Bertuzzi impact top question

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

The core is intact and the Vancouver Canucks are ready to officially begin training camp.

Most of the rookies have gone back to junior and the fringe prospects have been sent home.

There will be minimal talk of a lockout that dragged on for nearly a full calendar year.

It's time to get back to business and see if the the parent club of the Manitoba Moose can regain its perch among the elite teams in the National Hockey League.

So without further adieu, here are five questions the Canucks will be looking to answer between now and the season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes and new head coach Wayne Gretzky on Oct. 5 at General Motors Place:

1) Just how dominant will Todd Bertuzzi be in his return? The answer should be obvious but Bertuzzi is going to find himself under a bright spotlight throughout the season, especially in visiting cities, after the well-documented attack on Steve Moore and subsequent suspension. If Bertuzzi bounces back and is able to block out the outside distractions, the Canucks should be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. It should be noted, Bertuzzi did a nice job running the media gauntlet during Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August.

2) Who's No. 2 between the pipes? Dan Cloutier returns as the undisputed starter, but the battle to be the backup could be one of the more enticing duels of training camp. Alex Auld enters as the clear-cut favourite, but will be pushed by newly-acquired Brent Johnson, once the starter of the St. Louis Blues, and veteran Wade Flaherty, who supplanted Auld down the stretch and in the Calder Cup playoffs last season. Let's not forget that Auld was in goal for the final three Canucks playoff games against the Calgary Flames in 2003-04 and actually tied a Moose single-season franchise record with 25 wins last season.

3) Will Cookie crumble? There is no question that energy forward Matt Cooke has established his value to the club, especially during the 2003-04 season. Cooke did an admirable job filling in for Bertuzzi on the top line and is a great checker with some touch and a physical presence. However, it appears Canucks general manager Dave Nonis has drawn his line in the sand and made what appears to be a fair offer. If Cooke continues his holdout, it will open the door for an additional roster spot or a potential trade of the popular Canuck.

4) Who will be the big surprise? In the two most recent Canucks camps, there has been a player who caught the attention of the coaching staff and opened up the season in the NHL when it appeared they'd be down on the farm. Three years ago, it was Fedor Fedorov and two years ago it was Jason King. Among the candidates this time around are defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who had a huge rookie season with the Moose last year, Brandon product Brett Skinner, who bypassed his final season of college to turn pro, and Fedorov, who was a late addition to the training camp roster but remains unsigned.

5) How many 2004-05 Moose players will break camp with the big club? Several players reaped the benefits of the lockout by having outstanding seasons in the AHL, but it's clear that the jobs on the Canucks 2005-06 roster will be few and far between. Only 2003 first-round draft pick Ryan Kesler seems assured of a spot at this time, but he will likely be joined by enforcer Wade Brookbank and a couple of other Moose graduates. The best chance is on the blue-line, where the sixth and possibly seventh spots are up for grabs. Bieksa, Moose captain Nolan Baumgartner and Tomas Mojzis should be among those getting a long look. Josh Green, Lee Goren and King are in the mix up front, but will be in tough.


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