By Monte Stewart, The Sports Xchange
December 1, 2016
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks are being rewarded for giving youth a chance.
Not exactly by choice.
Despite being ravaged by injuries to key defensemen Alex Edler (finger) and Chris Tanev (ankle), and winger Jannik Hansen (ribs), the Canucks won two straight games and six of their last 10 (6-3-1) heading into Thursday’s contest against the Anaheim Ducks.
In other words, times have changed since the Canucks (10-11-2) suffered nine straight losses earlier in the season. But they are still looking to for more consistency.
“It’s been tough — win one, lose one, win one,” second-year defenseman Ben Hutton, who stood out in Vancouver’s semi-surge.
“Hopefully we can continue to roll with it and get on a nice little streak here.”
With Edler out, Hutton, 23, and rookie rearguard Troy Stecher, 22, stepped to the fore and helped the Canucks generate more offense as indicated in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Hutton furnished a goal and an assist while Stecher provided two assists.
More importantly, the duo figured in two power-play goals with Hutton scoring one and Stecher assisting on another.
As a result, the Canucks power play scored twice in two minutes — after only scoring once in three weeks during first quarter of the season.
“You gotta like that,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said.
“They are both young guys and what I like about both those guys is they want to do it. They don’t look for somebody else to do it. They want the puck and they want to make something happen — and you want that. Sometimes you will make mistakes with it, but in the end that is what you are going to win with.”
Youth is also paying dividends up front as winger Sven Baertschi, 24, playing his second full NHL season, and center Bo Horvat, 21, a third-year player, form an effective line with veteran winger Alex Burrows.
Baertschi scored a goal against the Wild and, following a slow start to the season, has three goals and 10 points.
“I like that line,” Desjardins said. “That line has been good, and (Horvat) is a real catalyst on that line — he’s a real driver. He comes with speed and he comes hard and every shift he is like that. It’s been a good line for us.”
Horvat, who is repeatedly mentioned as a future captain candidate, leads the Canucks with eight goals and eight assists. His 16 points are two better than perennial team scoring leaders Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
A rejuvenated Burrows, 35, who once played regularly with the Sedins but has become a role player in the past two seasons, has four goals and five assists and is well on pace to exceed the 22 points he posted last season.
Meanwhile, the Ducks (11-8-4) are also getting offense from some unsung heroes. Rickard Rakell leads Anaheim in goals with nine after netting the winner against Montreal on Tuesday.
“It seems like I’m finding the right spot to put the puck in right now,” Rakell, a 23-year-old Sweden native who signed a new six-year contract in October, told The Orange County Register.
“I’m just trying to keep it going. I’m not thinking about it too much. It’s obviously fun to score goals.”
The Ducks are also getting some timely goals from the blue line. Defenseman Cam Fowler scored his seventh goal of the season against Montreal and has already exceeded the five he mustered in 2015-16.
Goaltender John Gibson also has a chance to build on a strong performance against Montreal if he gets the nod. Gibson matched a career-high 39 saves in the win over the Canadiens.