Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
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The Vancouver Canucks weren’t expected to move the needle much last season and they obliged many preseason predictions that had them finishing in the basement of the league.
Trying to turn around this ship with the additions of Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner weren’t exactly the earth-shattering moves needed. Sure, the Canucks were a busy bunch last summer as they tried the fix-on-the-fly strategy, but that’s almost always a futile task.
The 2018-19 Canucks were a team that couldn’t score (26th fewest). They gave up too many goals (sixth most). Their team save percentage was among the worst in the league (.902, 26th) and neither goalie outworked the other to be called a bona fide No. 1.
These are the days of an NHL rebuild and a team waiting for promising young talent to emerge and take over.
Perhaps, then, it was as good a time as any for the Sedin twins to retire. Daniel and Henrik called it a career after 17 years of heroics in Vancouver. Even in their elder years as NHL players, the Sedins were still responsible for a good chunk of Vancouver’s offense, which is a hole that someone is going to have to fill.
The bad news is that likely won’t happen this season. It’s quite likely the Canucks wallow at the bottom of the tank for another year.
The good news is that among the rubble of the rebuild is several signs of life.
Brock Boeser may have given Mathew Barzal a run for the Calder if not for an apparent scary back injury that forced him to miss the final 20 games of the season. His 29 goals led all rookies until Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets pipped him for the title late in the year. He finished with 55 points in 62 games and 23 power-play points, which was second among rookies and helped the Canucks to a top-10 showing with the man-advantage.
Bo Horvat‘s season was also derailed by injury. A fractured foot forced him to miss over six weeks from early December to late January. How’d Vancouver fare without him in the lineup? They were 4-12-2.
Horvat still managed 22 goals, a career-high. He likely would have set a new mark in points, too, if not for those 18 missed games. He finished with 44 points and appears to be coming into his own as a top-line NHL center.
The Canucks went out and added once again this offseason.
It’s highly unlikely that Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller are going to be world-beaters, but that’s not what they’re being tasked with.
Their purpose is to help the Canucks’ young core along and provide Vancouver with the ability to develop some of those prospects in the minors instead of slotting them into the Show earlier than they need to be. Continued development is key, and there are several models the Canucks can look to around the league to help them resist those temptations.
A quick note on team defense: It certainly needs to improve, but it should be noted that a healthy Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson should go a long way to helping that. The duo missed a combined 70 games last season.
• Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick
One prospect that likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors is Pettersson. He’s already played among men in the Swedish Elite League, where he dominated as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games.
That kind of production helped his team to a league championship, the honor of being named the top forward in the SHL, its MVP, it’s top point-producer, it’s playoffs MVP and it’s rookie of the year. Those are just some of his accolades from last year, too. He also won a silver medal at the world juniors and followed that up with gold hardware at the world championships.
Did we mention he’s Swedish? Vancouver loves their Swedes.
• Quinton Hughes, D, 18, University of Michigan (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick
Hughes had a solid freshman season with the Wolverines with 29 points in 37 games, garnering him a spot on the NCAA (B1G) All-Rookie Team. He captured bronze at the world juniors and the world championships with Team USA, contributing five assists across 17 combined games in both tournaments.
He was also the best player at this summer’s world junior showcase.
“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” said Hughes’ U-18 coach John Wroblewski. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”
• Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica (AHL) – 2014 second-round pick
We’ve highlighted one forward, one defenseman and now one goalie that could change the landscape for the better in Vancouver.
Demko is Vancouver’s future in goal, and he was solid with Utica last season in the American Hockey League with a .922 save percentage and 25 wins in 46 games played. For his efforts, he was named an AHL All-Star and got his first NHL start and subsequently his first NHL win on the last day of March.
Demko is likely to see more time this season in Vancouver, but there needs to be a fine balance of not letting him sit when he could be hogging the crease in the AHL. The Canucks aren’t shooting for the playoffs, so keeping him where he will play the most seems like the best option until the Canucks are willing to give him plenty of action as their backup.