After an off-season filled with roster upheaval, which new arrival do the Vancouver Canucks need most? A quarter-way through the season and a rocky start, we have a sample size to study. Things can change of course, and Canucks fans hope they do! But for now, here’s who’s made themselves an integral part of their new team.
An Off-Season of Incoming
Last season – post-playoffs – ended on something of a high note for the Vancouver Canucks. They not only made the playoffs but made some noise in them. Their rookie goalie had to step in when the veteran went down and was brilliant, making one of the team’s hardest decisions much easier. The star rookie defenceman not only didn’t wilt but maintained a point-per-game pace. They beat the former Stanley Cup Champions, for crying out loud!
In the months between, the team decided to roll the dice in some situations and play safe in others. A disastrous choice to chase shiny things late in the free-agent season cost the team deeply. There are players who have come in, though, and it’s worth noting the cap squeeze that took from the Canucks also helped them get a major addition.
Where most of the hope lies is with young players under Canucks control coming up from either the AHL or other leagues. They come in a variety of flavours, from long-seasoned to shockingly new. That’s supposed to be how a prospect pipeline works, but a season of chaos later and the landscape has changed.
Another controversial draft choice, Olli Juolevi was drafted as a solid, smart defenceman who did everything well. Essentially an Alexander Edler replacement on the go. Unfortunately, Juolevi has battled injuries since his draft year, losing large swaths of development time. Lower body injuries have reduced his ability to change directions as smoothly as before but he still has the ability to think the game.
He’s now 22 years old, and still only has 63 AHL games in his two seasons there. On the taxi squad for this year, he’s played seven games with one goal to show for it. Despite his protected ice time – about 11 minutes per game – he has done well while short-handed.
Do the Vancouver Canucks need him? Extra defencemen are always a good idea, and right now that’s what he is.
Jalen Chatfield could have made the team last season, but the team decided to bring in veteran Oscar Fantenberg instead. A lot of things about Chatfield put him ahead of the other young defensemen. He’s a solid defender, he plays on the right side, and he’s 24 years old. He’s never going to produce scoring for the club, but the Canucks don’t need him to. In his three seasons with Utica, he scored 17 points. In an ideal world, he’ll get more with Vancouver, but for now? Just keeping up with the NHL pace is fine.
Unfortunately, this is a massively contracted season, meaning every game is just that much more important. It’s hard to ease a rookie in when the stakes are higher. He has zero points in his eight games so far, but, like Juolevi, has some time on the penalty kill.
Do the Vancouver Canucks need him? He’s pretty much where he belongs this year: a strange, NHL/AHL hybrid spot where the team can get him if needed.
Okay, what? Nils Hoglander is the youngest player on the Canucks, and had previously only played international games in North American rinks. He was supposed to be good – he was selected 40th overall in 2019 – but he was also supposed to need time. Instead, he forced the team to play him beside captain Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson on the second line. Not only has he fit in seamlessly, but that is also the Canucks best line by far after 14 games.
Apparently, the size of North American rinks has only meant he’s having more fun. In a season where it’s tough to find a bright spot, he pulls off a shift like this one. He’s scored three goals and seven points so far, which isn’t Tyler Toffoli‘s pace, but Toffoli isn’t scoring at his normal pace either.
Brand New Arrivals
Either calculated risks or the frantic covering of roster holes, only a few genuinely new faces are on the team this season.
You know Plan B was ready to go when Braden Holtby was announced well before any other Canucks signing. When a deal couldn’t be reached with Jacob Markstrom, the team targeted their choice of replacements immediately. Holtby has a Stanley Cup ring – the first Canucks goaltender in 50 years to do so – and knows what he is in for. He is the established veteran hired to keep the young gun safe. A lot of weight is on Thatcher Demko‘s shoulders, and the team doesn’t want to overburden him if he’s not ready for it.
He’s not exactly replacing the team MVP – that’s Demko’s job – but it’s close. And the Canucks haven’t exactly helped welcome him to the new system, allowing over 35 shots per game. Yes, the team’s given up a ridiculous 55 goals in 14 games, but it really hasn’t been the fault of the goaltenders. There have been a couple of weak ones, but by sheer volume, there’s going to be.
Do the Vancouver Canucks need him? Very much so. But he’s also not the most important player at his position. On the other hand, Honey and Maple are adorable.
This is the sort of deal teams with cap space are supposed to be able to make. Getting Nate Schmidt for a third-round pick is a phenomenal bargain, and one only possible because the Vegas Golden Knights upgraded. Or hope they did, in any case. The Canucks managed it by losing all of their free agents, so not exactly as planned, but still a good deal. He’s been an offensive force with Vegas, racking up .5 points per game over three seasons. He can play both sides of the ice and on both special teams. So how has he done with Vancouver?
With Travis Hamonic going down to injury, Schmidt has been doing time as a penalty killer. He’s serving as a second unit power-play point man as well so that versatility is coming into play early. His point production has been a bit disappointing, with just one goal and three points so far. On the other hand, he’s been good with Edler and decent with Tyler Myers when the team’s needed defence or offence. Hard to ask much more of him just now, but the Canucks need his offence to improve once Hamonic returns.
Do the Vancouver Canucks need him? Sure, but they need more from him in the future. It looks like he’s earmarked to take Edler’s spot for now, and that’s not a terrible plan.
The least surprising surprise signing for the team. Space opened when Chris Tanev signed with the Calgary Flames, and the right-handed, defensively-oriented Hamonic was the obvious choice. It was sealed when the professional tryout was signed and made official once the team could move Michael Ferland to the long-term injured reserve list. The one year deal for far less than Tanev is making fits the proposed future of the team.
Unfortunately, the injury fairies weren’t going to let the Canucks off so lightly two seasons in a row. Hamonic has only played five games with Vancouver so far, getting two assists.
Do the Vancouver Canucks need him? Tough to tell, but getting him back on the ice couldn’t hurt!
Who is the New Player the Vancouver Canucks Need Most?
Not that hard to spot, really. If you need a hint, it’s the only one who has a highlight clip of his play so far. Nils Hoglander has been everything promised so far, though whether he can maintain that pace – or get the rest of the team to catch up – remains to be seen.