The Canucks lost some key pieces over the offseason, not all of which were replaced. Despite that, I think they remain a competitive team.
There will be an internal battle for the opening on Bo Horvat’s wing, and I think a pretty good player wins out and runs with the opportunity. The big guns up front will set out to build off of last year’s success, though depth remains an issue.
They’re looking good on defence, with Quinn Hughes entering year two and newcomers Nate Schmidt & Travis Hamonic entering the fold. On paper they look like one of the best units in the division.
Braden Holtby was brought in and will try to sort out his game with goalie coach/guru Ian Clark. Thatcher Demko will look to take a step forward. It looks like a questionable duo, but there’s really nice upside there. In Demko alone they may have a high end starter this season.
This is a really talented group led by some of the best young players in the game. With several of them taking a step forward, I think the Canucks are gonna mean business this year.
The battle for the wing spot next to Bo Horvat should get pretty sweaty. Michael Ferland is not at camp due to continued concussion-related issues, so he’s unfortunately out of the mix. Wishing him a healthy and complete recovery.
If anyone has the inside track, it’s Jake Virtanen. He stepped up big time in the playoffs and looked good, but consistency (and somewhat limited hockey IQ) have always been his issue.
Adam Gaudette is my dark horse for the opening. He’s quietly been developing into a talented offensive contributor, raising his ceiling every season since being drafted and putting up 33 points in 59 games playing 12:23 a night last season. He’s a natural centre, but Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle are available to pivot the Bottom 6 if he’s moved.
Sven Baertschi will be fighting for his NHL life at camp, and he’s definitely going to do all he can to throw his hat into the ring. Slim odds of winning the spot outright, but I like his chances at winning over management and making the team in a depth capacity. Hopefully their relationship smoothes out.
Nils Hoglander will certainly come to camp looking to make some noise. He’s off to a strong start in the SHL with 14 points in 25 games for Rögle BK. Those are impressive numbers for a 20 year old. Unless he blows the doors off, he’ll likely be headed to the AHL or back to Rögle, where he’ll be guaranteed a meaty role.
Tyler Motte was a little buzzsaw in the playoffs and should have a full time spot this season. He ticks off a lot of the old school boxes you want in a Bottom 6 forward.
Jayce Hawryluk was signed to a two-way deal in the offseason. He’s another high energy, Travis Green kind of player.
Overall, it’s a forward group that is going to need its established Top 6ers to perform as well or better than last year in order to be in the playoff hunt, and I think they’re up to the challenge.
ON THE BACK END
Tanev and Stetcher out, Nate Schmidt and Travis Hamonic in. I think that’s a solid trade off.
Schmidt was an excellent acquisition, being brought in for a third round pick from Vegas. That’s highway robbery. They took advantage of Vegas’ need to shed cap for the Pietrangelo signing, and General Manager Jim Benning (despite his flaws) gets big points from me on this one.
Schmidt will slide in comfortably as the number two defenceman on the depth chart and will bring a strong two way game to the table. He’s a possession driver who picks up about a half a point per game and plays in all situations, including both special teams.
Travis Hamonic, currently on a Professional Tryout (in name only), is a reliable, hard nosed defenceman who solidifies Vancouver’s bottom two pairings and can eat up a ton of time on the PK, which will fill the hole left by Chris Tanev. Hamonic has never averaged less than 20 minutes a night in his ten year career. A sneaky good signing.
Quinn Hughes will lead the charge once again. I think he elevates his game into the superstar conversation this season. His skating, puck skills, passing and ability to process the game are off-the-charts.
Hughes logged 21:53 of ice time on average last season, and I’d imagine we see a bump there, even in a condensed season. I like his odds at being a point per game player.
Alex Edler continues to chug along. He possesses all-around ability, plays on both special teams (specializing on the PK), puts up half a point per game and plays over 22 minutes a night. When that’s your third defencemen, things are looking pretty good.
