Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Vancouver Canucks.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017-18 by a wide margin, accumulating only 71 points and finishing with a record of 31-40-11. (They did, however, win one more time than in the year before.) Only three players reached the 20 goal plateau, and no one reached 60 points. Some of that can be attributed to their laundry list of injuries, as they finished with the third-most “Man Games Lost” to injury. However, they didn’t fare much better when players returned from the injured reserve either. Simply put, the Canucks perfectly fit the term, “rebuilding franchise”.
On the bright side, the core of their team became more clearly defined as the year progressed. The future does seem to be headed in the right direction, too. Rookie Brock Boeser shined and led the team in points, earning him a Calder Trophy nomination. Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brandon Sutter each had their moments too, taking positive strides in their development. However, injuries plagued each of them too, which make fielding consistent lines (on both offence and defence) extremely difficult.
The big story for the Canucks developed late in the year, as Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin announced it would be their final season. To add insult to injury (literally), those two finished as Vancouver’s only forwards to play in at least 80 of the 82 games. Plus, they were the only other players on the entire roster to reach 50 points. With their departure, Vancouver will live and die by the new, young wave of guys throughout their lineup.
This summer, the Canucks had a successful draft and devoted themselves to rebuilding. The team made six selections in the 2018 Entry Draft, including University of Michigan (DI NCAA) defenseman Quinn Hughes at seventh overall. Hughes will return to school for his sophomore year, but could go pro next season or the year afterwards. Another huge plus is that the Canucks still possess all their own draft picks for every round through 2021. Those are hot commodities for a rebuilding franchise.
Instead of acquiring a bunch of veterans to try and quick-fix the team, General manager Jim Benning re-signed plenty of his pending free agents and added a couple depth veterans. Most notably, 32-year-old centerman Jay Beagle and 28-year-old Antoine Roussel each inked four-year deals. The Canucks plan to rely on internal talent to fill the holes left by the Sedins and others; Jussi Jokinen did not receive a new contract, and Thomas Vanek left via trade mid-season yet still finished fifth in Canucks scoring by year’s end.
If you’re a young player in the Canucks organization today, you’re licking your lips. There’s simply tons of opportunity to break into the NHL with this team currently. The organization is okay with that too: they want their draft picks and prospects to be this team’s future.
Players to Watch
As seen above, there are a whole lot of questions with the Vancouver Canucks roster this year, mainly because so many of their players are unproven. Most of the roster only possesses a year or two of experience (if that). Most of that experience, too, is in roles below where they’ll be asked to play this season. Essentially, almost the entire team seems to be getting upgraded one line from their usual spot.
Usually, young teams like this are extremely exciting. They should, theoretically, have tons of speed and skill thanks to their youth and drive. The other side of that coin is usually a lack of physicality and abundance of mistakes. They may not be expected to make a playoff run by any means, but at least they have some talented kids to watch grow. Should they get an opportunity to play, keep an eye out for rookies like Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen and Olli Juolevi to try and make enough of an impression to stick in the NHL.
Will Their Stars Hold Up, or Fizzle Out?
Leading the group is Boeser, entering his second season. The biggest question facing players in his position is always whether or not he can fend off the “sophomore slump” epidemic. He led the team with 29 goals and 55 points through just 62 games, but can he produce at that rate again? If the Canucks are to make any noise, this is someone who will have to dominate while on the ice. His linemate, Horvat, enters his fifth NHL season at just 22 years old this year. He also produced at his best pace with 44 points across only 64 games. He and Boeser lean on each other a lot, something Canucks fans likely will see for a long time to come.
Finally, there’s Markstrom in net, who started 60 games last season for the team. That marked the first time in his career where he served a team as their true number-one goaltender. Can he cement himself as a starter in the league? If he can match the .912 save percentage he pulled off despite the young, inexperienced group in front of him, it would be hard to argue his ability.
Vancouver possesses a lot of exciting players and prospects, but that’s about it for right now: excitement. Whether the excitement comes next year or a few years down the line is yet to be seen. That being said, one can assume their breakout won’t be 2018-19.
To be fair, as mentioned above, the team faced massive injury setbacks time and time again last year. Only three Canucks suited up regularly enough to reach 68 games played, and only five returning forwards even dressed in 75% of their contests last year. It is still a stretch to think this team would’ve been playoff bound if they all played every night, but there’s no doubt it hurt (no pun intended).
Injuries would deal even more damage to this year’s roster, too, as their depth replacements would be even younger and more inexperienced. With rookie Elias Pettersson projected to make the opening night roster, more rookies could fill holes should they face the injury bug again.
As a final prediction, the Vancouver Canucks will ultimately fall short of the playoffs, but be a much more exciting team than last season. Their youth and inexperience will be both the root of their excitement and flash, but also ultimately the source of their shortcomings. The team has tons of potential, it is just that each player is still a few years from reaching their prime.
Come 2020 this exact roster will probably be a major force to be reckoned with. For now, though, they have some growing pains ahead.