Three depth Canucks forwards missed practice Friday.

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Even in normal times, there’s not much an NHL team could do if faced with missing six forwards from its lineup. And in the world of COVID-19, there’s really no solution.

That’s the reality Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green is facing in planning for Saturday’s home game against the high-flying Edmonton Oilers.

Heading into Friday’s practice at Rogers Arena, we knew that Tyler Motte (high ankle sprain), Justin Bailey (separated shoulder) and Elias Pettersson (upper-body injury) would be missing.

But once the team hit the ice, we learned that centres Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle weren’t available and neither was Antoine Roussel.

Sutter was absent from the Canucks’ bench for the final seven minutes of the first period of Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He returned to action in the second period but barely played in the game’s final six minutes.

What is ailing the other two isn’t clear.

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After practice Green initially was reluctant to give any update on the trio’s status, before later suggesting that “one or two” were likely to play on Saturday.

“A couple guys had to stay off the ice today,” he said. At one point Sutter was spotted watching practice from the tunnel behind the Canucks’ bench, dressed in street clothes.

“A lot of these questions might not be for anything,” Green said.

To fill in a full line’s worth of skaters, Loui Eriksson, who is technically on the taxi squad, was put on the fourth line, with Zack MacEwen, a healthy scratch of late, pinch-hitting at centre and a pair of taxi-squad blue-liners in Brogan Rafferty and Ashton Sautner rotating in on right wing.

Given Green’s suggestion that at least one of the absentees will play, it does seem unlikely one of the spare defencemen will dress. But he did have a moment of levity in replying to a question about how comfortable he would be with MacEwen actually lining up at centre, given he’s not really played the position as a pro.

“I don’t think I’m going to play centre tomorrow and I don’t know if (MacEwen) will play tomorrow. If it happens that he has to take the odd shift in the middle, then that’s what we’ll do,” Green said.

The Canucks’ playoff hopes are already slim and to face the Oilers not at full strength will make those chances slimmer.

Green’s frustration

Several times during Friday’s practice, Green raised his voice and used colourful language in reaction to a mistake from his players.

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“I wanted to make sure our details were sharp today. I just was harping on some of the things I think we need to make sure we have in our game,” Green said.

Defenceman Nate Schmidt said Green’s frustration was understandable.

“He should have been,” he said, noting how poorly they played Wednesday.

Green said it was possible that a defenceman might have to skate at forward. Schmidt seems unlikely to be an option up front, but he has played at forward in the past and smiled in response to a query about his own experience playing forward. He played one of his first games in the AHL as a forward, he pointed out.

“I played a lot of wing in college, in my freshman year. Played centre in junior,” he said.

Playing forward is a fun challenge on offence but a strange experience when you’re in the defensive zone, since it’s not actually about waiting by the blue-line for a breakout, even if he admitted to joking with his teammates otherwise.

“It’s a different game, gotta get your feet moving, you don’t just stand at the blue-line in the offensive zone … I always give the guys a hard time. They just stand there and wait for us to give them the puck (in the defensive zone). But what do I know, I’m just a defenceman?” he laughed.

No call-up available

In a normal COVID-19-free season, the Canucks could just recall a forward from the AHL. But to recall a player from the Utica Comets this season, the player would have to serve the standard two-week quarantine, which wouldn’t be much help in the short-term.

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The team did assign Tyler Graovac to the Manitoba Moose earlier this season, so he could get in some game action; but he would still have to quarantine for a week if he were to be recalled from the AHL to either the NHL team or the taxi squad. He was meant to serve as a last-gasp, fail-safe option.

But he’s not currently an option anyway, as he suffered a concussion March 3 and is still following the return-to-play protocol. It’s perhaps a little surprising the Canucks didn’t recall another forward from Utica when he did suffer his concussion, especially since the recovery period from a concussion can be hard to predict.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction

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