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Vancouver Canucks Early Positives

One of the biggest storylines heading into the season for the Vancouver Canucks was the start. For the past two seasons, the Canucks started poorly and it lead to coaches being fired and a late-season push that was too little and too late. After six games this season, the Canucks are 4-2-0 which is a vast improvement over last season’s 0-4-2 start after six games. There have been some concerns but there have been a lot of Canucks early positives this season so far

Yes, it has only been six games and the tone could change after just one or two more losses but let’s go over what has been working so far for the Canucks

Vancouver Canucks Early Positives

Number 1: The Quinn HughesFilip Hronek pairing

It is no secret that the right side of the blue line is the Canucks’ Achilles heel. Right now, their best right-handed defenceman is easily Filip Hronek. He was acquired before last season’s trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings for 2023 first and second-round picks.

Of course, it was not wise for the Canucks to trade high draft picks when their contention window is nowhere close to opening. But so far, Hronek has fit like a glove for Vancouver. Losing the picks stings but you can’t deny Hronek was just what they needed.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has kept Quinn Hughes and Hronek on the top pairing. Will this be a long-term thing? Probably not. Both Hughes and Hronek are puck movers and are good offensively, an ideal long-term partner for Hughes would be a defensive specialist, like Chris Tanev was in 2019-20.

But for now, Hughes and Hronek have worked very well as a pairing. According to NaturalStatTrick, they have been on the ice for six goals for and none against. That is pretty impressive. Hronek has four assists so far this season and has made some smart defensive plays.

As for Hughes, he’s been, well, Hughes. He’s been displaying his smooth skating, offensive ability and solid defensive play. Don’t let writers out east tell you what their model says about Hughes.

Hronek’s contract is up at the end of the season. He’s going to want a huge payday.

Canucks early positives: number 2: The PB & J line

Seeing Phil Di Giuseppe in the top six with Brock Boeser and JT Miller at the start of the season was eyebrow-raising. But it has worked so far.

Di Giuseppe is in his third season with the Canucks organization. He split the last two seasons with Vancouver and the Abbotsford Canucks. The 30-year-0ld has brought some tenacity, excellent forechecking and good work on the penalty kill. Di Giuseppe is not a bonafide top-six player but he is a smart player who works hard.

JT Miller has been the player Tocchet and Canucks fans want him to be. He has eight points in six games and has been effective at centre. Last season, Miller was seen making a lot of really bad turnovers and some terrible backchecks. This season, there has been the odd turnover now and then but he has looked better defensively. It is also worth noting that since Tocchet was hired on January 22, Miller has 49 points in 42 games.

Boeser was a great story on opening night as he scored four goals. Given his struggles on and off the ice over the last few years, it was good to see. Boeser has six goals so far and to put that into perspective, it took him until December 27 to score six goals last season. While his shot isn’t as deadly as it was during his rookie season, it seems he has more confidence in his shot than last season.

Di Giuseppe, Miller and Boeser have provided a fun line to watch.

Canucks early positives: number 3: Special teams

The Canucks penalty kill was one of the worst in NHL history last season at 80.4%. It looked like they couldn’t kill a penalty even if their lives depended on it. Upgrading the penalty kill was a huge priority by general manager Patrik Allvin in the summer. Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, Pius Suter and Teddy Blueger were signed while Mark Friedman and Sam Lafferty were brought in the last couple of weeks via trades.

Vancouver’s penalty kill is 17th in the NHL so far. Hooray, they are not last! In all seriousness, the penalty kill has been better in the early stages of this season. The new acquisitions have fared well and having Hronek and Ilya Mikheyev healthy helps too. But the biggest difference in the PK this season compared to last season is that the Canucks are winning puck battles. Tocchet is big on “structure” and the PK has shown a lot of that so far. Having Thatcher Demko healthy and a reliable backup in Casey DeSmith also helped.

The Canucks currently have the third-best power play in the NHL at 35.3%. A large reason why the power play was so successful last season was Bo Horvat scoring goals from the bumper spot. Now that Horvat is with the Islanders, Boeser has stepped up. Miller has been key on the half wall and Hughes and Elias Pettersson have been as effective as ever.

The power play was pretty predictable over the last few seasons. It was just constant passing and Horvat would score in the bumper spot. This season, they aren’t as predictable. The Canucks aren’t passing as much and are shooting way more. Hughes in particular, wanted to shoot more, especially on the power play. He is just doing just that and it is paying off.

It Has Been Encouraging Early

The Canucks return home after a successful five-game road trip. They will play their first back-to-back of the season when they welcome the St.Louis Blues and New York Rangers to Rogers Arena on Friday and Saturday nights. Both games will be big tests for them.

It has been encouraging early but Canucks fans can’t be certain this is the real Canucks yet. They need to work on reaching their ceiling and if the positives continue to American Thanksgiving and beyond, then it is time to get encouraged. But for now, believe it when you see it consistently.

Main Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


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