Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will almost certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Vancouver.
If 28 goals, 66 points, a Calder Trophy and a full-to-the-brim highlight reel was Elias Pettersson’s idea of a rookie campaign, we can’t wait to see what he does when he’s fully matured as a player. Already the all-star of the Canucks’ offense, Pettersson dazzled with his ability and he’s still growing, which is encouraging for a Vancouver offense that already had one piece of the puzzle set in sharpshooter Brock Boeser. That gives the Canucks a one-two offensive punch that can lead them into the next generation. The continued growth of Bo Horvat, who has future captain written all over him, perfectly complements the presence of Pettersson and Boeser, too. A two-way dynamo and reliable second-line pivot, Horvat offers ideal support down the middle.
Beyond those three fixtures, however, there’s a lot about the forward group that’s up in the air and the future is dependent upon fulfilled potential. Podkolzin has the ability to become a new-age power forward and perfect top-six option in Vancouver, while Hoglander, who is already testing his mettle against men in the Swedish League, stands to slide into top-six duty in the future, as well. Gadjovich, a Canucks second-rounder (55th overall) in 2017, can bring offensive upside and hard-nosed play to the lineup.
The bottom-six comes with the most questions. Down the middle, will it be Madden or Gaudette who earns third-line duty? Will it be Lind or MacEwen who takes the majority of the middle-six minutes? And who slots onto the left side? Keppen and Palmu are in the mix, but a lot can change in a few seasons’ time. By 2023-24, it could be free agent fill-ins or a newcomer who’s scooped up in the draft flanking the bottom-six pivots.
The blueline’s anchor has arrived, and Canucks faithful are ready for the first day of the new era with Hughes about to step into the lineup on a full-time basis. By the time the 2023-24 campaign rolls around, the expectation is that Hughes will be logging massive minutes and be relied upon as the no-bones-about-it leader on the back end. No pressure.
As for the rest of the rearguards, there’s some uncertainty, and not just because Myers will be in the twilight of his career as he wraps up his five-year pact with the Canucks. Juolevi was once a top-tier prospect, but injuries have resulted in a declining stock and there are questions about when he’ll be ready for consistent NHL work. As for Woo, his offensive ability is unquestioned, but there’s some rounding out to do as it pertains to his overall game. Neither Utunen or Brisebois are long-term locks for the roster, either, and there’s a possibility neither rise to the level of regular NHL work. Even if that is the case, though, there are others who will be capable of filling bottom-pairing roles.
Goaltending can be a mystery at the best of times, but if all goes according to plan and Demko and DiPietro pan out as expected, the Canucks could realistically have their crease locked in for the next decade-plus. Demko is expected to make the full-time move to the NHL this season and act as the second-stringer, but some in and outside of Vancouver are of the mind he could steal the top job by season’s end. Be it this season or sometime shortly thereafter, though, Demko is expected to hold down the one spot, and DiPietro, a major junior standout, will be following in Demko’s footsteps as the promising upstart. The Canucks’ depth in goal is enviable.
Overall, while there is a level of uncertainty given the question marks in depth positions, the Canucks have a foundation in place that should prepare them for success in the coming seasons. There's depth at center, a projected No. 1 defender and a pair of netminders in place who have potential to be long-term fixtures in the crease. That gives Vancouver a core to build around, and one with considerable talent and untapped upside. Perennial playoff contention seems likely, and if the Canucks draft well and supplement the nucleus with smart free agent decisions, entering into the Stanley Cup conversation isn't at all unrealistic.
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