You may have missed it – and, frankly, who would blame you amid the coronavirus pandemic – but the Vancouver Canucks signed a pair of college standouts Thursday, inking free agent Marc Michaelis from Minnesota State and University of Michigan’s Will Lockwood, who was already in the system as a third-round pick of the Canucks’ in 2016.
On the surface, they’re low-risk signings that aren’t likely to impact the top six, let alone the bottom four, but by landing Michaelis in particular, a player who was viewed by some as one of the top NCAA free agents this year, the Canucks continued to add depth a talented foundation that includes Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko and Bo Horvat.
Michaelis took home a handful of awards this past week, including the WCHA Player of the Year and WCHA Offensive Player of the Year honors. He has a shot at the Hobey Baker as the NCAA’s top player, too. His 71 goals were the fourth-most in Minnesota State’s history, while his 162 career points were fewer than all but six players in team history. Scoring has never been an issue for the 24-year-old. Michaelis won’t tower over anyone and stands 5-foot-11, but he’s an energy forward who skates very well. He’s a player who can be thrown into any situation and excel – think Andreas Athanasiou, but smaller.
As for Lockwood, the hard-working winger battled injuries during his NCAA career which limited his action during his sophomore campaign and forced him to play catch up in the two seasons since. But his base statistics don’t tell the whole story. Lockwood likes to attack the play with speed and throw his weight around. By no means will he factor into Vancouver’s top six and he might not even crack the top nine, but, like Michaelis, Lockwood’s value is his speed and penchant for creating havoc.
By adding the two college signees, Vancouver has added to its already deep stable of prospects, and while we won’t spoil anything for you, but Canucks fans will be pleased with the team’s standing in The Hockey News’ annual Future Watch issue. There’s potential, too, for an already bright outlook to get brighter, particularly if Vasily Podkolzin pans out. He has struggled to find consistency in the KHL after getting bounced around three different SKA St. Petersburg clubs over the past two seasons, but the power forward did start to build momentum in the second half of the season. Throw in Nils Hoglander, one of the game’s most exciting prospects, and you have two future top-six threats added to a group that’s already in great hands.
It’s not just up front the Canucks are in good shape. Even if the Canucks move on from pending unrestricted free agent Jacob Markstrom this summer, Vancouver will have options. Demko has been viewed as Vancouver’s goalie of the future for more than half a decade now and has had an opportunity to showcase what he can do with a heavy workload when Markstrom went down with an injury ahead of the trade deadline. Michael DiPietro isn’t ready for the big time yet, but expect the Canucks to get aggressive to bring an experienced veteran to backup Demko if Markstrom departs. Even a run at Robin Lehner or Braden Holtby isn’t out of the question, though the contract asks for either will likely price the Canucks out.
The biggest question, though, lies on the blueline. Hughes is the future – the present, too, honestly – but Vancouver’s blueliners have an average age upwards of 28, making it their most veteran position on the ice by a long shot. While true the Canucks have a slew of young defense in the pipeline such as Brogan Rafferty, Olli Juolevi, Toni Utunen, Jett Woo and Guillaume Brisebois, none are sure things. Looking down the road, the uncertainty surrounding the development of the prospect blueliners makes the 2021 off-season an interesting one for the Canucks. Tyler Myers is the only rearguard whose contract extends into the 2021-22 campaign, but with potential to unload a deal to the expansion Seattle franchise in the near future, Vancouver can consider spending on the back end this off-season.
What will be important for the Canucks will be finding ways to add to the group without killing what’s working – and doing so means getting the youth involved and active. There are some interesting prospects in the pipeline, which not only portends greater things for Vancouver but also gives the Canucks the option to dangle and possibly move some of those assets to upgrade other needs. It’s a great position to be in, and one that should see Vancouver in legitimate contention in the near future.
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