Chris Tanev

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All eyes turn to Quinn Hughes’ development for Canucks

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

Even though there seems to be no definitive plan with the Vancouver Canucks’ ongoing rebuild, there have at least been two huge developments during this process. In each of the past two years they have had a young player emerge as a franchise player and organizational building block, at least giving the team’s fans some kind of reason for hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just an oncoming freight train.

Two years ago it was forward Brock Boeser who burst on the scene with 29 goals and 55 points before a brutal injury cut his season short after just 62 games. It was enough to give him a second place finish in the Calder Trophy voting. He showed in year two it was not a fluke performance and that he is the real deal.

This past season it was Elias Pettersson instantly becoming one of the league’s must-see players and winning the rookie of the year award.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

This year the hope is that defender Quinn Hughes can follow in their footsteps and have a breakthrough rookie season.

The Canucks definitely need it.

For all of the flaws this roster currently has, there is no position that is thinner in terms of potential impact players than the defense which has become a black hole when it comes to creating offense.

Alexander Edler is probably the most accomplished player to ever play on the team’s blue line, and while he still has something to offer his best days are in the rear-view mirror. Chris Tanev is a solid defensive player, but is not going to break a game open. Tyler Myers will have a lot of pressure to live up to his contract, but he probably isn’t going to make a huge impact when it comes to making a meaningful improvement in the standings.

Hughes is the type of player that could do that if everything goes as planned.

He only appeared in five games for the Canucks at the end of the 2018-19 season and was eased into the lineup in a very sheltered role, but it was an impressive debut that saw him record three assists and show the speed, creativity, and type of talent the Canucks are desperately lacking on their blue line.

It would be putting way too much pressure on him to expect him to step in the lineup and duplicate the rookie performance of a Miro Heiskanen or Rasmus Dahlin (not everyone is going to be that good, that fast) but he has the potential to make a noticeable impact on the Canucks’ lineup. A big rookie season from him would do more to improve the team’s outlook than any other addition they made this summer, not only because of the position he plays and the impact it could make, but because of how important he is to the team’s long-term development.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tyler Myers needs to live up to big free-agent contract

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

As last season progressed, it became more and more clear that the Canucks needed a lot of help on their blue line. Not only was the overall talent level not good enough, they also couldn’t stay healthy.

Believe it or not, Vancouver had just one defenseman play more than 70 games last season and that was Troy Stecher, who skated in 78 contests. Ben Hutton (69 games), Derrick Pouliot (62 games), Erik Gudbranson (57 games but was traded to Pittsburgh), Alex Edler (56 games), Chris Tanev (55 games) and Alex Biega (41 games) all missed time for various reasons.

Clearly, that’s not a recipe for success. It wasn’t surprising to see that general manager Jim Benning wanted to make changes to his defense this summer.

Hutton and Pouliot weren’t given a qualifying offers and Gudbranson was traded at last season’s trade deadline. Hutton averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game last year, while Gudbranson and Pouliot were both over 17 minutes per game. That’s a lot of minutes to replace in one offseason.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Three Questions | X-Factor]

So, what did Benning do? He went shopping!

He re-signed Edler to a two-year, $12 million deal. He brought depth defender and hometown boy Jordie Benn into the fold with a two-year deal and he signed Tyler Myers to a huge five-year, $30 million contract.

If top prospect Quinn Hughes can make the leap straight to the NHL, he’ll add another explosive dimension to the Canucks blue line, but that isn’t a given at this point. So a lot of the improvements the defense makes will fall on Myers’ shoulders.

“In Myers, you’re adding a guy who has played a while in this league, a big guy with a lot of range,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You’re adding a top-four defencemen, which are hard to find. And I think in Benn you have a veteran guy who understands the value of defending. And I think he’s got some sneaky offensive parts to his game that people don’t think about: his shot, moving the puck out of his zone.”

At $6 million per year, the Canucks will need Myers to replace Hutton’s minutes and he’ll have to do it at a much higher level. Is Myers still capable of playing at that level? In Winnipeg, he was just one of the guys on a very good team. In Vancouver, he’ll need to be a top-four defender night-in and night-out.

