Pair of Wolves look to shoulder Canucks' second line centre role
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Ryan Kesler was on the ice Wednesday, but not with his teammates.
And his return to complete health following separate shoulder and wrist surgeries this off-season remains up in the air.
That has opened the door for a group of players to potentially earn the second line centre job out of training camp, which could begin Sunday once members of the NHL Players’ Association ratify the tentative agreement with the league that ended the lockout.
Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder, who were sent to the AHL Chicago Wolves when the lockout took effect in September, skated with the Canucks at UBC Wednesday.
Both are aware that with Kesler out, there’s a chance in the meantime to earn a position among the top six forwards.
“I’ve done it before. I played in Anaheim in the second line centre spot,” said Ebbett, who was second on the Wolves in scoring with seven goals and 21 points in 29 games when he was called to Vancouver.
“If that’s where (head coach Alain Vigneault) wants me to play I’m happy to fill that role and I think I’ve been playing well enough down there, playing centre and I’m ready to do that.”
However, the bulk of the pressure to fill in for Kesler seems to fall on Schroeder, the Canucks first-round pick from the 2009 draft.
The 22-year-old speedster got off to a less than desirable start with the Wolves, failing to score in the first five games of the season.
He also endured a nine-game goal-scoring drought from the end of November and through December, but did have six assists during that span.
“It’s slowly improving. I’ve definitely gotten better and better as the season went on and feel like I’m playing great hockey right now,” said Schroeder.
“(Kesler is) a big part of this team and definitely can’t replace him but I definitely want to try and come in and earn that spot.”
Speaking in a conference call Sunday, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said the team could also employ an “unconventional” option of moving a winger to centre.
Chris Higgins seems like a probable candidate, should the Canucks decide to go that route.
Higgins has experience up the middle, particularly during his time with the Montreal Canadiens.
“I think with a little bit of practice I could play but obviously I prefer to play wing,” Higgins said Tuesday.
“With Ryan out, someone’s going to have to step up and play centre and whether it comes from within the lineup or from guys that are playing in Chicago, that’s not my call. But I’m open for whatever the team wants.”
CAM BARKER INSISTS HE'S JUST SKATING IN VANCOUVER
Cam Barker skated with members of the Vancouver Canucks and fellow free agent defenceman Jim Vandermeer Wednesday, but maintains at this time he’s just out for the skate.
Barker, 26, was a first-round draft pick, third overall, of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004.
There have been reports this week the Canucks could offer the free agent a tryout for training camp, which seems likely to start Sunday.
“My agent’s talking to teams right now,” Barker told reporters.
“I live in Penticton, came back there after the Spengler Cup and not a lot of guys around there to skate so thought I’d come here.
“Obviously I’d love to play for the Canucks, but…like I said, my agent is talking to teams. If that was the case it would be amazing.”
Barker made his NHL debut with Chicago on Oct. 14, 2005, but has yet to play a full season in the league.
Last season, Barker played 25 games with the Edmonton Oilers but missed nearly three months with an ankle injury that required surgery.
Barker signed a professional tryout contract with the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars out of training camp but was released in December. He recently played for Canada at last month’s Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
"I feel healthy right now. I feel good and that's the main thing."