Canucks, Flames hope to start out hot
While a bottle of red or white might get better with age, the Canucks and Flames believe they can only get better with youth. The predominantly young clubs, who both missed the playoffs last season, will begin to test that theory Wednesday night as the Canucks host the Flames in the National Hockey League season opener for both teams.
"We are really young," Vancouver center Bo Horvat, who was named an alternate captain Tuesday, told reporters. "We know where we are at. We know what people are thinking and saying about us, that we are going to finish at the bottom of the league. But that is great motivation to prove them wrong and a chance to prove ourselves this year."
Horvat is at the forefront of a Canucks squad that will try to make due without retired Swedish superstars Daniel and Henrik Sedin. And, the Canucks do have plenty to prove after going 1-6 in the preseason.
The most notable -- and only pure new -- young addition is center Elias Pettersson, 19, the team's 2017 first-round draft choice, who was named the most valuable player in both the regular season and playoffs while guiding Vaxjo to the Swedish Elite League championship last season.
Pettersson produced 24 goals and 32 assists in 44 games in Sweden in 2018-19. Canucks management will be ecstatic if he can come close to producing similar production in 82 NHL contests.
But Pettersson, a likely rookie of the year candidate, is trying not to put too much pressure on himself after a strong preseason.
"I can only control what I do in the moment and not think what's ahead of me," the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Pettersson told reporters. "(My game is) getting better every day."
He will be the player without NHL experience in Vancouver's lineup Wednesday, but the Canucks will give young wingers Nikolay Goldobin, Brendan Leipsic and Tyler Motte opportunities to secure permanent jobs after placing veteran forwards Sam Gagner and Darren Archibald on waivers earlier this week.
"With these (other) young kids coming (up through the farm system), this could happen more and more," general manager Jim Benning said in reference to veterans losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, the Flames will feature several new, mostly young faces against the Canucks. Calgary's newcomers include defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm, who were acquired in the trade that sent rearguard Dougie Hamilton and winger Michael Ferland to Carolina, and rookie forward Dillon Dube and first-year defenseman Juuso Valimaki -- draft picks who both cracked the team's roster and will be in the lineup Wednesday.
"What (Dube and Valimaki) are going to face (Wednesday) is the hardest competition they've ever faced," Flames general manager Brad Treliving told Postmedia. "This is a real NHL game."
Dube, 19, who hails from the Calgary-area town of Cochrane, Alta., expects that he and Valimaki will be able to handle the hard going of the NHL regular season after they captained the Canadian and Finnish world junior teams, respectively, last winter.
"Especially for me being from here, there's going to be a lot of pressure," Dube told reporters. "You're lucky if you get to play with pressure because it's means you're in a good city and organization."