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Canucks fired up by additional depth Lindholm provides: ‘It’s huge for us’


RALEIGH, N.C. — Before the Vancouver Canucks practised Sunday evening, Rick Tocchet floated to his coaching staff the idea of lining up the team’s best four centres at the middle of the four forward lines. 

That would have meant: J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Elias Lindholm and Teddy Blueger each centring their own line. A fifth established centre, Pius Suter, is playing left wing.

“They’re like, you know, ‘You can’t have four centremen like that because then the wings and stuff. . .’” Tocchet told reporters at PNC Arena. “So we were playing around with that. You never know.”

Instead, newcomer Lindholm, acquired in Wednesday’s trade with the Calgary Flames, practised at right wing with Pettersson, which meant Blueger kept his designation on the third line and second-year Canuck Nils Aman continued to centre the fourth.

But you can see why Tocchet is tempted to run out Miller, Pettersson and Lindholm on separate lines, flexing his depth at the most important position outside the goal crease for a Canuck team that suddenly has a collection of centres as good as any in franchise history.

The Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup last year with centres Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson and Nicolas Roy — a group so strong that Blueger, who is having an excellent season in Vancouver, was a healthy scratch in the final.

And the Edmonton Oilers are driven by centres Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, although the latter plays mostly above the third line.

But there aren’t many National Hockey League teams stronger down the middle than the Canucks, who beat everyone to the best centre available by getting Lindholm from the Flames in exchange for first- and fourth-round draft picks, struggling winger Andrei Kuzmenko and prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo.

“We have options,” Miller said. “And that’s a good thing to have later in the season.”

For now, as the 33-11-5 Canucks prepare to open their 33-game finishing kick to the regular season Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes, Lindholm is skating at right wing with Pettersson.

They were linemates five years ago for Team Sweden at the 2019 world championships in Slovakia, splitting time at centre on a line that included winger Gabriel Landeskog.

Already anointed the Flames’ representative for Saturday’s All-Star Game in Toronto, Lindholm instead wore the Canucks’ colours. The 29-year-old reconnected with Pettersson, met Tocchet and got to know four other new, elite teammates: Miller, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko.

Lindholm met the rest of his teammates on Sunday.

“I’m excited to get to know everyone and obviously it’s good to get the first practice out of the way,” he said. “It’s nice to have a road trip and get to know everyone. It feels like this group is really tight and have a good connection.”

Lindholm said it was a relief to be traded to the Canucks more than five weeks ahead of the March 8 deadline after months of uncertainty and conjecture about his future in Calgary. With the right-shot centre eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, contract talks between Lindholm and the Flames failed to find traction.

“You have been kind of waiting to see what happens and when it’s going to happen and where I’m going to go and so on,” Lindholm said. “It’s good that, for myself to come here. . . I have some time now to get acclimated and get to know the guys and make the last 30-plus games together.”

“It’s a tight group and a lot of good players. (They) played pretty well over the season so far. So, you know, for me, it’s just to play my game. Whoever I’m playing with, it’s going to be fun.”

On skating with Pettersson, who is four years younger and had just completed his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season with the Canucks when he went to the 2019 worlds, Lindholm said: “He’s very talented, has a lot of skill, hard to play against. He’s very shifty out there. You don’t know what he’s going to do. It’s hard to defend against a guy like that. He has it all. Obviously, he’s still pretty young, but he’s doing really well and he’s one of the top players in the league.”

Pettersson isn’t concerned about generating “chemistry” with Lindholm, the replacement for Kuzmenko on a line that also features winger Ilya Mikheyev.

“I think it just happens,” Pettersson said. “Yeah, you can have chemistry and you know where your teammate is (based on experience). But when you are good at hockey, you see the plays yourself and you make them. I think for us, it’s just understanding. We have played with each other, but it was a bunch of years ago. I think if we just work hard, we’ll get good chances.”

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The team appeared to work hard Sunday night. There were a lot of re-energized players who hit the All-Star break on a 9-0-2 run.

With another practice here Monday, Tocchet gave his six All-Stars the option of taking Sunday off.

“And each guy said, ‘Are you crazy?’” he revealed. “So when I heard all five guys — six guys — wanted to skate, obviously they mean business.”

The centre depth, situational versatility and the tradecraft that Lindholm provides should help on the ice. Harder to quantify, but every bit as important, is the boost the trade provides mentally to the Canucks. Their general manager, Patrik Allvin, just spent two draft picks, a good prospect and last season’s 39-goal scorer to get Lindholm, so that the Canucks have an even better chance to win this spring.

“It’s awesome because they did it early,” Miller said. “(Management) didn’t wait and see. It shows that their aggressive mentality kind of coincides with the way we want to play. It shows that they have a lot of faith in us. We haven’t done something like this in, like, five years.”

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It was four years ago, just ahead of the deadline in 2020, that the Canucks under previous GM Jim Benning last made a big trade to boost playoff chances, acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings. Anyone remember Tyler Madden?

“It’s huge for us,” Canuck defenceman Nikita Zadorov, who played with Lindholm in Calgary, said of the deal. “I mean, getting a player of his caliber before the playoffs. . . it’s kind of letting the guys know we’re all-in this year. We have big expectation for sure.”

“My interpretation: we’re going for it,” Blueger said. “I loved Kuzie. He was an awesome guy and I enjoyed playing with him. But I think, on the other hand, obviously Lindy’s a top player. Playing against him was always tough. He’s good on draws, an offensive player who defends well. It’s always nice to kind of get those guys on your team and not have to play against them. I’m kind of fired up about it.”

They all are.



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