Dave Nonis has plenty of reasons to smile these days.
His Vancouver Canucks have won five consecutive games and are battling for first place in the Northwest Division, his franchise goalie, Roberto Luongo, has found his form, and at least a couple of the top prospects on the farm are developing quite nicely.
"The teams in our division are bunched together now, and they're going to be bunched together when we get to Game 82," Nonis said during the first intermission of last night's game between the Manitoba Moose and Rochester Americans. "Every game we have against a divisional opponent is one that the outcome is in doubt until the very end."
Another one of the big stories with the parent club this season is the rapid development of defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Bieksa, who has eight goals and 21 points in 41 games this season, was a fan favourite while playing parts of two seasons with the Moose. After spending half of last season with the Canucks, Bieksa is being used in all situations and has been nicknamed Jovo Jr., since his game resembles that of former Canuck Ed Jovanovski.
"We always felt he could play a regular shift at the NHL level, that's why we gave him a one-way contract (this summer)," said Nonis. "I don't think anyone expected him to be as good as he's been. He's still a young guy in terms of experience, and he's prone to making the odd mistake because of it, but he's done an excellent job.
"He's far surpassed our expectations at this point in his career."
Speaking of developing defencemen, Nonis is thrilled by the growth shown by Swedish rookie Alex Edler this season.
"He's come a long way," said Nonis. "You can't teach intelligence. He does have a big body, he skates well, and he's mobile, but it's his head that's allowed him to take such a big step forward. He's such a smart player. He sees the ice well, and that allows him to make those passes.
"Those are all physical skills, but his intelligence is what has really impressed me. He's not just a prospect for us right now. He's a guy that can play. We never expected that at this point of his young career."
It's not just the young blue-liners that have impressed Nonis, who also praised the play of Yannick Tremblay.
"When we brought Yannick up, he was a big part of giving us a spark," said Nonis. "He can shoot the puck as well as anybody we have in Vancouver, as far as getting it off and getting it on net. We're very happy with his play, and he'll give us some more games before the season is out."