When thinking of topics to consider writing on, I stumbled upon the idea of looking at the present and future of hockey simultaneously. As a Canucks fan my mind obviously found itself focused in the Canucks in this regard, and they’re the team being covered in this article. Though I would not be opposed to expanding it and looking at various other teams in the future. Time will tell if this becomes a miniseries or not and if it does it may just be limited to teams who could feature massive turnaround but for right now the focus is on Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks are a team that in recent history have struggled. Excluding the recent addition of the Vegas Golden Knights they stand second last in total points accumulated in the regular season since 2015-16 only being ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. In that span they weren’t given the same fortune that Buffalo was either. The Sabres won the first overall selection in the 2018 draft and used it to select Rasmus Dahlin, a defender with the skill to turn a franchise around. Meanwhile Vancouver has concurrently fallen. Since the change of the lottery format, Vancouver has done nothing but fall in the draft lottery. In fact they have the most negative differential when it comes to moving spots in the draft.
This painful reality has resulted in a slower process than some would prefer. Thankfully due to some good picks and key development, Vancouver is a team that may finally take that next step in the rebuild and the progression featured in this past season along with their prospects is a substantial part of that.
The Canucks forward group tells the tale of the entire roster. Certain spots they have good depth at, others it’s either merely acceptable or bad. The centres on Vancouver is an area of strength.
Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat look to be a great 1-2 punch for the foreseeable future while at 3C, future options are present with Adam Gaudette and Tyler Madden. Currently on the team are Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle who are both lauded for strong defensive play, especially on the penalty kill, while maybe not being the best offensively. Sutter who has been injury riddled for a great part of his career in Vancouver might have played his last game with Gaudette perhaps ready for more opportunities and Jay Beagle already being a good checking option on the 4th line. Obviously if the right trade isn’t there, they could try holding onto Sutter and playing one of their three depth centres on the wing, but I personally think that it may be time to move on and free up spots for others.
The left-wing is probably the Canucks largest offensive weakness with the current rendition of the team. They have a couple options in the middle 6, particularly in Sven Baertschi, Tanner Pearson, and Antoine Roussel. The team does however lack a true first liner, though this group isn’t bad if they can stay healthy as the team doesn’t anticipate being a contender next season.
It does however look bad with a bare prospect pool in which the top prospect going into this season was traded to San Jose in exchange for a 3rd round drafted project from the last draft who may have potential but doesn’t appear to become anything exceptional.
With Dahlen gone, the left-wing options are all-the-more lacking in top 6 potential talent and this is a problem that Canucks must consider addressing soon, as the youngest of the aforementioned main left-wings in the group is Sven Baertschi who is currently 26 with a worrying history of concussions.
Obviously it’s not like there’s completely no hope, if Baertschi is held back by his concussion history, then they also have Josh Leivo who was added via trade earlier in the season and has spent extended time this season with Pettersson and Boeser. The Canucks also have Nikolay Goldobin who definitely has the potential to become a top 6 scorer if he can take the next step and become more consistent with his efforts and production. Otherwise, I’d look at selecting a lefty at 10th overall which Canucks do currently possess in the draft. Around that range should be some good options at left too with Canadian Peyton Krebs and American Matthew Boldy.
The Canucks current right-wing situation currently falls nicely in between their centre and left-wing situation. They have a potentially elite sniper in Brock Boeser as the guy on the top line but after that it does fall off a bit with the options being either Jake Virtanen or one of the extra players on the left side. For prospects, the right side may not be their strength but it may not necessarily be a weakness either. Kole Lind may have had a slightly disappointing season this year but did impress last year and showed progress towards the end. He may have top 6 potential though it’s more realistic to think middle 6 with him. Next year should be huge for Lind.
They also have the constantly improving Zack MacEwen who impressed enough to play four games with the Canucks this season tallying an assist in those games. His production may indicate more of a bottom-6 guy and that may be much more realistic but MacEwen has found a way to improve each season and while some prospects may have struggled in Utica this season, MacEwen flourished. The previously mentioned Tyler Madden could also fill in on wing if necessary and the Canucks could go the RW route at the draft potentially aiming at selecting a guy like Caufield at 10th. For depth, the Canucks have Will Lockwood, Lukas Jasek, and even Petrus Palmu If he can exceed expectations.
Defence is another interesting department in Vancouver’s lineup with some quality though frequently injured defenders being their best in Tanev and Edler. When the d-core is healthy it’s not actually bad, the problem is that often as the season progresses, one of If not both find themselves injured due to their amount of minutes and playstyle, blocking shots and absorbing hits to help the team. The depth could blamed for this as better options would result in fewer minutes for the two, and in the situation where they are injured, better replacements. Fortunately for Vancouver they have a couple of emerging options. Stecher and Hutton have both progressed admirably with Stecher arguably becoming a legitimate top-4 option while Hutton is a fringe top-4 guy who is still young enough where it’s not impossible that he progresses and become legitimate like Stecher. Along with the two are prospects accumulated through drafting in Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi. This shows promise, however both are left-handed and the future of the right side appears stark besides Troy Stecher and Jett Woo.
Left side defencemen as said is seemingly another area of strength for the Canucks. Edler has provided an efficient presence in the rebuild doing it all for Vancouver while they try to retool the defensive core. Edler has done well and some could even say flourished under head coach Travis Green. Now Edler could perhaps make the argument as a solid number-two defencemen though a great number-three guy in the top-4 is more realistic. Behind him are the previously mentioned Ben Hutton, Quintin Hughes, and Olli Juolevi. With those four, the Canucks would have a solid top pairing defender in Edler, a great top-4 in Hughes, and a great bottom pairing in either Juolevi or Hutton. For a team trying to push for a wildcard spot next season, I’d say that it’s pretty good. For prospects there are also some solid options with Jack Rathbone and Guillaume Brisebois who could someday become serviceable NHLers.
The right-side however is not that pretty. The Canucks have Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher but behind those two? Luke Schenn? Brogan Rafferty? Alex Biega? They do have a good prospect in Jett Woo but ideally the Canucks would be looking to add to that. Perhaps Hutton is involved in a trade as the Canucks do have Juolevi as a contender to take a spot. The Canucks could also target a righty at the draft in the second round like they did last season when they selected Woo 37th overall. They could also do both or instead put a left-handed player on the right side such as Hughes. They have options. Now the interesting part is what path they choose.
Goaltending, like the left-handed defenders and centres is a position in which they have some depth in going forwards. The emergence of Jacob Markstrom this season was spectacular and provides the team with good starter if he can continue off from what he had done December 1st onwards. In that span he had a .921 save percentage and through the entirety of the season, Markstrom was fourth in saves league-wide. Behind Markstrom is 23 year old Thatcher Demko who had the early portion of his season derailed by a concussion but out of his 9 NHL starts this season, four had a save percentage above .940. Demko is likely the backup on the Canucks next year.
Goaltending prospects on Vancouver include Michael DiPietro, a Memorial Cup winner at 17 and OHL goalie of the year at 18, and Jake Kielly who had a .929 save percentage for Clarkson University.
To recap, the Canucks deepest positions going forwards are centres, left-side defenders, and goaltenders. Their biggest weaknesses are at right-side defenders and left-wingers.
Going forwards if I were Vancouver, I’d target a left winger at 10th overall, right defender at 40th, and a right winger in free agency to fulfill a top 6 role behind Boeser. Term would ideally be two years as that is when the Pettersson, Hughes, and Juolevi rookie deals expire.
Vancouver looks good going forwards and I could only assume that they would love to make a push for a wildcard spot next season and to eventually conclude the rebuild.