WHISTLER — It was only a practice predicated on systems and conditioning, but Sven Baertschi didn’t have to look far Friday to see the future.
The veteran Vancouver Canucks’ winger was aligned with Swedish sensation Elias Pettersson and Russian curiosity Nikolay Goldobin. They will scrimmage together Saturday and Sunday at training camp and could also be deployed in the pre-season as coach Travis Green gets a grip on what he’s got in his top-six mix.
Baertschi knows what he’s got in a three-year, US$10 million contract extension. It’s a level of commitment in the 25-year-old winger who was limited to 14 goals in 53 games last season because of a fractured jaw and separated shoulder.
Over a full campaign, he was on pace for 21 goals and that’s the foundation that Green wants Baertschi to build upon. If he sticks with the playmaking Pettersson as mentor and finisher, he could net at least 25 goals.
“I was excited when I saw the lineup today and I was playing with Pettersson,” said Baertschi. “I was always curious what it would be like even playing with him in practice. He’s more of a playmaker, but I saw his shot and it’s wicked.
“I want to be on a line that creates offence from offensive-zone starts and the power play has always been a big thing for me. I want to make sure I protect my spot there. But whoever it is, I can adjust and that’s what I’ve learned over the years because I understand the players.
“With the kids, we’re here to help them and make sure the transition goes over smoothly. Once Pettersson has that, there is no limit to his skill level.”
It might take some time. Pettersson admitted the pace of Friday’s session and less time and space here as opposed to Sweden to work his magic was challenging. But the Swedish Hockey League’s most valuable player has always overcome obstacles and he’ll get plenty of help along the way.
That says something because Baertschi gets what’s really at play.
He could very well return to a familiar alignment with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser in the regular season, but there’s a purpose to pre-season deployments. If Pettersson can handle the transition to the smaller North American ice surface and is smart enough to not be a defensive liability, then Green is going to find some pop, pace and production in his top two lines.
What Baertschi endured last season is just a stark reminder of how quickly the game can be taken away. He seems genuinely grateful to be thought of as a solution rather than a problem of what to do with a player who could have been at the career crossroads after last season.
“I’m not sure we’ve seen his best yet,” said Green. “He’s had a couple of pretty good seasons already and we want to see him stay healthy and continue to improve. He’s not old enough where he has topped out.”
Baertschi had his moments last season before a heavy hit from Nashville Predators’ defenceman Alexei Emelin ended his season March 2. There was combining with Horvat and Boeser for 11 points in a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 4 at Rogers Arena. Boeser had a hat trick and four points, Horvat a goal and three assists and Baertschi three helpers.
And there was the return meeting against the Stanley Cup champions in Pittsburgh on Nov. 22 as Boeser bagged two more goals in a 5-2 triumph. It came a night after Boeser had two goals and Baertschi also struck in a 5-2 win in Philadelphia.
Baertschi then suffered a broken jaw on a clearing attempt by Mark Giordano in Calgary on Dec. 9. He would miss 11 games and scored four times in his next 16 outings. With the Canucks having lost five of six games, Green sat Baertschi on Feb. 15 in San Jose. But he sucked up the demotion and then responded by scoring in two of his next three games.
Baertschi made enough of an impression that his agent and the Canucks found common ground.
“The negotiations were quick and it’s an amazing feeling because that’s what I wanted,” added Baertschi. “Before, I had a two-year deal to show I can help this team move in the right direction. Having this commitment gives me even more confidence.
“I feel good about my game because what I took out of last year is that they were freak injuries and there really wasn’t much I could do. I took care of my body in the summer so when I do go into battles, I want to be able to protect myself and the only way you can do that is getting strong through the off-season.
“I can add even more. Being able to bring that secondary scoring, and no matter where I end up playing this year, I just want to help my linemates perform and that’s always what I’ve done in the past. I can elevate that.”
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