Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks.
2020-21 Vancouver Canucks
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Which is a pleasant surprise for Canucks fans over the past five years, the latter being far more frequent than the former. It was also one of the most eventful offseasons the team has had, with major players moving out at every position. Here’s a closer look at the 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks.
Playoffs, Playoffs, Everywhere!
Any questions were solved by not just winning a play-in series against the Minnesota Wild, but by beating the reigning Stanley Cup champions and taking the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games before bowing out. The excellent play of the young members of the squad, the revelation of Bo Horvat, and the brilliance of Demko left fans eager to get this year started. After all, what could possibly dampen the spirit of this up-and-coming team? Young stars, solid depth, great playoff experience…
…And the salary cap. It doesn’t just return, but returns as a flat cap, changing what was an anchor into the Titanic, post-iceberg.
As a result, the team lost their MVP goaltender, who – to be fair – was probably always going to go. Perhaps more concerning was their best defensive defenceman also taking a deal with the Calgary Flames. An oft-injured but versatile middle-six winger joined the exodus to Southern Alberta. Plus their reliable, multi-tool third-pair guy going to the Detroit Red Wings. Oh, and that replacement for Boeser? Toffoli walked, too. And some of these were a direct result of a mad play for Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson late in the free-agent season.
That’s a lot.
The traffic wasn’t all one-way, though. The same cap squeeze that limited Benning’s options gained them Nate Schmidt. 2018 Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby signed on. Veteran defenceman Travis Hamonic is as close to a Tanev clone in playing style you’ll find in the NHL. And there’s still room for a couple of young players to make the jump to the big club. While no one is likely to have the impact of Pettersson or Hughes, getting continued progress from prospects makes the future bright.
Now for the fun bit. As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re avoiding any Taxi Squad talk in our projections. One late arrival has tossed the team lines into disarray, and another is expected to…
J.T. Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Nils Hoglander
That’s right. Notable by their absence are two names: Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson. Should Hoglander stay in place, Virtanen take to his role and Gaudette play enough defence to take advantage of weaker matchups, this could be the year two of the most expensive players are sidelined for the 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks.
Alexander Edler – Nate Schmidt
Quinn Hughes – Travis Hamonic
Olli Juolevi – Tyler Myers
Two things to note, here: Hamonic doesn’t officially have a contract yet, but that’s just a matter of the season’s start. And whether he and Hughes or Edler and Schmidt are called the top pair is pretty irrelevant. Hamonic is the clear replacement for Tanev, providing a solid footing for Hughes. Expect Myers to take his place should the team fall behind late in games, but mostly it should be Hamonic beside the sophomore.
The addition of Schmidt is a huge gain for the team defence. This can’t be overstated. His speed and puckhandling ability give the Canucks a legitimate puck mover who can carry it out in each pair. It’s safe to predict Edler’s numbers to remain reasonably high despite his age, even if his most common play is getting it to Schmidt. Second assists count more when you get them by moving the puck out of danger. While Schmidt isn’t the best defender in his own end, he’s very good at ensuring it doesn’t remain there long when he does get it.
Saying Myers is on the “bottom pair” is a bit misleading. Whichever veteran is assigned to ease the rookie Juolevi into the league will be given the designation. Myers is going to get time with the power play, possibly bumping Edler off that spot. The big defender has some bite in front of the net, which is sorely lacking outside of Jordie Benn who may start as an extra. As much criticism as he received for taking penalties in the playoffs, that is one reason the team got him.
Juolevi is likely going to be protected as much as possible to start the year, but he still has everything the team drafted him for. His presence of mind is perfectly intact, even if his legs have been rebuilt. He’s done well in the AHL, and he should be even better in the more structured NHL. Time will tell, but his time to prove he belongs is now.
Braden Holtby – Thatcher Demko
Players to Watch
We didn’t expect to be saying this even two weeks ago, but he might be exactly what the Canucks ordered. The only caveat is that the rookie is coming into the season playing high-level professional hockey. Maybe the rest of the team will catch up to him, or he fades as the season grinds on. But right from puck drop, he’s looked like an excellent fit beside Horvat and Pearson. As hesitant as Green is of putting pressure on rookies, he might not have any choice.
There is apparently some debate on a nickname for him. Given how quickly the 5’8″ fireplug can change direction, may I suggest Nils Helicopter?
Another new arrival, another game-changer. Holtby or Hamonic are expected to maintain the level of play of losses on the team – or at least minimize those losses. Schmidt, on the other hand, can completely change how the team plays for his shifts. Having a dangerous offensive defenceman added to a team that loves to play a breakout style will keep opponents on edge the entire game. Easing pressure on stalwart Edler will keep him effective longer and will take some focus away from Hughes. In these empty arenas, don’t just watch for him. “Whoop, whoop!”
Prediction for 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks
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