The ‘P’ Word was referenced with reservation last season in Vancouver. However, finishing just nine points shy of the playoffs and adding useful veterans to an improving roster has led to one conclusion: the Canucks are aiming for their first playoff appearance in five years when the puck drops on 2019-20.
The club added top-six winger J.T. Miller via trade, then signed defensemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn and a point-producing agitator in winger Micheal Ferland.
With GM Jim Benning in the final year of his contract and coach Travis Green entering his third season, it’s now about optics. Even if the Canucks squeeze into the post-season and exit early, it will be a moral victory. The club has faith in its young core of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes. The belief is the upgraded supporting cast will allow the quartet to thrive.
Miller could be slotted alongside Pettersson and Boeser to provide the dynamic duo with physicality and a puck-hounding element. Pettersson’s craftiness and confidence led to the Calder Trophy, and Boeser is motivated to stay healthy and take another step. Pettersson had 28 goals in his electric rookie campaign, Boeser had 26, and Miller should surpass his career high of 22.
If the Canucks can find a permanent right winger for Horvat – he played with a rotating cast in a career season with 27 goals and 61 points last year – then there’s reason for optimism. Late-season chemistry with Tanner Pearson, who had seven goals in the final nine games, bodes well to give the Canucks a dangerous second line.
Alex Edler, who signed a two-year extension, and new additions Myers, Benn and Oscar Fantenberg buoy the blueline. Troy Stecher could be reunited with Edler, and the towering Myers could pair with diminutive puck-magician Hughes, leaving Benn to play with Chris Tanev. Or, Edler and Myers could get the call as a shutdown pairing. Myers, 29, managed 31 points with Winnipeg last season, while the rugged Benn, 31, had 22 with Montreal.
Olli Juolevi, who had season-ending knee surgery in December, will likely begin the season with AHL Utica, where he had a promising start in 2018-19 before the injury. Fantenberg, Alex Biega, Josh Teves and Brogan Rafferty will vie for depth roles.
Jacob Markstrom arrived as a legitimate starter, and his ability to find a mental and positional balance made him the club’s Masterton Trophy nominee. He had a 2.77 goals-against average and .912 save percentage while tying his career high by appearing in 60 games. Markstrom will share the net with rookie Thatcher Demko, who could play 25 to 30 games, to give the Canucks a competent tandem. Felled by a concussion last September, Demko suffered symptoms for two months but returned to post solid numbers in nine NHL games.
The creativity of Pettersson and his one-timers, coupled with Boeser’s blasts from the faceoff dot, failed to get the power play into the upper half of league efficiency. The arrival of Hughes will add another element as a PP quarterback. Miller could be useful as a net-front presence, while competition for second-unit spots can only help. The penalty kill steadily climbed to 11th overall. Jay Beagle did his best PK work with the departed Markus Granlund, while Brandon Sutter became a staple with Tyler Motte. Myers becomes an intriguing option for both units.
With the front office pushing for success, Green is tasked with posting wins without neglecting the individual development of his young core. Benning must also get creative in acquiring cap space to chase additional top-six help.
Had the left-shooting Juolevi maintained his strong AHL start last fall – with 13 points in 18 games before the knee injury – the plan was for the fifth overall pick in 2016 to join the Canucks at some point during 2018-19. The concern is that the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blueliner also had a back procedure in June 2018 and lost critical development time.
Beagle (forearm), Edler (knee, concussion), Tanev (hip, foot), Sven Baertschi (concussion) and Sutter (shoulder, hernia) were significant injury losses a season ago. As a marginal playoff team, Vancouver needs good health.
To Green’s credit, the Canucks gained respect by being a hard team to play against last season. He and Benning are under pressure to make the playoffs.
– Ben Kuzma
Stanley Cup Odds: 55/1
Prediction: 5th in Pacific
The pieces are falling into place for the Canucks, with Quinn Hughes leading the revival on defense. Will Olli Juolevi soon join him? That’s a huge X-factor. Thatcher Demko is the future in net, and getting him some more NHL reps this season would be prudent. Up front, top 2019 pick Vasili Podkolzin will be a local fave. Canucks fans will have to wait at least two years for Podkolzin to come over from the KHL, but the rambunctious and talented winger is worth the wait.
1. Quinn Hughes, D
Age 19 Team Michigan (Big Ten)
Complete defense prospect who can take over a game with elite skating and puckhandling.
Acquired 7th overall, 2018 NHL ’19-20
2. Thatcher Demko, G
Age 23 Team Utica (AHL)
Extremely athletic. His movements are technically sound, and his composure is first rate.
Acquired 36th overall, 2014 NHL ’19-20
3. Vasili Podkolzin, RW
Age 18 Team SKA-Neva (Rus.2)
Explosive skater who plays with an edge. He competes hard but remains disciplined.
Acquired 10th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22
4. Olli Juolevi, D
Age 21 Team Utica (AHL)
Well-rounded, smooth-skating defenseman has been slow to ripen. Injuries a big reason why.
Acquired 5th overall, 2016 NHL ’20-21
5. Tyler Madden, C
Age 19 Team Northeastern (HE)
Skilled and energetic pivot has a great release. Had productive freshman year. Size is an issue.
Acquired 68th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23
6. Nils Hoglander, LW
Age 18 Team Rogle (Swe.)
Displayed soft hands and puck skills. Plays physically and lays the body despite his lack of size.
Acquired 40th overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24
7. Michael DiPietro, G
Age 20 Team Ottawa (OHL)
Quick but unconventional in crease. Had the lowest GAA in the OHL and WJC last year.
Acquired 64th overall, 2017 NHL ’22-23
8. Jett Woo, D
Age 19 Team Moose Jaw (WHL)
Plays a classic, hard-hitting style of defense. Distributes the puck with confidence.
Acquired 37th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
9. Zack MacEwen, RW
Age 23 Team Utica (AHL)
Power forward does the little things right. Vision and passing need work. Fourth-line upside.
Acquired Free agent, March, 2017 NHL ’20-21
10. Kole Lind, RW
Age 20 Team Utica (AHL)
A point machine in junior, he struggled mightily his rookie pro year. Has a powerful shot.
Acquired 33rd overall, 2017 NHL ’22-23