New Canucks centre Matthew Highmore had no trouble in the bubble

3 weeks ago  /  The Province Hockey  /  Read Time: 3 minutes 51 seconds
New Canucks centre Matthew Highmore had no trouble in the bubble

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Matthew Highmore is superstitious. Not a little. A lot.





This shouldn’t be surprising because the former Chicago Blackhawks centre, acquired Monday by the Vancouver Canucks in a swap for Adam Gaudette, had his moments in the Windy City. Just not enough of them, and enough time to wonder what went wrong.





Highmore has often been classified as a classic “tweener” — that guy who has to do everything right and consistently to remain in the National Hockey League — and if that means the undrafted middle man requires a manic means to ensure everything is in place before he hits the ice, so be it.





After all, when you’re passed over twice in the NHL Entry Draft and were in a revolving fourth-line rotation of forwards with the Blackhawks, incentive and precise preparations are career constants. His former teammates certainly saw that superstitious side of Highmore.





“They’re pretty accurate — I would say I’m very routine oriented,” he said with a chuckle Tuesday from a Vancouver hotel room, where the 25-year-old Halifax native is starting the league’s mandatory seven-day quarantine period. “That’s just the way I prepare and have always believed if you have a good routine and prepare the same way, you hope to play the same way every night.





“I keep things the same and know what works for me.”





Highmore knew what worked in the 2020 post-season. He had three goals and four points in nine games, and in the pressure-cooker of the restrictive COVID-19 bubble and heightened on-ice expectations it brought out the best in his game and didn’t go unnoticed.





“The bubble was a great step to being the kind of player I want to be,” said Highmore. “A lot of it was keeping my game simple and playing hard and feeling comfortable in the league. Sometimes it’s tough to play your game, but that was the next step and I felt more mature and ready to play.









“My game is to bring energy and get in on the forecheck and create turnovers and be responsible defensively. As for offence, I do believe I’m close. I don’t necessarily believe it’s for a lack of chances, and if I look back on this year they just didn’t go in. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of a confidence thing, too, and I’m just looking forward to do anything to help the team.





“It’s super exciting because it’s hard to be on the outside and watching.











Highmore was limited this season to 24 games, 8:50 of average ice time and just two assists. A roster pecking order and a mosh-pit of those who can play the middle didn’t help.









The current congestion of healthy centre options in Chicago includes Pius Suter (age 24), Kirby Dach (19), Dylan Strome (23), Philipp Kurashev (20), David Kampf (25), Vinnie Hinostroza (26), Ryan Carpenter (29) and now Gaudette (24). And captain Jonathan Toews (32) has been absent all season with an undisclosed ailment.





“One thing you appreciate about Highmore is his work ethic and attention to detail,” said Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton. “It’s hard to find a bigger team guy with his willingness to do the right thing for the team at all times.”





The Canucks believe Highmore possesses a better overall game than Gaudette, despite just 10 points (4-6) in 73 career NHL games, and they like his alternate captain roles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with the Saint John Sea Dogs, and with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs. That says something about losing faith in Gaudette, who did manage a dozen goals and 33 points in 59 games last season before slumping to three goals and seven points in 33 games in 2020-21.





“We feel Highmore plays a more complete two-way game and gives us speed,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. “And if given the opportunity, he can score, too.”





The 5-foot-11, 188 pound Highmore did have 24 goals as an AHL rookie in 2017-18 to set a Rockford (Ill.) franchise record before requiring shoulder surgery the following season. He has a year left on his contract at US $750,000 and will get a good look here because riddles in the middle remain, outside of captain Bo Horvat.












NEXT GAME





Friday





Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks





6 p.m.,





Rogers Arena





, TV: Sportsnet Pacific, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM












Elias Pettersson may be closer to returning from a wrist injury and Brandon Sutter is an unrestricted free agent with a modified no-trade clause and is seeking a contract extension. The injured Jay Beagle may be sidelined at the outset of next season with an undisclosed long-term ailment, winger J.T. Miller is an option to remain at centre and taxi-squad pivot Tyler Graovac is also a UFA.





Prospect forward Kole Lind is playing centre with the AHL’s Utica Comets and got off to a fast start with eight points (5-3) in his first eight games before breaking his nose. He had good chemistry with Sven Baertschi and Sam Anas for better puck possession, but the Canucks project him as a winger because of the two-way demands of playing the middle.





Highmore also enters an environment of high COVID-19 concern. Quinn Hughes and Beagle came off the protocol list Tuesday, but 16 roster players remain on the watch.





“I’m not worried, but what has transpired here is terrible and I feel so bad for the guys,” said Highmore. “I feel safe coming in.”





bkuzma@postmedia.com





twitter.com/benkuzma






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