The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.
Stanley Cup odds: 85-1
Key Additions: Tim Schaller, LW; Jay Beagle, C; Antoine Roussel, LW
Key Departures: Henrik Sedin, C; Daniel Sedin, LW; Jussi Jokinen, LW; Derek Dorsett, RW; Nic Dowd, C; Darren Archibald, RW; Patrick Wiercioch, D
Perhaps more than any other team in the NHL, the Canucks are all about “raising the bar” and “potential.” Brock Boeser had a spectacular rookie season, but it ended a month early due to injury. Bo Horvat was lighting it up before a broken ankle. Sven Baertschi was having his best season before a freak injury. Even veterans such as Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner have more to give than the 10 or so goals they provided last season. And expectations are high for Elias Pettersson to be one of the league’s top rookies and Jake Virtanen to finally blossom offensively.
That was the logic behind GM Jim Benning signing muckers Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller as free agents this summer. You know what you’re going to get with those guys: serviceable duty in the bottom six. Ideally, their steady work ethic helps smooth out the inconsistencies in Vancouver’s skill players. Even if half the Canucks’ “raise the bar” players do post improvements, Vancouver will make noise. If more than half do, watch out. This team could surprise.
Crafty coach Travis Green showed tremendous poise in his first year behind the bench. The “potential” label looks good on him as well.
Vancouver is very much a team in transition defensively. Thatcher Demko is the goalie of the future, but when is the right time to break him in? He turns 23 this season, and the Canucks have Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson under contract for now. So what are the optics of the Canucks not playing their best stopper this season? It takes an optimistic Vancouver fan to rank Markstrom or Nilsson among the league’s top 31 goalies.
The Canucks also lack a big-time difference-maker on the blueline. They have two in the system in Olli Juolevi and Quinn Hughes, but neither will make a big impact for at least another year. In the meantime, Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev play as top-pair defensemen. They’re both likely in their final seasons with Vancouver, as Edler is a UFA next summer and Tanev is trade bait. Behind them are a half-dozen serviceable defenders, none of whom lift fans out of their seats with his play.
The Canucks have been picked by many observers, including The Hockey News, as the last-place team in the Pacific Division and Western Conference. A worst-case scenario would put them 30th or 31st overall. In time, fans would embrace that as not such a bad thing.
How high can Swedish sensation Elias Pettersson fly in his rookie season?
To say expectations are high for Elias Pettersson would be a mammoth understatement, though the presumption of rookie excellence is absolutely warranted. Pettersson was otherworldly as a rookie in the Swedish League last season. He led the league — not rookies, all skaters — in scoring with 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games, was named league MVP, top rookie and then proceeded to dominate the post-season with 10 goals and 19 points in 13 games en route to capturing a championship with the Vaxjo Lakers. Oh, he also picked up the playoff MVP for good measure, too.
It's understandable, then, that Pettersson enters the 2018-19 season as one of the odds-on favorites to win the Calder Trophy. He's going to have every opportunity to shine in Vancouver, as well, as he projects to skate on the Canucks' second line and should get big power play minutes. He could crack 60 points. Heck, he could flirt with a Mat Barzal-esque point total. And that would be more than enough to really give Canucks fans something to be excited about, even if the loss column is more bloated than the win column by the end of the campaign.
THE HOCKEY NEWS PREDICTION: 8th in the Pacific Division. The Canucks have the young guns and there's a promising future ahead, particularly up front with Horvat, Boeser and Pettersson. It's too early for this team to take the next step, though, and that's OK, because Jack Hughes sure would make the light at the end of the tunnel shine that much brighter.
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