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Above the 49: Forget Doan, Canucks need to shore up at center

By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Vancouver is reportedly hot on the Shane Doan trail -- meeting with the soon-to-be former Coyotes captain -- but Canucks general manager Mike Gillis might be better off filling a more pressing need for his club.

While 'Doan Watch', along with the ongoing Roberto Luongo saga, continues to dominate the hockey headlines in Vancouver, the biggest concern on the Canucks' roster is their depth at the center position.

Heading into the season a year ago, the Canucks were thought to be among the deepest teams at the center spot with 2010 Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin and reigning Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler the stalwarts in the top two positions. Cody Hodgson - now of the Buffalo Sabres - looked poised for a breakout campaign, and veterans Manny Malhotra, Maxim Lapierre and Andrew Ebbett rounded out the rest of the main roster.

Fast forward one year later, and Vancouver's strength at that position is much less daunting.

Sedin is coming off a year that saw him fail to produce at a point-per-game pace for the first time in four seasons. His 14 goals last season is also his lowest output in the post-lockout era.

Kesler had a difficult time trying to get back to his full capacity as a result of offseason hip surgery and, after playing through a torn labrum for the final third of the season, will likely miss at least the opening month of this season after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer.

Trade deadline day acquisition Samuel Pahlsson, whom the Canucks brought in to essentially replace the struggling Malhotra as their top checking center, departed earlier this summer after signing with MODO of the Swedish Elite League.

The fact that the Canucks could conceivably be starting next season with Lapierre, who is a serviceable bottom-six forward but not the type suited for a permanent role in the top-six, as their second line center with Kesler out is a particular cause for concern.

Lapierre, who posted nine goals and 19 points last season, has cracked the 20- point mark only once in his career -- back in 2008-09, when he notched 28 points with Montreal.

As much as the Canucks would like to remain in the hunt for Doan, who, at 6- foot-1 and 223 lbs. and is a consistent point producer, gives them the power forward they feel they've desperately needed, Doan's age and reported contract expectations clearly don't fit into the Canucks' cap management scheme nor would his signing address their biggest gaping hole.

Doan, who turns 36 in October, has been rumored to be seeking a contract term of at least four years worth $7.5 million per season.

The Canucks, along with the likes of the Canadiens, Red Wings, Flyers, Penguins, Predators, Sharks, and Kings, are believed to be in the hunt for Doan's services. Doan was also reportedly being courted by the Flames and Oilers, but those teams are no longer in the running.

Even without adding Doan to the mix, Vancouver already has wingers who could fit the power forward mold and should be given the opportunity to land a full- time roster spot this fall: Zack Kassian, who appeared in 17 games for the Canucks last season after coming over from the Hodgson trade, and their 2011 first rounder Nicklas Jensen, who will be playing for Stockholm AIK in Sweden if he fails to land a spot out of training camp.

The Canucks did add to their organizational depth at the center spot during the NHL Entry Draft, taking 18-year-old Brendan Gaunce from the OHL's Belleville Bulls with the 26th overall selection; Gaunce, however, is likely a couple of years away from being NHL-ready.

The Canucks also have Jordan Schroeder, who played last year for their AHL affiliate in Chicago and will likely challenge for a roster spot at training camp, although Schroeder's being overlooked for a late season call-up even after the departure of Hodgson suggests the team isn't exactly high on the 21- year-old Minnesotan.

Schroeder has yet to appear in a NHL game since being drafted in the first round, 22nd overall, of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Canucks.

08/02 10:24:14 ET

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