The Abbotsford Canucks, shown here practicing, debut tonight in California against the Bakersfield Condors. (Abbotsford Canucks photo)

The Abbotsford Canucks, shown here practicing, debut tonight in California against the Bakersfield Condors. (Abbotsford Canucks photo)

Abbotsford Canucks opening season tonight in California

American Hockey League team debuts against the Bakersfield Condors

The Abbotsford Canucks 2021-22 roster has been finalized, they’ve made the trip to California and are set to square off against the Bakersfield Condors tonight (Saturday) at 7 p.m.

But what exactly can fans expect from the team that general manager Ryan Johnson assembled?

Not surprisingly, Johnson told The News that he likes his roster. He stated that he likes the mix on his club and believes there are a number of players on the team that will continue to push for a roster spot in Vancouver.

“You can try to come up with an American Hockey League roster in the summer and it never will fall that way,” he joked, noting that turnover is frequent in the league. “We signed players to make tough decisions in Vancouver and I think our group did that. We’ve seen guys that maybe we had anticipated would be with us in Abbotsford that have made our team in Vancouver – which is a positive.”

RELATED: General manager Ryan Johnson, Abbotsford Canucks ready for arrival in B.C.

Johnson said the variety of experience levels is also a benefit. There are players drafted earlier this year like 2021 second round draft pick Danila Klimovich to AHL veterans like Cameron Schilling (575 games in the AHL) to prospects on the verge of breaking through like goalie Michael DiPietro, defenceman Jett Woo or forward Will Lockwood.

“We’ve got some very talented players that are going to keep knocking on the door to be the next guys in line to be heading to Vancouver,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good mix and I like how things are coming together.”

AHL insider Patrick Williams, who covers the league extensively online, seems to agree with Johnson. Although he joked it’s extremely difficult to make predictions in a league with so much unpredictability, he believes Abbotsford has some solid pieces in place.

“I think the activity this summer really made a statement,” he told The News. “The fact that Vancouver was so aggressive and really went in there and signed some top AHL veterans that right off the bat can make the team not just competitive but a contender – I think it really bodes well and it’s going to be a really attractive place for a lot of players to play, especially guys from B.C. and Western Canada.”

Williams said two of those solid veterans who will play key roles in Abbotsford if they remain here are forward Sheldon Dries and goalie Spencer Martin. He had also pointed to Nic Petan and Kyle Burroughs as nice signings and possible captain material, but both of those players made the Vancouver club.

“Dries kind of first got on my radar in 2018 after he had just come out of the college ranks and signed with the Texas Stars,” Williams said. “He’s one of those kind of guys you couldn’t help but notice every shift and he’s a real energy guy, kind of a buzzsaw out there.”

He praised Martin as being a solid back-up for DiPietro, who is expected to get a lot of time in between the pipes for Abbotsford.

As for the opposition in the Pacific Division, Williams again reiterated there are so many factors making it difficult to predict which teams will be strong but said the San Diego Gulls, Henderson Silver Knights and Colorado Eagles could be top contenders for the division crown. He added that the Ontario Reign could have some intriguing talents as well.

However, he does think Abbotsford should be in the mix and be a playoff team come the spring.

“I feel reasonably confident about Abbotsford,” he said. “I think Vancouver did a lot of insurance there, it’s pretty obvious how much they want the team to succeed. Fans like development but they also like winning and a having a fast, exciting and winning team is really what sells tickets, just like any other sport.”

After Saturday’s game, the Canucks then have games against the Ontario Reign on Sunday (Oct. 17) and Tuesday (Oct. 19) before the home opener on Friday, Oct. 22 against the Silver Knights. The games on Saturday and Sunday are streaming free on AHL TV.

RELATED: Local Abbotsford Canucks podcast launches first episode

The Abbotsford Canucks opening day roster consists of the following players:

Forwards: Vincent Arseneau, Justin Bailey, Phil Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Dries, Carson Focht, Ethan Keppen, Danila Klimovich, Will Lockwood, Jarid Lukosevicius, Tristen Nielsen, Karel Plasek, Sheldon Rempal, John Stevens, Chase Wouters

Defencemen: Madison Bowey, Adam Brubacher, Noah Juulsen, Alex Kannok Leipert, Ashton Sautner, Cameron Schilling, Devante Stephens, Jett Woo

Goaltenders: Michael DiPietro, Spencer Martin, Arturs Silovs

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