Maybe it was his one-punch knockdown of San Jose’s Brad Winchester in the preseason. Or perhaps it’s his ability to play responsible hockey, but with enough of an edge to keep the opposition honest.
Either way, Aaron Volpatti showed enough grit with the Vancouver Canucks last year to merit another crack at the lineup after an injury-shortened season.
The rugged left winger underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last December to repair a torn left labrum. Now fully healed, he feels he has something to prove.
The Canucks, winners of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, signed the 27-year-old Revelstoke product to a one-year, two-way contract in June. The deal will pay him $600,000 at the NHL level, and $105,000 if he gets shipped to Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
Volpatti was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but was happy to re-sign with the Canucks.
“It was nice to get it over with pretty early, before free agency,” said Volpatti, a fan favourite when he played Junior A with the Vernon Vipers.
“I feel like I’ve got something to prove with the injury. I only had a 23-game season so I’m looking forward to getting back and proving myself again.”
Volpatti signed with Vancouver after graduating from the NCAA Brown Bears in 2010, making the team straight out of training camp last year.
“I was starting to develop a niche for myself,” said Volpatti, who had a goal and assist to go along with 37 penalty minutes.
“I played with that shoulder for a while and it just got to the point where it…wasn’t smart to keep playing with it career-wise.
“It’s not the big bumps that bothered it. It was always when I wasn’t expecting something, or those little nudges where I wasn’t ready.”
With a lockout looming, Volpatti, who just got engaged to Claire Danielle, is preparing as if the season will start on schedule. He plans to head to Vancouver in early September in anticipation of Canucks’ main camp.
“It (negotiations) seems like there a little ways off still,” he said. “Whether it means a lockout or a delayed start or if they can figure something out in the next few weeks, I’m just preparing as I always would.”
Because Volpatti is on a two-way contract, he would be eligible to play with the Wolves should a full lockout happen.
“Obviously you want to see a deal done, but for me, I’m going to be playing, which is important for my shoulder and my own confidence.”
Volpatti says the road to recovery has been an arduous one. After the surgery, he moved back to Vernon so he wouldn’t be a distraction to the team, as well as for his own sanity.
“It was long. The first six weeks you’re in a sling, not really doing anything,” he said.
“I started rehab right after I got out of the sling; pretty light stuff. I saw results quickly – it got better fast, but then it kind of plateaued around 70, 75 per cent, which they said was to be expected.”
Volpatti was back skating (no shooting) around the time Vancouver was being knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings.
“It was bad timing,” said Volpatti. “The only positive is I know it’s 100 per cent ready to go.”
Volpatti spends his summers in Vernon. He harnessed his inner handyman this offseason, taking on a few bathroom renovation projects at his Coldstream home.
He has also been able to test out his surgically repaired shoulder during his offseason workouts. He recently played in Salmon Arm’s ninth annual Pro-Am Scholarship Game with local pros Jerred Smithson (Panthers), Aaron Gagnon (Jets) and Cody Franson (Maple Leafs).
“Our skates have been pretty good so I can test it out a little bit,” he said. I don’t really notice it at all.”