Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
Nothing lasts forever. The Vancouver Canucks enjoyed sustained stretches of dominance across many of Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s best years, coming within one victory of the 2011 Stanley Cup and winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2010-11 and 2011-12. But those teams eventually aged out of their primes, and the Canucks sank in the standings. The current down years are also temporary, though. Times are dark in Vancouver right now, but by 2019-20 we should see a dawn peaking over the horizon.
The Sedins, who turn 37 next month, currently hang on as veteran leaders and mentors and still make the Canucks a few wins better than they need or want to be right now. It’s the final year of their contracts, though. We probably won’t see them accepting any trades this coming deadline, no matter how exciting that would be for hockey fans to see, but it’s fair to say their storied NHL careers are nearing their close. They might re-sign with Vancouver, but perhaps just on one-year deals. Whatever happens, they’ll be 39 when the 2019-20 season rolls around and could well be retired. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to still be part of Vancouver’s plans by then.
After all, several years of bad finishes have helped the Canucks amass a decent prospect pool. The kids need room to breathe on the depth chart, and by 2019-20 we might actually see this group start to make noise. Center Bo Horvat has already ascended to become the team’s most important forward and should be entrenched as the top center two Octobers from now if he isn’t already. He’s a natural choice to succeed Henrik Sedin as captain, too. Exciting young sniper Brock Boeser debuted with four goals in nine games last season and should contend for the Calder Trophy in 2017-18. By 2019-20, he should be a 30-goal man and first-liner, with Markus Granlund returning to his natural position of left wing. Loui Eriksson gets paid like a No. 1 right winger, but I project a buyout of his final three seasons by the time 2019-20 rolls around.
We end up with a very young Vancouver depth chart at forward, blending fairly low-ceiling guys such as Granlund, Sven Baertschi and checker Brendan Gaunce with the higher-end talents in Horvat, Boeser and Elias Pettersson, drafted fifth overall this June. He should debut as an NHL rookie within a couple years, and his skill set makes him a potential Henrik Sedin successor. Kole Lind, another 2017 pick, has some nifty skill of his own. And don’t sleep on the versatile Jonathan Dahlen, acquired in the Alexandre Burrows trade. Dahlen is defensively sound and can play multiple forward positions.
There’s been so much talk of trading Chris Tanev, Vancouver’s best defenseman, but wouldn’t that just create a need for, well, Chris Tanev? Even by 2019-20, he’ll only be 30. He could still be a useful player by then while the team around him improves. Look at Mark Giordano in Calgary. He’s 33 now. The Canucks have done a nice job unearthing surprise contributors such as Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton, and both look like important components of the D-corps going forward. But this is Olli Juolevi’s group in the long run. The smooth-skating, do-it-all talent is one of the best prospects in hockey, period, and projects as Vancouver’s long-term franchise defenseman. He’s a minutes eater in the mold of Ryan Suter.
The Canucks’ goaltending battle will be interesting to watch in years to come. In Jacob Markstrom, they have a former A-grade prospect who has matured into a merely decent NHLer. He’s keeping the starter’s seat warm for Thatcher Demko, who should keep rounding out his game in the AHL and be ready to push for the No. 1 NHL job in a couple years. Demko has the right blend of size, pedigree and swagger to become a star.
GOT IT: The Canucks aren’t truly outstanding in any one area on paper but have decent talent at each position, most notably center, where Horvat and Pettersson should form an enviable 1-2 punch. Assuming Demko plays to his considerable potential, the crease should be set for a long time, too.
NEED IT: Vancouver projects to have good mobility on defense but could use a lot more snarl. They have that in present day from Erik Gudbranson, but he hasn’t shown enough to warrant a re-signing after he becomes a UFA next summer. He’ll make more sense as a rental piece to dangle at the 2018 deadline if and when the Canucks slide out of the playoff hunt.
CAP WATCH: Losing the Sedins frees $14 million, and we’re likely to see overpriced vets such as Derek Dorsett gone once their deals expire, too. Horvat will get his extension before the 2017-18 season and has played well enough that he deserves to bypass a bridge deal. Boeser is up as an RFA after 2018-19. With so many aging players likely gone, it doesn’t appear GM Jim Benning will face a scary cap conundrum in the coming seasons.
BOTTOM LINE: The suffering isn’t over yet in Vancouver, but there’s an end in sight. In a few years, this team will be a lot younger and ready to start a slow but steady ascension. Circle 2019-20 as a realistic target for improvement.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders | New York Rangers | Ottawa Senators | Philadelphia Flyers | Pittsburgh Penguins | St. Louis Blues | San Jose Sharks | Tampa Bay Lightning | Toronto Maple Leafs
Up next: Vegas Golden Knights