Canucks: How to prepare for the NHL season, with J.T. Miller and Rick Tocchet

How long do NHL pre-season debacles linger?

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There was a time when J.T. Miller believed he could start his pre-season buildup with a burst out of the gates in the first pre-season game.

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“I came in my first camp out of the draft, trying to make the team,” he told Postmedia News on Tuesday, after he and his Vancouver Canucks’ teammates practised at the University of B.C. “I definitely had a lot of confidence when I was younger … Kind of had some swagger and it got me in trouble at times, but also, it helped me.”

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But now, aged 30, at his 13th NHL training camp, he’s wizened-up.

It takes time to find your game-time feet.

“These games are ugly. It’s not a lot of flow, typically. Everybody’s rusty,” he said. “So I find that you should keep it simple, work on your habits. It’s easy to want to go and start making plays but there’s not a lot of room and it’s kind of a gross game. So honestly, just short shifts. Don’t get too frustrated. Show some good habits.”

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And while Sunday’s 10-0 loss to the Calgary Flames — a game Miller wasn’t involved in — was ugly, it’s not really one to linger on either.

“I just wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he said.

Vancouver Canucks' J.T. Miller (9) celebrates with Vasily Podkolzin (92) after Podkolzin scored a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in New York.
Vancouver Canucks’ J.T. Miller (9) celebrates with Vasily Podkolzin (92) after Podkolzin scored a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in New York. Photo by Frank Franklin II /AP

Cole McWard is in his first NHL camp. He played in NHL games last spring, but this is the first time he’s had a full season to contemplate. He played on Sunday. He wanted to leave a good first impression.

“It’s my first camp. I wanted to come in ready to go,” he said.

He’s trying to put the score aside, even if it’s an all-time ugly result. Press on, in other words.

“A lot of things went wrong. We didn’t have that edge,” he said.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said that even with the ugly result he has high hopes still for a young defenceman like McWard, who got to skate in Tuesday’s practice with Quinn Hughes.

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Tocchet acknowledged the optics of the result Sunday weren’t good but suggested he wasn’t sure what kind of lineup Calgary was going to dress, noting that sometimes coaches in pre-season will give a heads-up over the kind of lineup they’re set to ice.

Either way, he said, he believed his players got a lesson in the difference between effort and execution.

“Listen we were disorganized. Guys tried hard, I’m going to tell you that right now, they worked hard. They looked a little bit disorganized because they were trying too hard,” he said. “They were late everywhere. And that’s what happens.”

And now his players can just move on. The next few games — Wednesday in Edmonton, Thursday in Seattle, at home on Saturday — will be where his veterans start to find their feet and the players on the edge of the roster can solidify their spots.

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“The next two games is going to give a clear indication to me, who’s going to get a chance for Game 4 and 6,” he said. “It’s only Day 5, we can’t skip ahead of the process.

“I still like the way we’re doing. The plan was to really dial-in on battles, you know ‘staples’ the first two, three days. I thought our practice was outstanding today, it was more speed, playing fast, and then you just level it up and hopefully in two weeks we’re ready to go.”

Vancouver Canucks' Dakota Joshua, left, is checked by Calgary Flames' Ben Jones during first period NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.
Vancouver Canucks’ Dakota Joshua, left, is checked by Calgary Flames’ Ben Jones during first period NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Jeff McIntosh /The Canadian Press

DROPPED DOWN: Both Vasily Podkolzin and Dakota Joshua found themselves skating with the AHL-focused second group on Tuesday. “For Podzy, he’s working his butt off, but he’s just trying too hard, some of his reads. We got to make sure we dial that in. Sometimes we need to take a step back,” Tocchet said, before delivering a blunt message about Joshua. “And Dakota, he’s got to pick it up … He’s got to try to win a job. There’s guys breathing down that want jobs” … Phil Di Giuseppe took Podkolzin’s place in the main group, skating on left wing with Miller and Brock Boeser, while Nils Åman, Teddy Blueger and Jack Studnicka were put together as a could-be fourth line trio.

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