During his final season with the Jets, the 29-year-old had nine goals and 31 points while averaging 20:21 of ice time per game over 80 contests. One of the reasons Myers played so much last year was because Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien both missed time. Had they been healthy, he probably wouldn’t have averaged 20-plus minutes. Since his trade to Winnipeg, Myers saw his average ice time drop every year (he went from 23:49 in 2014-15 to 20:21 last year).

Myers has good offensive instincts, as he posted back-to-back 30-point seasons over the last two years, but his defensive play lacks consistency. Can he be the veteran blue liner the Canucks need him to be and are paying him to be?

Yes, Benning just got an extension from the organization, but you can’t help but feel like this is a signing people will look back on and criticize him for if it doesn’t work out the way he expects.

There’s a lot of pressure on Benning, Myers and the Canucks. It’s time for them to show some significant improvement. Last year, expectations were low, but now they have a good group of young forwards and they’ve spent money to improve an average defense.

Did they spend wisely? We’re about to find out.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Vancouver Canucks Day at PHT

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

2018-19
35-36-11, 81 points (5th in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
J.T. Miller
Jordie Benn
Oscar Fantenberg
Tyler Myers
Micheal Ferland

OUT:
Ryan Spooner
Luke Schenn
Markus Granlund
Ben Hutton

RE-SIGNED:
Thatcher Demko
Alex Edler

2018-19 Summary

The expectations for the Canucks heading into last season weren’t very high. After all, this was/is a team made up of young players that clearly wouldn’t figure into the playoff picture. As expected, they missed the postseason, but in some way, they were probably a lot more competitive than many observers expected.

The fact that they finished with 81 points (nine out of a playoff spot) and exceeded some people’s expectations tells you a lot about where this franchise was coming into the season. The good news for Vancouver is that they seem to have found a couple of all-star forwards during their rebuild.

Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have become must-see TV. In his first NHL season, Pettersson put up an impressive 28 goals and 66 points in only 71 games. Once the 20-year-old fills out a little more, he should be able to get those numbers even higher.

“I feel like at the end of the season a lot of teams were making a push to make the playoffs, so definitely they were tougher games at the end of the season,” Pettersson told Sportsnet earlier this month. “And also for myself, I felt like I didn’t have 100 per cent energy coming into every game, so that’s been a big thing for me. That I have better conditioning, I have more strength and power in my legs, and just trying to get stronger and faster.

“It was my first year in the league and you just learn from it. Always have it back in your head that you want to play good even when you have a tough day.”

Just having an older and stronger Pettersson will make the Canucks better this season.

[MORE: Pressure’s on Tyler Myers | Three Questions | X-Factor]

As for Boeser, getting him back to full strength will also help the organization on the ice. The 22-year-old has yet to play in 80-plus games per year during his first two seasons in the NHL, but he’s been as productive as anybody on the roster. Last season, he had 26 goals and 56 points in 69 contests.

The key to Vancouver’s success will be to get these guys healthy. They both helped the organization take a step forward last year, but now it’s all about making progress.

Despite acquiring players like Miller, Benn, Myers and Ferland this summer, the Canucks still have some holes on their roster.

Will the goaltending hold up? At what point does Demko overtake Jacob Markstrom?

Markstrom played in 60 games last year and had some good showings, but he’s probably not the future in goal for the organization. The 29-year-old had a respectable 28-23-9 record with a 2.77 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage last season. As for Demko, he only got nine games last season.

The reason the Canucks added to their blue line is because they felt that was an area they needed to get better in a hurry. Last year, they were led by Edler, Troy Stecher, Hutton, Derrick Pouliot, Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson and Alex Biega.

Their blue line was underwhelming enough in 2018-19 that they decided not to bring back Hutton, Pouliot, Gudbranson (he was traded at the deadline). They did sign Edler to a new two-year deal, but clearly they’re banking on their newcomers delivering better performances. Also, top-10 draft pick Quinn Hughes should help them transport the puck from the back end.

