James Sheppard tempered his enthusiasm Tuesday because the well-travelled, unrestricted free-agent centre knows a professional tryout with the Vancouver Canucks is no ticket to career stability.
However, there is a level of intrigue because the National Hockey League club has a plethora of problems — everything from scoring to size to grit to a faceoff presence — and it’s why Sheppard, 28, and right-winger Tuomo Ruutu, 33, have been added to the Whistler camp roster. The Canucks also extended a PTO to 26-year-old East Coast Hockey League goalie Kevin Carr.
The Canucks also have six players at the World Cup of Hockey, want to create camp competition and maybe solve a problem along the way.
Sheppard travelled the tricky PTO road with the Columbus Blue Jackets a year ago. He played two pre-season games, scored once and was told there was no roster room. It meant a sobering sojourn to the Swiss-A League where he amassed 11 goals and 25 points in 37 games. Sheppard can also play left wing, is 6-1 and 215 pounds and might be a bottom-six fit.
“Things change quickly and it’s a chance to show what I have,” the Halifax native said Tuesday after an informal skate a Rogers Arena. “They (Canucks) have liked me in the past and you never know what can happen. For me, it’s being a sound player and somebody you can rely upon to play hard every night.”
Sheppard was drafted ninth overall by Minnesota in 2006 and also played for San Jose and the New York Rangers. With 23 goals in 394 games, he’s not going to fill the net, but he might fill a void.
“Taking faceoffs against (Joe) Thornton and (Joe) Pavelski at practice was sometimes frustrating, but you learn a lot besides faceoffs from those guys,” he said. “It’s something I hope to bring here as well. Timing is huge.”
“He has size, can play left wing and help kill penalties,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. “It’s a good chance to see where he’s at.”
Ruutu played 33 games with New Jersey last season and the six-foot, 200-pound Finn had but one assist. He has scored 148 goals in 735 games with Chicago, Carolina and New Jersey. Carr played 45 games for Tulsa of the ECHL last season and posted a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 saves percentage.