Not long after Trevor Linden was named the Canucks’ president of hockey operations in 2014, he bemoaned the lack of young players making an impact for the team.
“I like the people we have in [our] core positions, but they need support from the bottom,” Linden said. “There’s a gap between the core players and what’s coming from below them. There hasn’t been a real push from the bottom and that’s created issues.”
That narrative still applies a year later. Even if 20-year-old center Bo Horvat can build on his impressive rookie season, the Canucks will likely need more from their youngsters in order to remain a playoff team.
Jacob Markstrom is one player that could make a significant impact. The 25-year-old goalie, coming off a stellar season in the AHL, will be Ryan Miller’s backup in 2015-16. For a bubble team like Vancouver, goaltending could very well be the difference between making and missing the postseason.
There’s also Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. The Canucks are hoping the 18-year-old winger can be the power forward they once hoped Zack Kassian could be for them.
“[Virtanen] can play the skill game and the physical game,” said director of player personnel Stan Smyl, per the Times Colonist. “He can go through people. He can hit people, and he doesn’t care who he hits.”
Virtanen still has to make the team, but he should be given every opportunity to do so. Otherwise, it’s back to junior.
Then there’s Frank Corrado, the 22-year-old, right-shot defenseman who will try to help replace Kevin Bieksa.
And Sven Baertschi, the 22-year-old winger who’s shown promising signs since being traded to the Canucks from Calgary.
And Linden Vey, the 24-year-old forward who conceded that his “preparation last summer wasn’t what it needed to be.”
Ronalds Kenins, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce, Nicklas Jensen, Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, and Alexandre Grenier are among the other prospects to watch.
It’s no secret that the Canucks have an aging core. The Sedin twins are 34. So are Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins are 32. Miller is 35.
It’s also no secret that the Canucks did not draft well for a number of years. From 2006 to 2012, the only players they selected that have played in the NHL and remain in the organization are Corrado and Jensen.
Hence, Vancouver’s failure to remain an elite team, and hence, the need to become better at identifying and developing talent.