VANCOUVER – With self-improvement, as with many things, it’s easier to promise something than to deliver. How many New Year’s resolutions have failed to survive January? Or New Year’s Eve?
But as for Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin’s mission this season to have the players elevate the culture by working every day to put the team ahead of themselves, sacrificing whatever it takes to win, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes say they totally agree.
“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’m still going to be mad. That’s what it’s about. He’s trying to create a winning culture and it’s good to be a part of it.”
Hughes, the 22-year-old defender, said: “I think that’s a big thing for 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 it.”
Speaking to reporters at the Canucks’ annual Jake Milford benefit at Northview Golf Club in Surrey, Hughes said he thinks players are taking up the challenge of changing the culture, delivered directly by Allvin at the final meetings last spring after that Vancouver missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“I think it’s already been heard,” he said. “I think the guys have come to camp in good shape. Everyone already did their bike test and just asking the guys what the numbers were they said it was pretty good. I think everyone really scored this year.”
The Canucks undergo medicals and more tests Wednesday before opening training camp on the ice Thursday in Whistler.
Culture will debate around the Canucks this season as if the hockey team is a fromagerie or the National Film Board.
But then again, it’s easier to argue than to change.
Veteran Canuck leaders like JT Miller, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers have talked about learning to win and the mindset and sacrifice it takes, but nothing gets better without universal acceptance, especially among the team’s younger stars.
Selected a year apart, one Calder Trophy winner and the other 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 firing of coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning on Dec. 5, Pettersson exploded in the second half, racking up 26 goals and 51 points. in his last 44 games under new coach Bruce Boudreau.
He was also pushed to the wing at times and Boudreau moved him up and down the top three lanes, but he was productive wherever and with whomever he played.
Hughes, who like Pettersson missed the first half of training camp while waiting for a new contract, took his overall game up a notch. The dynamic skater enhanced his defensive game as he continued to contribute 60 assists and 68 points, breaking long-standing franchise records for a defenseman while averaging 25:15 of ice time.
During the offseason, Hughes told Boudreau he could switch to the right side of defense from his natural left side if needed, and the coach told Sportsnet on Friday that the Canucks will test Hughes there during training camp. Boudreau is expected to pair Hughes with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which could give the Canucks a true No. 1 pairing capable of eating big minutes in all situations.
Hughes said Monday that he spent the offseason preparing to work on the right side. 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, among other NHL players. .
“I started working in the summer on a few different packages and I think there are more things I can do offensively on the right side blue line,” Hughes explained. “Sometimes I find myself standing on the left.”
Hughes said he played right back growing up, but was moved to the left side during his two seasons at the University of Michigan.
“It’s probably harder in the neutral zone where I’m getting a pass (with the backhand) and I can’t get up the wall,” he said of playing down the right. “But I think about other aspects, seeing everything in my forehand, being in the rest zone and (I can) take a step and take a shot, go into it. And I don’t think anyone has seen me on the right side, so they don’t know what to expect. I think it might catch some people off guard, but we’ll see. I’d definitely like to try it out in a couple of exhibition games.”
The Canucks’ preseason kicks off Sunday with home-and-away split games against the Calgary Flames.
“I like to think I learned a lot from last season,” Pettersson said. “So, I’m just trying to think about the positives and hopefully a better start to this year.”
Pettersson offered a one-word answer for the stark difference between his first and second halves: “Confidence.”
What do you like most about your team?
“I like our creativity,” said Pettersson. “There are a lot of offensive-minded people so I think we can create scoring chances 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 get to the playoffs.”
That success or failure is how all Canucks will be judged.