Tyler Myers enters the second year of his 5 year, $30 million contract. He had a solid first season with the Canucks, averaging the most 5-on-5 minutes of any player with 18:34, while putting up underwhelming possession numbers.
For Myers, he is who he is at this point. He’s a solid guy for your bottom two pairings who’s signed to a scary contract indicative of a very good Top 4 defencemen.
Jordie Benn, Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, Jalen Chatfield and Jack Rathbone will compete for a bottom pairing role at camp.
This is a strong D corps with an extremely high end 21 year old defenceman leading the way in Quinn Hughes, and as such, there’s some unpredictability here. Obviously I think he blows past any sophomore slump fears, but the second year can be a difficult beast for some so it’s worth bearing in mind.
Overall, I see this as a top two D corps in the division, alongside Montreal.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Jacob Markstrom is gone, and I think it was wise to let him go. The deal he signed with Calgary has the potential to turn ugly if he returns to his career baseline, and the Canucks can’t afford another contract like that on the books.
Thatcher Demko and newcomer Braden Holtby will be tasked with running the crease. I like them as a tandem, even with the question marks. And there are question marks. If Holtby continues his subpar play and Demko isn’t ready to take over, it’s not going to be pretty. I don’t see that happening, though.
I’m a big believer in Thatcher Demko, so much so that I kind of hoped Vancouver would hand the keys to him, sign a veteran backup at a discount and use that money on help up front. There’s a bit too much risk on that Holtby contract, for my taste anyway, but I get why they did it.
I think Demko takes the reins as the 1A this year, with Holtby having a modest bounce back as his 1B. Holtby likely isn’t going to wind back the clock to his elite days in Washington, but I think a .910 -.915 SV% is a realistic ceiling.
The Canucks power play motored along to a 4th place finish last year, scoring at a 24.1% clip. The penalty kill finished 16th with an 80.5% kill rate.
The power play should perform at about the same level. The only substantial loss is Tyler Toffoli, who was a deadline acquisition and only contributed a goal and two assists on the PP with the Canucks. The addition of Nate Schmidt will be a nice boost for the second unit.
The loss of Tanev on the penalty kill will be mitigated by the addition of Hamonic. Both averaged over three minutes on the PK last season. Hamonic might not fully fill the shoes Tanev has left behind, but he won’t have to; Schmidt is in line to eat up some shorthanded time as well. I think we see an improved PK this season.
UNDER THE RADAR
I’m always fighting the temptation to go off the board here. It’s the best way to look like an idiot genius. So in that spirit, I’m going with Adam Gaudette.
As I mentioned, he’s been developing sneakily well since being drafted. It’s possible they’re set on having him pivot the third line, but I think he gets a real look on the wing in the Top 6 and runs with the opportunity. For my money, he’s the best (and most consistent) player available for the spot, especially if he’s improved his skating over the offseason.
Olli Juolevi. The top defenceman drafted in 2016, his development has hit several roadblocks, in no small part due to injuries. He’s never going to live up to the promise of being a fifth overall draft pick, but that’s okay. They don’t need him to, certainly not this season.
Juolevi took some big strides in his game last season when healthy, and he’s clearly too good to be an AHL defencemen. He projects to be a reliable, two-way player who moves the puck well and reads the play at a fairly high level. His skating needs to improve, but it’s already trending in the right direction.
I think he comes to camp and plays a steady, low-risk, reliable game that earns the trust of the coaching staff and sees him become a stable presence on the bottom pair.
I moved Vancouver around quite a bit, but I keep coming back to the same reasons for believing in them. I love their young and uber-talented core, and I think it’s enough to overcome the bad contracts that are weighing the team down. If it’s possible, I actually think people are underestimating just how good Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson will be for Vancouver this season.
I have Vancouver winning a wildcard spot, battling with Edmonton for third place until late in the season before settling in at fourth. If they fall into injury trouble at forward, though, I question whether or not they have the depth to overcome it.