For the Vancouver Canucks, this is all about the build. The team has a young core, full of possibility and ready to prove something to their fanbase. Patience is a virtue, but the Canucks want to move the needle. They may not be a dependable playoff club, but there’s a lot to like about this group.
Last season, Vancouver improved by eight points from the previous year. It marked their fourth consecutive playoff miss, but the building blocks are in place. Now it’s a matter of fostering both rapport and cohesion, goals that facilitated the influx of J.T. Miller, Tyler Myers, Micheal Ferland, and Jordie Benn in the off-season.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs so our young players can experience what playoff hockey is,” general manager Jim Benning said. “That’s an important part of their development. So by signing some of these players we did this summer, it’s with the goal in mind we want to keep getting better and be a competitive team that can compete for a playoff spot.”
The Canucks should be able to maintain a competitive spirit night after night and that’ll make them interesting. They boast Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson as a top draw, as well as Bo Horvat, the newly-signed Brock Boeser, and defenceman Quinn Hughes. They should make for an intriguing unit.
The Canucks scored 225 goals last season, 15 more than the playoff-bound Dallas Stars. Three players had over 26 goals: Boeser, Horvat and Pettersson. The trio generated 36 percent of Vancouver’s goals. Pettersson led the way in points, too, with a total of 66 in 71 games. The fact that he registered just 144 shots on goal made him one of the most efficient regular goal-scorers in the league.
24-year-old Horvat, who many believe will be named team captain in short order, had 27 goals and a total of 61 points last season – a career-high. He also notched a career-high 227 shots on goal and was solid in the faceoff circle, driving above 53 percent for his second consecutive season. Horvat has all the tools to be a leader.
The Canucks are betting big on Boeser, obviously, but the injury bug gets him down. He missed significant time for the second season in a row and may be a risk for some fantasy owners. That said, his numbers are almost always worthy. He’ll see time with Pettersson on the top unit and the two already have incredible chemistry. They’ll only get better.
Miller had 20 points on the power play for Tampa Bay last season and is a solid addition to the man-advantage. He saw plenty of time on the PP with the Lightning and that speaks to his capacity to get open on a team featuring the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Steve Stamkos. If Miller can generate that type of offence with those cats, imagine what he can do with Horvat, Pettersson and Boeser.
Vancouver’s defence was, uh, not great last season. They allowed 254 goals against. Alexander Edler missed 26 games due to injuries, which took the wind out of their sails. The Canucks snagged Myers as a way of making up for the deficiency in D, especially with Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot out the door.
Vancouver has traditionally played a rushing game, but Myers’ long-limbed scope might change that a bit. If he has exposure to Edler, there may be a different look coming out of the defensive zone. Edler’s capacity to excel in one-on-one situations could see more even more press, especially if Myers sticks to the basics.
Hughes is naturally a headline draw. The Canucks are hoping for a lot from the rookie and he does have the tools to deliver. Hughes should see plenty of power play time with Pettersson and Boeser, which is where his movement and skating ability pay dividends. A self-assured offensive defenceman, Hughes may be undersized but he’s a gem with the puck.
Jacob Markstrom is coming off his best NHL season to date. He saw 60 starts, picked up 28 wins and landed a .912 save percentage. He’s been meshing well with goalie coach Ian Clark and that relationship is changing the way Markstrom plays the position. As the 29-year-old continues to improve, the Canucks may finally have some stability in goal after several trying years.
Thatcher Demko will take a leap forward this year, with designs on pushing his market value. The 23-year-old has two years to go before becoming a restricted free agent, which means he can buy time and prove himself. As an added bonus, he could help the Canucks when it comes to signing Markstrom to what should be a big deal for 2020-2021.
With Markstrom set to earn a big pay raise and the Canucks primed to take that critical next step, this should be a very interesting season. While it’s premature to call this team playoff-ready, there are reasons for hope. And, at the very least, Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, and Hughes will be among the most entertaining skaters in the entire league.
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