Imagine what 21-year-old forward Dave Scatchard was thinking last month when Mark Messier—Mark Messier!—invited him to breakfast. When he was growing up in Hinton, Alberta, during the 1980s, Scatchard and his father would drive three hours to Edmonton every other weekend just to watch Messier play. More than a decade later, here was Messier giving Scatchard advice on how to survive the Canucks' final cut. "Just do what you got drafted to do," said Messier, who signed a three-year, $18 million free-agent deal with Vancouver over the summer. "This is the right time for you to make this team."
This is the way the NHL's best leader works. He gets into your head, whether you're a rookie or a 10-year veteran such as center Trevor Linden, Vancouver's captain-in-name-only, who says he's "learning from Mark by watching him every day." Even disgruntled forward Pavel Bure appears to have caught Messier fever only a month after asking general manager Pat Quinn for a trade. Injuries to Bure's knee, hand, kidney and neck the past two years had turned the Russian Rocket into a craft more closely resembling Mir. But Bure entered camp in terrific shape and was named the Canucks' best-conditioned player.
Though Bure hasn't backed away from his trade demand, Messier has already started using his noted powers of persuasion. "Pavel is a special player we need if we are to win a championship," says Messier, who won six Stanley Cups during his days with the Oilers and the Rangers. "He's had a tough couple of years, but the most important thing is that he wants to rebound and have a great year."
Bure isn't the only question mark on Vancouver, which was perhaps the NHL's biggest bust last year, suffering from internal strife and missing the playoffs. Defense is a big concern. The Canucks allowed 3.30 goals per game last season, which left them tied for fifth worst in the league. Part of their problem lies in net, where Kirk McLean has been a disappointment since shining in the post-season three years ago.
In the meantime, Messier continues to establish himself as de facto captain. "I don't really look at myself as a savior," he says, "but I'm going to try to do the things that I've always done: get to know the players and then take it from there."