Zack Ostapchuk returning to the Vancouver Giants amplifies their intended identity.
Head coach Michael Dyck wants a hard-working, heavy-forechecking crew that plays a sound team game all over the ice. That’s the modus operandi of Ostapchuk, a 19-year-old forward and team captain who’s back for a fourth year with the club after being reassigned to junior this week by the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators.
It’s a tailor-made fit, and that’s even before counting the fact that Ostapchuk was voted the team’s most valuable player last season.
Ostapchuk is expected to make his Vancouver season debut Friday, when the Giants (1-2-1-2) play host to the Brandon Wheat Kings (2-2-1-0) in Western Hockey League action at the Langley Events Centre.
“We have to use each other, we have to help each other,” Ostapchuk said of this year’s Giants team. “We don’t have any superstars, so it’s going to need to be a solid team effort.
“I’m really happy with our morale and where our team game is at.”
Goalie Jesper Vikman added of Ostapchuk’s return: “It’s a huge boost. He plays the right way all the time. There’s a reason why he’s the captain and a reason why he’s made it as far as he has in this career.”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ostapchuk was a second-round pick of the Senators in the 2021 NHL Draft, signing his three-year entry-level deal with them last fall. He’s too young to play in the minors so he had to be reassigned to junior if he didn’t stick with the big club.
Ostapchuk suffered a shoulder injury in a Senators prospects game on Sept. 18, and was out of action until playing in Ottawa’s pre-season finale against former Giants star Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday in Moncton, N.B.
The Giants had some fancy, flashy skill last year with the likes of Fabian Lysell, Justin Sourdif and Alex Cotton. The club had trouble keeping any traction in the standings, and with a playoffs in doubt at the January trade deadline Vancouver wound up as sellers, including moving out then-team captain Sourdif to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Ostapchuk took over the ‘C’ and his game seemed to flourish down the stretch and into the playoffs. He finished with a team-high 26 goals, to go with 17 assists, in 60 games in the regular season. He played an integral part in No. 8-seeded Vancouver upsetting the No. 1 Everett Silvertips in the first round of the post-season. He finished with seven goals and 23 points in 12 post-season games.
“You can tell him being back brings a lot of confidence to our group,” Vancouver centre Ty Thorpe said this week. “He’s a skilled player, but he also works hard as well and he’s a great leader.
“We’ve already been able to do what we have without him. Just bringing him back is going to help take us to another level.”
Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Vancouver Giants
7:30 p.m., Langley Events Centre. Radio: AM 730.
Ostapchuk is a centre by trade but has had extended runs on the wing during his time in Vancouver. The Giants have five or six natural centres on the roster so Dyck has a plethora of options when it comes to setting up his forward trios.
Vancouver’s top line so far has featured Thorpe between and Ty Halaburda and Samuel Honzek. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dyck try Ostapchuk with Honzek, a Slovak newcomer who’s shown touch around the net on his way to three goal and three assists so far.
Ostapchuk will also help a Vancouver power play that went 0-for-8 in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
“We’ve been competing hard. I want to add some fuel to fire and maybe some offence and some help on special teams,” Ostapchuk said. “I want to do what I can to give a little boost.
“I’m excited. I’m happy to get back on the ice with my buddies.”
This was Ostapchuk’s second year at Ottawa’s training camp. He says this latest trip reinforced for him “how smart everyone is on the ice at the level. You really have to use your brain when you play at that level because everyone is so fast and the game is so structured.”
Ostapchuk played played for Team Canada at the summertime world juniors in Edmonton and should be in the mix for a spot on that team again come December.
Vancouver Giants get Zack back, as Ottawa Senators reassign Ostapchuk to WHL club
Vancouver Giants’ newcomer Honzek and old-timer Meszaros crossed paths as Slovak league teammates
Rookie import Samuel Honzek finding quick fit with Vancouver Giants
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