‘We looked at (Vancouver) as a long-term situation of where we wanted to be for my career and family. I’ve loved every second of it and it’s been a good fit’

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Travis Hamonic is now playing as advertised.

It’s being noticed here and from afar because the big and fearless unrestricted free-agent defenceman is drawing interest in advance of the April 12 trade deadline. Who wouldn’t want a hard-hitting, shot-blocking blueliner to pair with a puck mover and bolster a National Hockey League playoff run?

Who wouldn’t want a guy who can move up and down pairings and tough it out down low when testosterone levels rise? The answer is a lot of teams with Stanley Cup dreams.

“His game is solid right now,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “He does a lot of things right and competes hard. When he closes on guys, he closes for keeps.”

Before Hamonic accepted a professional tryout here in January and then signed a salary cap-friendly one-year, US $1.25-million contract, the buzz in Winnipeg was that the Manitoba native might join the Jets. The level of interest in the 30-year-old, right-shot defender has been rekindled to some degree.

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The North Division club is on a 7-2-1 roll heading into Monday’s meeting with Montreal and four points shy of front-running Toronto with three games in hand. The Jets are fast, deep and play hard in all zones, but they could use a veteran to support the back end.

There’s interest in acquiring left shot Mattias Ekholm, 30, of Nashville, who has a year left at a $3.75-million cap hit. Right shot David Savard, 30, of Columbus is a UFA on an expiring $4.25-million cap commitment and his name has also surfaced.

Then there’s the healthy Hamonic, who missed 18 games with an upper-body injury in January.

He could pair with Josh Morrissey or Logan Stanley, or he could stay put. Judging by his tone on Monday, Hamonic’s preference is to keep building on a pairing with Quinn Hughes and sign a long-term deal here.

“I’d love it,” said Hamonic. “When we decided on Vancouver, we looked at it as a long-term situation of where we wanted to be for my career and family. I’ve loved every second of it and it’s been a good fit. Hopefully, something can transpire and make it work, but I’m not looking at that right now.

“A lot of things have to happen with guys before those conversations are had with me and that’s fine. I’m trying to enjoy my time and it’s great to be out there playing.”

Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele (top) is squeezed out by Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes as Travis Hamonic grabs the puck in Winnipeg earlier this month.
Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele (top) is squeezed out by Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes as Travis Hamonic grabs the puck in Winnipeg earlier this month. Photo by Kevin King /Postmedia News files

Being aligned with Hughes has certainly helped. The youthful exuberance of the fleet-footed blueliner and his incredibly high skill level has Hamonic looking like a Chris Tanev 2.0 solution for the 2019-20 Calder Trophy runner-up.

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“It’s been great,” said Hamonic. “He’s one of the best D-men in the world. He’s fun to play with because he’s an exceptional talent and a skill level that you can’t teach — you’re just born with it. You just get out of his way sometimes and let him do his thing and let him know I’m there to support him on and off the ice.

“I feel my game can complement him. I try to play a heavy game down low and make the right reads on breakouts and the defensive side of the puck. Communication is a big thing in this league and so is chemistry, and we’ve been building that of late.”

With Alex Edler and Jordie Benn also UFAs and Jalen Chatfield a Group 6 UFA, the back end is going to look different next season. Chatfield, Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty need to play and AHL rookie Jack Rathbone is on the fast track to the NHL.

Jalen Chatfield of the Vancouver Canucks and Tyler Toffoli of the Montreal Canadiens skate against each other during the second period of their early February game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Jalen Chatfield of the Vancouver Canucks and Tyler Toffoli of the Montreal Canadiens skate against each other during the second period of their early February game at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis /Getty Images

Chatfield turns 25 in May and beats the June 30 age deadline for his UFA status. He has also played the required three pro seasons (AHL) and less than 80 (NHL) games. As for Hamonic, he’s beating a path back to live up to his moniker — hard minutes that often go unnoticed — and his six shot blocks and 20:24 of ice time Saturday in a gutsy 2-1 win over Edmonton was a prime example.

“I feel like I’m starting to hit my stride and I still have a lot more to give,” added Hamonic. “My game is going in the right direction and I’m feeling confident in the role the coach has given me and it suits my style of play.

“Everyone has got go bring something to the table and I’m just trying to be that small piece in the cog and when I get my opportunity, I have make sure I do the things I can do. Quite frankly, I expect a lot from myself. I know I have another level to get to and I’m going to get there.”

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OVERTIME — Injured forwards Tyler Motte and Antoine Roussel are on the four-game trip, but the ailing Elias Pettersson isn’t. Tyler Graovac has recovered from a March 3 concussion while loaned to Manitoba of the AHL, and following quarantine has been assigned to the Canucks’ taxi squad.

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