VANCOUVER — Derek Dorsett does not play for the Vancouver Canucks anymore.
But he will likely be a source of inspiration as the Canucks (12-10-14) host the Toronto Maple Leafs (17-9-1) at Rogers Arena on Saturday night.
Dorsett’s National Hockey League career came to a premature end earlier this week due to a back injury.
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“I think the only way we can honor him is to play hard each and every night,” Canucks winger Daniel Sedin told reporters. “That’s the way he played.”
Doctors advised Dorsett, 30, not to play again after he suffered a second herniated disc that was separate from an earlier one. The latest resulted after he had made an inspirational comeback following surgery in December 2016 that fused two vertebrae.
Dorsett, selected with the 189th overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft, was an undersized tough guy who often fought much bigger opponents. Ironically, he scored six goals in Vancouver’s first 10 games this season, and teammates joked about him challenging for the league scoring title.
Due to his unconditional support for teammates, he was extremely popular in the dressing room. Therefore, his premature retirement — which is unofficial due to unsigned paperwork and other bureaucratic factors — has had an emotional effect on the rest of the Canucks.
“I talked to (Dorsett on Thursday) morning and it was tough to fight back tears,” Canucks defenseman Michael Del Zotto told Sportsnet. “I played with him in New York (with the Rangers), so I’ve known him a long time. Just talking about him among ourselves (with teammates) it was emotional.”
The Canucks managed to channel their sadness into an inspired 5-3 road victory over the red-hot Nashville Predators on Thursday night — the same day the club announced that Dorsett would not return to action. They will try to do so again Saturday against the Maple Leafs, who have won two straight games, over the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, and three of their past four.
The Leafs have been riding the strong goaltending of Frederik Anderson, who was among the NHL’s three stars of the month for November. He went 9-2-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and two shutouts in the month as the Maple Leafs posted a 10-4-1 mark.
He surrendered two or fewer goals in eight of his 12 appearances, highlighted by consecutive goose eggs against New Jersey on Nov. 16 and Montreal on Nov. 18.
Andersen will likely by tested a few times by Canucks first-year winger Brock Boeser, who was chosen the NHL’s rookie of the month for November.
Boeser led all NHLers with 11 goals in 15 games during the month while also adding five assists. In the process, he became just the second rookie in Canucks history to reach double-digits in goals in one month, joining the vaunted Pavel Bure, who scored 12 times in March 1992.
Boeser, a 20-year-old Burnsville, Minn., native, also became the first NHL rookie to score 11 goals in a month since Nail Yakupov recorded the same amount with the Edmonton Oilers in April 2013.
Andersen would also be wise to monitor Daniel Sedin closely after he surpassed 1,000 points for his career with a goal and two assists against Nashville. He now has 1,001 career points and ranks as only the second Canuck, along with his twin brother Henrik, in the 1,000-point club.
The Canucks will pay tribute to Daniel Sedin’s accomplishment prior to the game.
“I’m just happy it’s over with,” he said of the chase for his milestone. “Now, we can keep playing.”
Meanwhile, Vancouver’s anticipated starting goaltender, Anders Nilsson, or Swedish compatriot Jacob Markstrom, who has played most of the minutes in net, will have to contend with a Toronto offense that has been highly productive lately. The Maple Leafs have scored 17 goals in their past four games.
“We have so much depth on all four lines,” said Toronto center Auston Matthews, who has been battling illness lately. “All four lines are clicking. All four lines are scoring.”
William Nylander, who posted a goal and two assists against the Oilers and is on a four-game assists streak, is enjoying the club’s recent high-scoring affairs. As an iconic Canadian team, the Leafs can expect a large contingent of fans to don their jerseys in Vancouver, and Nylander will be soaking up the atmosphere — as he did in Edmonton.
“Two great fan bases in a great building, a good high-scoring game, it’s cool to be a part of those games,” he told reporters.