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Changing Tom Wilander up front means more room to grow

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“I would say that in general a lot of the skills of forwards are transferable to Ds because I think in hockey today Ds have to be very skillful.”

It is easily evident from talking to Tom Wilander that he is intelligent, enthusiastic, and passionate.

It was also evident from the moment Wilander spoke to the media on day one of the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect development camp. The 11th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft was the last chance to leave the gym after the team’s off-ice workouts following their on-ice sessions. It was a long and physically tough day but Wilander didn’t seem to want it to end.

Willander is so eager to absorb everything he can into his first NHL camp, he even pays close attention to the skills taught forwards as they go through individual workouts.

“I would say that a lot of the skills of forwards in general are transferable to Ds because I think in hockey today Ds have to be very skilled,” Wilander said.

He would have known. Even two years ago, Wilander was a forward — last season was his second full season as a defender. Landing in 11th place overall in a position in which he still has limited experience is quite an achievement and indicates he has more room to grow.

“There’s a ceiling to inexperience, just the different positions on the ice that I think can definitely be worked on,” Wilander said. “Last season there were a lot of matches and I felt that they helped me a lot, just to get used to them.”

“It’s easier to understand how the attackers feel.”

According to Scott Atkinson—former coach of Canucks prospect Akito Hirose, who made a similar switch from forward to defense—the difference in skill between a top forward and a linebacker is minimal. The real difference is in their view of the ice: how they see the game.

“It deals with the cognitive side of the game or the neuroscience of the game — decision-making, spatial orientation, navigation, all this kind of problem-solving, cognitive stuff that everyone refers to, simply, as Hockey IQ,” Atkinson said, “the way I’m basically describing it.” Is when you play the game, is it as if you are on TV, one of the actors in the play?Or are you in the audience watching the play or watching it on TV.

In other words, forwards feel more comfortable actively leading the game, while defenders feel more comfortable watching the game, seeing everything unfold in front of them.

Wilander immediately accepted the idea that it was primarily a change of perspective as he transitioned from forward to defense.

“One hundred percent,” he said, adding one of the main advantages of the game: “I feel that it is easier to know the positions in which you put your attacker with different passes.”

Wilander also tends to experiment as an attacker to influence his play as a defender. He set an example of not wanting, as a striker, to get a pass around the boards with pressure.

“It’s no fun having a 200-pound guy on your back,” Wilander said with a grin. It makes it easier to understand how the attackers feel. »

“My body is a little more physical but I love it.”

Willander focused mainly on the defensive side of the position last season, and quickly became one of the best guards in the recruiting class, benefiting from his exceptional ability to secure forwards and force them out. He also wasn’t afraid to play the sport, which he says will be easier on North American little ice, where he’ll play for Boston University next season.

“I feel like the small rink makes it a little faster than if it’s on the big rink, a little bit more physical but I like that,” Wilander said. “Sometimes it’s more difficult on the bigger ice because the players have more space when they have the puck, so I feel [on the smaller ice]It’s like having someone cling to the boards. »

Wilander absorbed as best he could in his first camp, and gave an interesting answer when asked what he hoped to get from the Canucks.

“I hope they give me the same passion that I want to give them,” Wilander said. “I really like this place and it’s obvious that they picked the first round to bring me here. I want to make a difference here. I hope they bring that back and give me some chances.”

With his rapid development and competitive nature, Willander won’t have to wait long for these opportunities. In fact, the Canucks wouldn’t ever have to give Willander chances – he would have taken them.

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