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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

2017-18
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN
Antoine Roussel
Jay Beagle
Tim Schaller

OUT
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Jayson Megna
Michael Chaput
Nic Dowd
Jussi Jokinen

RE-SIGNED
Sven Baertschi
Markus Granlund
Jake Virtanen
Derrick Pouliot
Darren Archibald

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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.

[Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

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.

Prospect Pool

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.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

MLS team’s ticket promotion doesn’t go as planned, thanks to Canucks

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The idea was simple enough: All the Vancouver Canucks had to do was score a single goal against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night and Major League Soccer side would give fans a chance to win a pair of tickets to their next home game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

They didn’t have to beat the Kings, no, that would have been quite a task for a Canucks team that had won twice in their previous 10 games entering Monday night. Just one stinkin’ goal and a two happy fans would get to see Kei Kamara, Alphonso Davies and the 2-0 Whitecaps.

After a slow start peppering Jonathan Quick with just five shots in the first period, the Canucks really kept the Kings’ netminder busy over the final 40 minutes, firing 30 shots his way. The Whitecaps were keeping the faith:

But it was all for naught and LA ended up keeping Vancouver off the scoreboard entirely with a 3-0 victory.

So what was the MLS side to do in order to keep the promotion alive? They asked their Twitter followers to retweet a gif of some young Canucks fans and they would choose a winner.

Lesson learned, Whitecaps.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Vancouver Canucks to host 2019 NHL Draft

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While it remains to be seen if Rogers Arena will have hockey games played there in June 2019, the NHL will be setting up shop at the rink for next year’s entry draft on the 21st and 22nd of that month as the franchise celebrates its 50th season. Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand in Vancouver on Wednesday to make the announcement official.

(If you want to feel old, the majority of players who will be selected that weekend were born in 2001.)

At the moment, the Canucks own all seven of their selections for the 2019 draft. That could change, of course, depending on how general manager Jim Benning decides to move forward with his rebuild.

NHL

The Canucks last hosted the draft in 2006, which saw Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel go in the top five and Mathieu Perreault (No. 177) and Leo Komarov (No. 180) go late in the sixth round. Defenseman Alex Biega, who the Canucks gave a two-year extension to on Wednesday, went No. 147 to the Buffalo Sabres.

That was also the weekend that the Canucks acquired Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft.

Rogers Arena will also host the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, so fans can get a look at top prospects like Jack Hughes, Bowen Byram, Dylan Cozens, Kaapo Kakko and Cole Caulfield before they become property of NHL franchises.

The 2018 NHL draft will be held at American Airlines Center in Dallas June 22-23.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks sign Erik Gudbranson to three-year extension

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The wondering can now stop as the Vancouver Canucks have extended defenseman Erik Gudbranson for three more years.

The extension is worth $12 million and Gudbranson’s deal will carry a $4 million cap hit through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement. “His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup. He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward.”

It was two years ago that Benning, who inked an extension with the Canucks last week, traded Jared McCann and a pair of 2016 draft picks to the Florida Panthers for the defenseman. With the direction that the team is currently moving, and with the Boston Bruins coughing up a third-round pick for Nick Holden of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t Benning have flipped Gudbranson for something similar before moving on to a Thomas Vanek trade before Monday’s trade deadline?

The Canucks are currently a weird mix of youth and veterans with big contracts, especially at forward — contracts that last beyond next season. They have all but one of their picks in the next three drafts at the moment, and should at least recoup one with a Vanek trade.

This extension is Benning digging his feet in and standing by a bad deal from two years ago. As Dimitri Filipovic of Sportsnet pointed out last week, flipping Gudbranson, whose minutes and possession numbers have dipped in Year 2 in Vancouver, would be the GM waiving the white towel and saying he lost the trade. Now he gets to stand by it and throw platitudes at the defenseman to convince himself that this was the correct way to go.

The one beneficial part of the Gudbranson deal for the Canucks? The lack of a no-trade clause, as per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. NHL GMs love themselves big defensemen and at 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., the 26-year-old checks that box. So there is a chance to pass this contract onto another team looking to add size to their blue line. But for now, that’s clearly not the plan for the Canucks.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks, Panthers hold moment of silence after Florida school shooting Wednesday

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers, along with a full house at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, paid their respects to the victims of a school shooting in Florida on Wednesday.

At least 17 people died when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida around 3 p.m.

The Panthers, who play 10 miles south of Parkland at BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, are in the midst of a five-game road trip.

The Panthers recorded messages of support prior to the game.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad tweeted out: “Heavy hearts for the victims, families and first responders in Parkland today. #unthinkable”

Fellow defenseman Mike Matheson also took to Twitter: “Praying for everyone affected by the shooting back home in South Florida. Stay safe 🙏”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck