Gagner, Canucks out to jolt Jets
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- After being demoted to the minors, Sam Gagner was not expected back with the Vancouver Canucks anytime soon -- if at all -- this season.
Now, he is in demand.
Gagner is expected to suit up for his first NHL game of 2018-19 with the slumping and injury-riddled Canucks (10-10-2) on Monday when they host the Winnipeg Jets (11-5-2). The 29-year-old was recalled from the minors Sunday as the Canucks continued to reel from health problems.
"The team is playing fun hockey," Gagner told Postmedia. "I'm excited to help them wherever I can. I'm excited to be back in the NHL."
The veteran forward was caught on the wrong end of Vancouver's youth movement following the preseason. The Canucks opted to loan him to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League even though he is in the second season of a three-year, $9.45 million contract. It's a one-way deal, so he has earned an NHL salary at the lower level.
Gagner, who was placed on waivers and subjected to unsuccessful trade attempts before the demotion, justified his big salary in the minors by producing 15 points in 15 games.
Coach Travis Green indicated that he could play multiple forward roles. Gagner has played both center and wing with Vancouver and other clubs.
"He gives us another centerman option," Green told reporters. "He's a right shot on the power play. All reports were he was playing well."
The Canucks as a team, though, have not been up to snuff. Vancouver has lost five straight games and been outscored 16-7 in the past four. Gagner will become the latest addition to a list of players pulling diverse duty.
"We're squeezing everyone and everyone is giving as much as they can," said Green. "One night, we got a guy on the fourth line and the next night he's on the first line. I love the way our guys are working and competing."
Gagner's recall is an attempt to help make up for missing injured forwards Brock Boeser (groin), Sven Baertschi (concussion), Jay Beagle (arm) and Brandon Sutter (shoulder). While Green tries to create more offensive juice, the Canucks also want to get better defensively. They have struggled to control other teams' breakouts, as they did again Saturday in a 3-2 home loss to Montreal.
"It's something we talked about," center Bo Horvat told reporters. "Play direct -- not making it a track meet out there."
"It comes down to being able to defend," added defenseman Ben Hutton. "Get back to the way we've been playing."
The Jets, 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, have been playing well defensively of late. They have averaged two goals against in their past eight games.
But Winnipeg is still wary of Canucks rookie sensation Elias Pettersson, 20, who is the only dangerous Vancouver player right now. He has produced 11 goals and seven assists in his first 16 NHL games.
"Finding him will be a challenge," Jets coach Paul Maurice told reporters. "He's a special young man."
Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot called Pettersson a "pretty fun guy to watch."
"(He's) someone we'll adjust to once we get out there and see what he's trying to do," Chiarot told reporters.
However, at least one Jet does not want to give Pettersson special attention.
"I don't watch a lot of video on solo guys," goaltender Connor Hellebuyck told reporters. "It's a team game and I know what I'm going to get -- and I prepare the same way for every guy."
Updated November 19, 2018