Overall, we should see a more exciting Canucks team this season. Will it be enough to get them into the playoffs though?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stars’ Nichushkin having historically uneventful (and dull) season

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After spending two years in the KHL, Valeri Nichushkin returned to the Dallas Stars this season on a two-year contract that will pay him nearly $3 million per season. A first-round pick by the team back in 2013, Nichushkin had shown flashes of the potential that made him a top-10 pick before leaving for Russia, but had never really taken a big step forward in his development.

Still, the Stars obviously had some decently high hopes to be willing to give him that much money in his return.

His first year back with the team has been, in a word, uneventful.

So uneventful, in fact, that it is reaching historic levels for its uneventfulness.

Earlier this week Stars beat writer Sean Shapiro pointed out the fun fact that Nichushkin had already set an NHL record (for a non-goalie) by going 48 games to start a season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He has since played in two additional games, including Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, meaning he has now gone 50 consecutive games to open the season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He also only has seven assists and is barely averaging more than a shot on goal per game.

Just for laughs, if you go back to his last appearance in the NHL during the 2015-16 he has now gone 76 consecutive games, including playoffs, without a goal, has taken just three minor penalties during that stretch, and has only recorded 11 total assists.

There is just nothing happening here with this player. No offense, no playmaking, nothing that is really putting the team at a disadvantage (other than not scoring) due to sloppy or careless play. He is literally just there.

Just a few things to consider here…

  • As of this writing Nichushkin has logged 607 minutes of ice-time this season without a goal or a penalty. Since the NHL started officially logging time-on ice numbers, the most minutes a player has played in a full season without registering either, was 464 minutes by Kevin Porter in 2015-16 in 41 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The only other player that has logged more than 364 minutes was Chris Tanev with in only 29 games with the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks.
  • Prior to the 2018-19 season there only six players in NHL history that played in at least 50 games, scored zero goals, and recorded fewer than 10 penalty minutes, and only two that had fewer than five (Carl Gunnarsson zero goals and four penalty minutes with the Blues in 2016-17; Rob Scuderi had zero goals and only two penalty minutes in 53 games with the Penguins in 2013-14).
  • Only two players have played in at least 50 games, recorded zero penalty minutes, and scored just one goal. Rick Kessell did it for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1972-73, while Lew Morrison did it for the Atlanta Flames during the 1973-74 season.

The Stars have 11 games remaining, and with Nichushkin not always a lock to be in the lineup he is getting extremely close to making some bizarre history.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Canucks’ injury toll is getting ridiculous

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The Vancouver Canucks rank among the NHL’s better-than-expected rebuilders so far this season, and their respectable work (5-4-0 coming into Wednesday) is made that much more impressive when you consider their increasingly terrible health luck.

A lot of the air came out of the balloon in mid-October, when Michael Matheson‘s suspension-earning bit of violence sidelined rookie phenom Elias Pettersson with a concussion.

That already stings for a team that isn’t exactly loaded with talent on paper, and the hits keep coming. Veteran addition Jay Beagle is sidelined week-to-week. Brock Boeser missed tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks with a lower-body injury.

(So, Boeser – a big hope and sensational sophomore – and Pettersson both missed today’s game, and could miss more.)

Things haven’t been getting better during Wednesday’s contest itself. Underrated defenseman Alex Edler left the contest and would not return thanks to a lower-body injury. Oh, and Sven Baertschi, a winger charged with trying to replace some of the offense Boeser would produce, also left the Golden Knights game and will not be back.

There’s a chance Chris Tanev could be a little shaken up, as well.

To recap: the Canucks lost one or possibly even two of their top defensemen, two young forwards who are so good they’re giving fans hope, a solid top-six winger in Baertschi, and an expensive “heart-and-soul” guy in Beagle, with quite a few of those injuries happening recently.

It’s almost like the universe is trying to force this team to tank, even as Canucks head coach Travis Green seems like he’s getting the best out of this motley bunch.

Update: Remarkably, the Canucks ended up winning 3-2 via a shootout. Maybe this will be a costly win, but it’s impressive that Vancouver came out on top, anyway.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.