Revelstoke native Aaron Volpatti secured a spot in the Vancouver Canucks starting lineup when the team opens the 2011-12 season at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Volpatti, 26, won the opportunity to skate on the right side on a line with centre Maxime Lapierre and left winger Viktor Oreskovich after a pre-season that saw him garner attention for his hard hits and willingness to drop the gloves.
Volpatti’s star rose throughout the pre-season and he earned league-wide attention by delivering two knock-out blows in a pre-season game against the San Jose Sharks last week. First, he delivered a hard, open-ice hit on Jason Demers and then he dropped Brad Winchester with a single punch when challenged to a fight. The latter clip quickly made the rounds of the hockey blogosphere.
“If he wants to play at this level and stay here, that’s what he brings,” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. “He’ll never be a top-six forward. Unfortunately, not everyone has that skill set, but he can be an effective third-or fourth-line player if he improves in killing penalties, in tracking better so that he can finish checks better, [and] stay within the rules of the NHL.
“This is the second year we have been able to see this young man and I see real good improvement there. It’s only going to get harder as we move forward,” Vigneault added.
Last year Volpatti played 15 games for the Canucks in his first season as a professional. He recorded one goal and one assist in the NHL last year and 11 points in 53 games with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
“Last year I got a taste of it, so that was pretty surreal and now I am trying to become a full-time member and being from B.C., it’s definitely pretty cool,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
Volpatti was considered a long-shot to make the Stanley
Cup finalist Canucks out of training camp. Before pre-season began he talked to Black Press about living in Chicago, home of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate the Chicago Wolves.
“It’s tough to crack the lineup on that team [Vancouver],” he said. “They signed a few new guys that can fill those bottom-six roles as well. There’s always competition, but it just makes everyone better. I’m just looking forward to getting to camp and getting it going.”
He beat out several players for the spot, including NHL veterans Todd Fedoruk and Owen Nolan; and yappy winger Mike Duco.
As Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun, Volpatti’s spot on the roster is not secure long-term. The Canucks are currently without top-six forwards Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and their return will mean someone will get be sent down.
Volpatti was signed by the Canucks towards the end of the 2010 hockey season. After completing his final season at Brown University, he joined the Manitoba Moose for the end of the regular season and playoffs. Last year he spent most of the season in the AHL aside from the 15 game call up.
He already holds the record for most NHL games played by a Revelstokian.