Canucks practice after COVID-19 outbreak, to play Oilers on Friday

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The Vancouver Canucks had 10 players skate Monday, their first day of team activity since an outbreak of a COVID-19 variant paused their season for 11 days.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said they are on track to resume the 56-game regular-season schedule Friday at home against the Edmonton Oilers.

Eight Vancouver games were postponed, including Monday and Wednesday at Edmonton.

“Some guys feel really good and they’re ready to go,” Benning said. “Other guys are still feeling some residual effects of the COVID. But the next step for them is to start working out, getting on the ice and getting back in shape to play again.

“We’ll just deal with, if they have any effects through this week, skating and stuff with the COVID, we’ll deal with them, but hopefully when we play Friday night we’ve got our full team back in play.”

The Canucks had 22 players and four staff members test positive. There were 18 players on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Monday.

Benning said coach Travis Green was one of those affected.

“Travis is feeling better every day,” Benning said. “I haven’t talked to him yet today, so hopefully he’s ready to go too, when we get back going.”

Forward Tanner Pearson, who has scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 33 games, was one of the Canucks who didn’t test positive.

“Obviously I’ve stayed on the right side of it,” Pearson said. “For the most part, our team hasn’t. I’ve talked to most guys that got it, array of symptoms, some are still battling them, so hopefully that gets in a positive way better soon. It’s one of those things where you just hope everyone that got it and their families are doing well and can recover from it.”

The Canucks last played March 24, a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, and has been off the ice since March 31. Vancouver is scheduled to play its remaining 19 games in 31 days, ending the regular season at home against the Calgary Flames on May 16.

The NHL regular season was originally scheduled to end May 8. There have been 49 games postponed because of COVID-19 protocol since the NHL season began Jan. 13.

Vancouver’s next six games will be at home.

“We’ve got a tough schedule coming up here once we get started playing,” he said. “The good thing about it, the way I see it, is in the next couple of weeks, we’re still at home, so hopefully our guys get feeling better, their families get feeling better, and then once we get on the road, they have that peace of mind where their families are doing well and they can concentrate on the hockey when we’re on the road.

“It’s not going to be easy, but in this season with all the things you have to deal with, with COVID and stuff, it is what it is.”

Pearson has been skating after missing four games with a lower-body injury.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m excited,” he said. “I want to play. It’s way better than sitting in an apartment all day and just waiting for the OK that you’re good to come back to the rink or waiting that day to see if you ended up positive. It’s stressful, and hopefully we get over this soon.”

Vancouver (16-18-3) is sixth in the seven-team Scotia North Division, eight points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens with one game in hand. The top four teams qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“First and foremost, it’s about getting healthy, getting back on the ice, getting back in game shape,” Benning said. “My hope is that physically the guys feel well from coming off COVID and we can compete. Hopefully we’re going to get some injured guys back to that should help out. I’m hoping we can win our share of games here so we can make it competitive going down the stretch.”

Forward Elias Pettersson, who has scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games, could be close to a return and has been skating, Benning said. He last played March 2 and has missed 11 games with an upper-body injury.

“I’m hoping he’s able to play here by the end of the week, but we’ll have a better idea once he meets with the specialist on Wednesday,” Benning said.

The Canucks on Monday traded forward Adam Gaudette to the Chicago Blackhawks and defenseman Jordie Benn to the Winnipeg Jets. Gaudette was the first Canucks player placed on the COVID-19 protocol list during this outbreak. Benn did not appear on the list during the outbreak; he missed six games at the start of the season due to protocol.

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