead the team in points; Daniel has 26 goals and 34 assists for 59 points, and Henrik is right behind his brother with 12 goals and 45 assists. With stars like the Sedins, Pavol Demitra, and Mats Sundin, the true story of the Canuck's success can be found a little deeper down the depth chart.

Alexander Burrows, of Pte.Claire, Quebec, has already established career highs in goals (15) and points (32) in his third year in the NHL. Two of his last three goals have evened the score and lead to Vancouver victories. Ryan Kesler, the Canucks first round pick in 2003, was almost a Flyer after former Philly GM Bob Clarke made an offer to the restricted free agent several seasons ago, has 18 goals and 38 points (a career high). He has begun to look right at home on the second line with Sundin and Demitra.

Two young defencemen have made their presence known on the blue line this season as well; 6'3 Swedish D-man Alexander Edler has 28 points and is proving he can play at the NHL level, and Kevin Bieksa is leading the way for Vancouver blue liners with 10 goals and 33 points. What makes Bieksa's steady improvement during his NHL career so astonishing is the fact that the Grimsby, Ontario native was a 5th round pick in 2001, drafted 151st overall. After attending Bowling-Green University for 4 years, Bieksa earned his way to the NHL, and with 93 points in 204 career games there is no doubt he's in the league to stay.

Two other young Canucks to watch for, especially come playoff time, are Taylor Pyatt and Mason Raymond. At 6'4 and 230 pounds, Pyatt is a force on the ice. He has 7 goals and 14 points this season on Vancouver's 4th line. Raymond, a former star at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, has a respectable 9 goals and 20 points in 52 games in his second NHL season.

Despite several losing streaks, and the absence of All-World goalie Roberto Luongo for several months, Head Coach Alain Vigneault has his squad firing on all cylinders and ready for a fight to the finish. General Manager Mike Gillis may look for help on the penalty kill at the trade deadline, but Vancouver has the talent and the depth in place already, and could find themselves playing hockey into June. Have a great sports day everyone.

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