After an acrimonious departure from the Vancouver Canucks out of training camp last year, Sven Baertschi spent the season in Utica, which left a bad taste in his mouth.
Baertschi felt that he belonged in the NHL, but the Canucks thought differently.
It became clear that the Canucks didn’t feel Baertschi — or Nikolay Goldobin, for that matter — were defensively responsible enough to justify keeping in the lineup. They never really looked back, either.
Sure, they called Baertschi up when Micheal Ferland went down with an injury in November, but he appeared in just six games before being sent back down to Utica.
Whether you agree with it or not, the club made their decision and didn’t go back on it.
But could Tyler Toffoli and Josh Leivo departing in free agency, along with a plethora of concerns around Ferland’s future make the Canucks rethink their stance on Baertschi?
Jake Virtanen is likely going to get a long look on the first line alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, which theoretically means a spot will be open on the third line.
A large part of whether Baertschi fits on the third line depends largely on how the Canucks want to structure their lines when it comes to matchups. If they take the same approach that they did for the majority of last season and construct the third line with the intention of allowing them to reap the offensive rewards of playing against weaker matchups, Baertschi makes sense.
Losing Toffoli and Leivo hurts the Canucks’ forward group, and as the Canucks continue to look to shift their roster construction away from a set top six and bottom six (which got hemmed in their own end far too much) into more of a top-nine forward group, the opportunity could be there for Baertschi.
“Sven will come to camp,” said general manager Jim Benning a couple of weeks ago. “We’ll see where he’s at, where he fits, and if he deserves to be on the team, he’ll be on the team. If not, he will be depth for us. But that will be up to Sven.”
That makes it sound like the Canucks are indeed open to the idea of Baertschi on the NHL team, but only if he shows a commitment to the defensive side of the game, which is where they see the most issues.
That being said, when he was in Utica, Baertschi showed well on that side of the puck.
“Sven looked to me like a player who wanted to get back to the NHL level,” said former CanucksArmy contributor Cory Hergott. “He didn’t look like a player who was mailing it in. I think that over the course of the season I might have thought that his effort level lacked a bit in maybe a game or two, but I think that can be said for most players toiling at the AHL level. He was used on the PK off and on during the season, so I don’t think that the coaching staff was concerned about his defensive game.”
Another issue commonly cited as a reason for the organization keeping him in the minors is his past history with concussions. It’s important to note that Baertschi wasn’t shying away from contact. He had no concussion-related issues this season, and his effort level wasn’t something to be concerned about.
“He suffered a high ankle sprain and only missed a few games. That’s an injury that he could have easily spent the rest of the season milking on IR, getting paid and not riding busses if his attitude was in the wrong space,” added Hergott. “He came back quickly and played hard. I made a point of mentioning throughout the season that he wasn’t just not shying away from physical contact, but was indeed seeking it out at times and getting his nose dirty. He took a few big-time hits this year and bounced right back up and kept playing.”
That sure sounds like a guy hellbent on proving to NHL GMs that he’s far from finished.
The question now is, can he prove it to the Canucks?