The rebuilding process is never easy, and since 2015-16, the Vancouver Canucks have been learning that lesson the hard way. The Canucks have just 61 wins over the past two seasons, and aren’t on the track to making the playoffs for a very long time. Canucks GM Jim Benning didn’t reinvent the wheel this offseason, but he picked up some intriguing, young players in free agency that might not win the Canucks many games, but will put asses in seats and at least be worth the price of admission, even if the end result isn’t great. Oh, and they got rid of Luca Sbisa, so that’s a win too.
Up front, the Canucks got some interesting acquisitions through free agency, but nothing that will ultimately bring them out of the basement in the Western Conference. Sam Gagner will be the most exciting to watch of the bunch, and will see some time on the power play as well as the occasional opportunity as a top-6 forward, and should be good for 40 points. Alex Burmistrov was an interesting signing by the Canucks, but he hasn’t showed much promise to this point, and I don’t see him sticking around for very long. Burmistrov’s deal is 1-way, so he’ll need to go through waivers if the Canucks want to send him down to Utica. He gets lost in the fold, but Thomas Vanek will also get an opportunity as a Top-9 forward for the Canucks this year. The 33-year-old signed a 1 year deal with Vancouver for $2 million back in September, and should also get a crack at the power play unity and could even see some Top-6 playing time if an injury occurs or he hits a hot streak. I see Travis Green using Vanek much like Alain Vigneault used to use Chris Higgins; a third line guy who can go anywhere in the line-up on any given night. You add these new acquisitions into the Canucks’ core of the Sedin twins, Horvat, Eriksson, Baertschi and Granlund, and the Canucks have enough to keep themselves out of last place in the West, but not enough to crack the playoffs.
The two most intriguing stories on offence this season will be Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen. Boeser, who has been the most impressive Canuck throughout the pre-season, has been so good that I believe he can get some playing time on the top line with the Sedin twins if he keeps it up, given the Canucks current depth at right wing. Jake Virtanen looks revamped this year, obviously Travis Green got through to him after a very disappointing season last year. While he still has much to prove in the eyes of Canucks fans, but this pre-season has been a great sign for Virtanen’s future.
On defence, the Canucks have their work cut out for them. Led once again by Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, the Canucks will be looking for consistency defensively from Michael Del Zotto, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher. All three have offensive potential, but have been burned defensively in the past. For Stecher and Del Zotto, they will battle for the spot as power play quarterback, while Tanev, Edler and Gudbranson will be mainstays on the penalty kill unit. The Canucks are missing that #1 defenceman, who they are hoping to have in Olli Juolevi at some point in the future, but if they’re lucky, maybe they’ll have Rasmus Dahlin in the system to be that guy as well.
In net, the Canucks don’t exactly have a #1 goalie, but rather two fringe starters. Jacob Markstrom will probably be given the reigns off the top due to being the lone returning guy, but Anders Nilsson will also be given many opportunities throughout the season to overthrow Markstrom from the #1 spot. For me personally, I see Thatcher Demko being given a shot this year as well at some point, not as a starter, but he should be given a handful of starts throughout the year to get his feet wet in the NHL. Demko will definitely be the guy in Utica this year, with the goal probably being ready for the NHL call up full-time next year. In terms of how they stack up against the rest of the league, the Canucks’ goaltending will be near the bottom of the NHL, and won’t be able to single-handedly win the Canucks games.
Overall, it’ll probably be more of the same for the Vancouver Canucks this season, another year of no playoffs, but some enticing prospects in Boeser, Virtanen and Demko will keep Canucks fans tuned in for what the future holds.
And Bo Horvat, he’s pretty fun to watch too.