VANCOUVER – With self-improvement, as with many things, it is easier to promise than to deliver. How many New Year’s resolutions have not survived January? Or New Year’s Eve?
But as for the mission of Patrik Allvin, general manager of Vancouver Canucks this season, to have players elevate culture by working every day to stay ahead of the team and sacrifice everything to win, say Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes that they are fully on board.
“Absolutely,” Pettersson, the 23-year-old center, said Monday. “I mean, that’s what it all comes down to. It doesn’t matter if I play my best game, if we don’t win I still get mad. It’s what it’s all about. He’s trying to create a winning culture and it’s good to be a part of that.”
Hughes, the 22-year-old defender, said: “I think that’s something important to me. I don’t have to be anyone but myself, but I want to win and whatever I have to do to make that happen, I’ll try to do. ”
Hughes told reporters at the Canucks annual Jake Milford charity event at Northview Golf Club in Surrey that he believes players are taking up the challenge of changing the culture, issued directly by Allvin at exit meetings last spring after Vancouver won the Stanley Cup. playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“I think it’s already been heard,” he said. “I think the guys came into the camp in good shape. Everyone already did their bike test and asked the guys what the numbers were, they said it was pretty good. I think everyone has really dialed in this year.”
The Canucks will undergo medicals and further testing on Wednesday before opening an ice training camp in Whistler on Thursday.
Culture is discussed around the Canucks this season as if the hockey team were a fromagerie or the National Film Board.
But again, it’s easier to discuss than to change.
Veteran Canuck leaders like JT Miller, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers have all talked about learning to win and the mindset and sacrifice it requires, but nothing improves without universal buy-in, especially among the team’s younger stars.
One year apart, one of them a Calder Trophy winner and the other a runner-up, Pettersson and Hughes are hugely influential.
After a dismal start last season (four goals in 28 games) that mirrored the team’s start and contributed to the sacking of coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning on December 5, Pettersson exploded in the second half, scoring 26 goals and 51 points in his last 44 games under new coach Bruce Boudreau.
He was also occasionally bumped into the wing and moved up and down Boudreau’s top three, but was productive wherever and with whomever he played.
Hughes, who like Pettersson missed the first half of training camp pending a new contract, took his overall game to the next level. The dynamic skater improved his defensive play while still contributing 60 assists and 68 points, breaking long-standing franchise records for a defender while averaging 25:15 ice time.
Offseason, Hughes told Boudreau that he could switch from his natural left to right of defense if necessary, and the coach told Sportsnet Friday that the Canucks will try Hughes there via training camp. Boudreau is expected to team up with Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which could give the Canucks a true No. 1 pair capable of eating big minutes in all situations.
Hughes said Monday that he was preparing for the off-season to work on the right. Training partners at his development coach father’s elite camp in Michigan included Quinn’s brothers, Jack and Luke, Dylan Larkin, Zach Werenski, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Matty Beniers.
“I started working on some different packages over the summer and I think there are more things I can do offensively on the blue line on the right side,” explained Hughes. “Sometimes I stand still on the left.”
Hughes said he played right-defense during his youth, but was moved to the left-hand side for his two seasons at the University of Michigan.
“It’s probably harder in the neutral zone where I collect a pass (on the backhand) and I can’t just go up the wall,” he said of playing on the right. “But I think in other aspects, seeing everything ahead of time, being in the O zone and (I can) take a step and take a slapshot, walk into it. And I don’t think anyone saw me on the right, so they don’t know what to expect. I think I might catch some people off guard, but we’ll see. I would definitely like to try it out for a few practice matches.”
The Canucks’ pre-season kicks off on Sunday with split-squad games, home and away, against the Calgary Flames.
“I like to think I learned a lot from last season,” said Pettersson. “And so I’m just trying to think about the positive and hopefully a better start this year.”
Pettersson offered a one-word answer to the stark difference between his first and second half: “Confidence.”
What does he like most about his team?
“I like our creativity,” Pettersson said. “There are a lot of attacking people, so I think we can create scoring opportunities on all four lines. The correct answer, I don’t know. But I think the second part (of the season) shows that when we play as a team , we can compete with the best teams in the league, which is the main goal: to make the play-offs.”
That success or failure is how all Canucks will be judged.