VANCOUVER — Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were absent when the Vancouver Canucks opened training camp with fitness testing at Rogers Arena on Wednesday.
Pettersson, the Canucks’ No. 1 center, and Hughes, their top defenseman, are unsigned restricted free agents, and general manager Jim Benning said he wasn’t optimistic either player would be signed in time to take part in the first day of on-ice work Thursday.
“I’m disappointed they’re not going to be here for the start of camp, but I’m going to continue to talk to CAA and Pat Brisson [the agent for Pettersson and Hughes] and try to get something figured out here as soon as we can,” Benning said. “I don’t think we’re that far apart but these are complex, unique deals. These are two good young players and an important part of our group.”
Pettersson, who missed the final 30 games of last season with a wrist injury, scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games. The 22-year-old scored 66 points in each of his first two NHL seasons after being selected by Vancouver with the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year in 2018-19 and has scored 153 points (65 goals, 88 assists) in 165 regular-season games.
Hughes led Canucks defensemen and finished third on Vancouver with 41 points (three goals, 38 assists) in 56 games last season. The 21-year-old, who was the No. 7 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has scored 97 points (11 goals, 86 assists) in 129 regular-season games. He was second to Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar for the Calder Trophy in 2019-20.
“We’re negotiating on two players kind of at the same time, so I’m going to talk again with [Brisson] this afternoon,” Benning said. “I think we’re getting close, but we’ll just continue on and hopefully we can get it done sooner rather than later.”
Vancouver (23-29-4) finished last in the seven-team Scotia North Division last season, when the top four teams qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canucks were aggressive in the offseason, with additions that included defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, forwards Conor Garland and Jason Dickinson and goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Coach Travis Green said he hoped Pettersson and Hughes would be at training camp as everyone tries to get on the same page.
The Canucks’ first preseason game is against the Seattle Kraken on Sept. 26. They open the regular season at the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 13.
“It affects the team and affects the players individually,” Green said. “I’m disappointed they’re not here obviously as a coach. We got a lot of new bodies on our team. I think being two big pieces to our team it’s important they’re here, and obviously being two younger players, training camp is a big part of working on certain parts of your game and these are two young players that are vital to our team.”