VANCOUVER - Peter Schaefer has come a long way from the rec hockey league he played in last year.
When the puck drops on the Vancouver Canucks 40th NHL season on Saturday night, he’ll be patrolling the left wing on the third line against the Los Angeles Kings.
“It was a lot of hard work and a lot of tough times through the year but it’s definitely an honour to be here,”he said Friday.
The 26-year-old from Yellow Grass, Sask., who signed his contract on Thursday, was out of pro hockey last year.
But he spent time working with former Canucks conditioning coach Peter Twist, and there were days when he’d run the gruelling Grouse Grind up a North Shore mountain. Twice.
Now, after coming to camp on a professional tryout, he finds himself skating with centre Manny Malhotra and right-winger Jannik Hansen.
“We’re going to be playing good defence out there,”said Schaefer, who has played three seasons with the Canucks, four with the Ottawa Senators and one with the Boston Bruins.“We’re going to be playing against better players.
“We’re going to try to pitch in offensively but I think for the most part just be solid and pitch in when the top two lines are struggling a bit.”
Schaefer, who has 98 goals and 161 assists in 556 NHL games, was traded to Ottawa in a deal that brought defenceman Sami Salo to the Canucks.
He had 16 goals in 2000-01 for Vancouver, his last year in a Canucks uniform. The Bruins bought out the final year of his $2.1-million contract after the 2008-09 season.
“He played hard at both ends and I heard some real good things about him from some of his former coaches,”said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.
“He came here and worked real hard, worked real smart, was good along the wall, made the right decisions with the puck ... and he outplayed some of the other guys, and that’s why he’s starting.”
Among those Schaefer beat out was Brendan Morrison, another former Canuck here on a professional tryout. Morrison eventually signed with the Calgary Flames.
While Vancouver has done little tinkering with the top two lines other than plug a hole while Alex Burrows rehabs his shoulder, Vigneault has high expectations from his third-line combination.
“I think they’re going to bring speed,”he said.“All three guys are pretty smart guys on the ice and I expect them to go to their strengths.
“Each of them brings a different set of tools and we’re convinced that’s going to be a real strong line for us right now.”
The only thing remaining for the Canucks to do is to name their new captain after goalie Roberto Luongo relinquished the role that was said to be a distraction for him.
That move is expected Saturday and both Henrik Sedin, the Canucks’scoring champion and league MVP, and rugged centre Ryan Kesler said management had discussed the position with them.
Neither would give any hints but Vigneault spoke about why Henrik was picked over identical twin brother Daniel as an alternate captain last season.
“Henrik is the more outgoing of the two, the one that speaks the most,”said Vigneault who admitted it took him three years to tell them apart.
“Leadership is being able to influence people, influence them in the right way and I think by the way he conducts himself he’s able to influence people.”
The diplomatic Henrik said there are a dozen leaders on the Canucks.
“We have a lot of guys who can step up,”he said.“The leadership group is not only three or four guys.”
Added the poker-faced Kesler:“It’s going to be a special night (Saturday) night and it’s going to be good.”
NOTES:The Canucks face former teammates in their first two games ... defenceman Willie Mitchell, not re-signed after a Jan. 16 concussion, returns with the Kings ... enforcer Darcy Hordichuk was traded to the Florida Panthers who face the Canucks on Monday.