Returning Canucks defenseman hopes he’ll be a goaltender this season

Notebook: Blueliner Brady Keeper fully recovered from broken leg that sidelined him in 2021-22

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For Brady Keeper, Vancouver Canucks training camp later this month in Whistler represents a reset.

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A year ago, the rugged defenseman was ready to pursue his National Hockey League dream with the Canucks after signing with the team in the offseason. With Travis Hamonic not there due to his reluctance to get a COVID-19 shot, there was a spot on the right side of the Canucks defense.

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Kyle Burroughs ended up kicking the team out of camp and staying the full season in the NHL due to Harmonic’s absence, even after the veteran defenseman received the jab and joined the team.

But in an alternate reality, it may have been Keeper who made the team, not Burroughs.

It was a broken leg suffered late in training camp that kept Keeper from making an impression. The break was so bad that he missed the entire season, not returning to the ice until March and then participating in a handful of practices in April.

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Keeper hasn’t played a ton in 2020-21 either, getting only his second NHL game with Florida and just 11 games in the American Hockey League as he’s mostly found himself on the team. Florida Panthers taxis during a COVID-shortened season.

After a summer of training in Winnipeg, he says he’s back to 100%. It’s been a big year for Keeper, no matter where he plays, whether it’s Vancouver or the AHL Abbotsford.

He missed the game, but he also narrowly missed the camaraderie of the team.

“Yeah, I kind of missed it, the guys in the locker room and just being with the guys all year and traveling with the team and doing all that stuff,” he said earlier. this week after skating with a handful of teammates at the Scotia Barn in Burnaby.

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“It’s all behind me and I’m just grateful to be where I am,” he added.

“I just want to prove to myself and the team that I can play.”

Canucks winger Alex Chiasson, shown celebrating a goal last season, says he really enjoyed his summer in Vancouver while taking care of teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson's Kitsilano home.
Canucks winger Alex Chiasson, shown celebrating a goal last season, says he really enjoyed his summer in Vancouver while taking care of teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s Kitsilano home. Photo of Derek Cain /USA TODAY Sports Records

Chiasson is still pursuing

Alex Chiasson has no contract for the upcoming season. He pondered a European adventure in the offseason, but in the end, the belief that he could still land an NHL job proved too much.

“With the end of the year I’ve had (in 2021-22) I still really feel like I can play and contribute and help a team,” he said. Six of his 13 goals for the season have come in the last nine games, with the Canucks still battling for a playoff berth.

He said playing with JT Miller was a real treat.

“He just asked me to go play my game, and then with that momentum, it built confidence in my game. Bruce (Boudreau) was giving me a lot of ice time,” Chiasson said.

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“Over time we felt like we had to win every game and those are situations you know, playing the playoffs and the Stanley Cup in Washington, things like that, those are all situations where I was.”

He knows an NHL career is fleeting for most and knows he shouldn’t give up easily.

“You never know when the next opportunity will come. And I think that’s kind of the way I approach things,” he said.

Chiasson and partner Riley Barnes have enjoyed it in Vancouver since the end of the season.

The pair took care of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s home this summer in Kitsilano, leaving them well-positioned to explore places like Spanish Banks, Stanley Park, Deep Cove and elsewhere with their energetic black lab.

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“Honestly, I’ve always wanted to play here. I’ve heard the summers are great. We’ve moved quite a bit over the past few years. So we decided to stay and it’s probably one of the nicest cities in which I have played or experienced in my career,” he said.

Chiasson was hoping the Canucks would be interested in bringing him back, but he knows with only three weeks left until training camps open league-wide, time is running out.

“My hope was to do something here. And obviously we are running out of time, but we still have hope,” he said. “I don’t know where this will lead, but they gave me the opportunity to skate here and we’ll see how it goes.

“It was a special year, you know, I played here for a year and I hope some things can work out. Otherwise, I only have good things to say about the team, the group, the head coach They are in good hands and that is why I wanted to come back.

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Horvat’s deal?

Most of the talk this offseason has focused on the status of JT Miller. The skilled forward will be an unrestricted free agent next summer if he is not signed to a contract extension.

Team captain Bo Horvat is in the same boat, but has been the subject of much less speculation.

His agent, Pat Morris, did not respond to a question this week about the status of contract negotiations between the team and its 2013 first-round pick. The Canucks were also mum on the matter.

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Joan J. Holland