The National Hockey League preseason is a struggle for those who have locked up roster spots and a daily grind to start and impress for those in the bubble.
For Tucker Poolman, there is an extra dimension to his determination and dedication.
The Vancouver Canucks defender hopes an encouraging off-season healing process, coupled with a methodical medical and progressive training plan, will allow increased pace and peace of mind in training camp and preseason to become a proper depth option for head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Poolman, 29, was limited to 40 games last season and ended the campaign on injury reserve. He played 13 of the first 14 games, but a few episodes would derail his season and give a measure of concern about finding a solution to ongoing migraine setbacks.
Migraine headaches can be hereditary or caused by a number of factors, including concussion, and can last for hours or days. During a Wednesday practice session at the University of BC, there was no evidence that Poolman struggled to keep up or perform drills in system play. He moved well and also took penalty kill services.
The litmus test, however, comes Thursday in a pre-season meeting with the Seattle Kraken at Rogers Arena.
“It will put everything to the test,” Poolman told Postmedia on Wednesday. “I scrambled and punched and did the normal stuff without really thinking too much about it. I’m really looking forward to it because it (migraine) changes your perspective and you just want to be thankful for the time you actually have.
“With most injuries you have some kind of timetable. This one is very unique and not many people have been in my situation.”
Seattle Kraken vs. Vancouver Canucks
6.30 pm, Rogers Arena. TV: Sports net. Radio: 650 hours.
From an expected increased pace to Thursday contact and fatigue, Poolman is eager to follow how off-season consultations with neurologists translate to when it mattered most after a summer of listening, learning and training.
“Rehabilitate, rest and recover and just try to get in good shape,” Poolman said of making progress to alleviate migraine problems. “The short (improvement) answer is yes, but it’s complicated and nuanced and there are many layers to it.
“I’ve talked to several neurologists and you’re just trying to figure it out because there are so many little things it could be. We’ve ruled out a lot of things with the elimination process and now it’s just working on rehabilitation and using the right muscles which you should do from the shoulders up.
“The strength of the shoulders and neck and everything that works together to support the head, but it’s kind of complicated because that’s just the surface with different angles to treat it too — other paths you can go through.”
The common belief is that an increased heart rate can trigger and sustain migraines, and this was thought to be the root of Poolman’s problems. Apparently not.
“That was not the problem, because I cycled and did a lot of training,” he clarified. “We couldn’t figure it out for a while, but we now have a grip on what caused it.
“The whole migraine thing, there’s still a lot of things we don’t know when you get to that level of trouble. So far I’ve responded well.”
Poolman had a migraine attack in Winnipeg on January 27. He played 7:54 of the first period in a 5-1 road win and did not return for the second period. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound blueliner did not absorb a severe blow that could have resulted in whiplash injury to promote discomfort and headaches.
He would then be out for 26 games, but a long road to recovery was promising with symptom-free skating and practice afterwards.
However, then the second setback came on April 3 at the Rogers Arena in a 3-2 overtime loss to Las Vegas. Poolman played no team in the second period and left after only 4:25.
It was later revealed that it was a repeat of what hampered his career. He had given Michael Amadio a goal in the defensive zone at 3:23 in the first period and followed Jonas Rondbjerg at 8:30 with the same contact in a third combination with Travis Dermott.
He seemed fine, but he wasn’t.
Poolman was symptom free for two weeks and the last episode ended his season. Poolman also missed a game with migraines in 2018 while with the Winnipeg Jets.
Fast forward and Boudreau is impressed by Poolman’s methodical return to contribute and not just a passing roster thought. The Canucks will likely carry eight defenders and Poolman now has a better shot to be in the back-end mix.
“He doesn’t look hesitant, he looks good,” said Boudreau. “The timing will be wrong in the games and that’s why he’s playing (Thursday) to get it back.
“When he got injured in Winnipeg he played extremely well and if he can get back to that level – we thought all summer we might have nothing – and now we have a man who can play very well.”
Poolman has three years left on a four-year $10 million free agent contract signed on July 28, 2021, with an annual salary cap of $2.5 million (all figures in US dollars). Total remaining salaries are $2.25 million, $3 million and $3 million.
NHL follows court proceedings, child abuse allegations, against Canucks chairman Francesco Aquilini
Canucks: Can Andrei Kuzmenko add more pop to promising power play?
Canucks’ injury woes on the wing elevate Nils Hoglander to Elias Pettersson line
More news, less ads, faster loading time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to the Vancouver Sun, the province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Sign up now through the Vancouver Sun of The Province.