Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: Vancouver Canucks

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the 2018-19 Pacific Division. 

The Canucks have long avoided a full-on rebuild, but they might be due for a big slip in the standings as the team ventures into life without the Sedins.

Last season

31-40-11 – 73 points (7th in Pacific) 

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218 goals for (26th in the NHL)

264 goals against (26th in NHL)

The Canucks were bad last year. They finished 26th in the league in goals for, 26th in the league in goals against, and, fittingly, they finished 26th in the league’s standings with 73 points. I’m not sure if anybody figured the Canucks were going to be competitive last season, but they made an honest effort to make it seem like they thought they were going to be competitive by signing Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto, and Anders Nilsson in free agency. Needless to say, it didn’t work for them, and they missed the playoffs for a third straight season.

They actually got off to a pretty decent start to the year but the wheels fell off quickly when Bo Horvat went down with a foot injury. Horvat broke his foot in early December when the Canucks were sitting with a solid 14-10-4 record and then the team went on to lose 13 of their next 15 games, effectively ending their season.

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Horvat’s value was clearly shown when the team completely fell apart in his absence. So that was one bright spot for the Canucks. The other was Brock Boeser, the team’s first round pick from the 2015 draft. Boeser scored 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games, earning him second place behind Mat Barzal in Calder Trophy voting. Boeser’s season came to an end prematurely due to a back injury suffered in early March, but the 20-year-old still led the team in goals.

In early April, Daniel and Henrik Sedin announced that they would be retiring from hockey, ending two 17-season careers. Next season, the Canucks will be Horvat and Boeser’s team as Vancouver will be without the Sedins for the first time since 2000.

This season

Notable additions: Elias Pettersson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Time Schaller.

Notable subtractions: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Jussi Jokinen, Nic Dowd.

The Canucks are going to be bad again this year. While their last two seasons have been pretty painful because the organization didn’t fully embrace a rebuild, the Canucks will have more young talent on the ice than before.

Like I said earlier, Horvat and Boeser will be tasked with stepping up and filling Henrik and Daniel’s shoes while Elias Pettersson heads overseas with massive expectations after a record-setting season in the SHL. Jake Virtanen, the team’s first pick from the 2014 draft, will get a bigger role on the team, as will top prospect Jonathan Dahlin. There’s also an outside chance that Vancouver’s first pick from the 2018 draft, shifty offensive defenceman Quinn Hughes, could crack the team, but that’s pretty unlikely.

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It’ll be interesting to see how the Canucks look without Henrik and Daniel on the team. Obviously, the twins haven’t been the same elite talents they used to be the past couple years, but they still finished second and third on the team in scoring and attracted the other team’s top defensive units. Withouts the Sedins as buffers, life will become much more difficult for the aforementioned youngsters taking on a bigger role on the team.

    • Quinn Hughes has zero chance of making the team since he committed to going back to Michigan.

      Last night wasn’t an indication of how our team will play given that, aside from Sutter, none of those guys are a lock for any positions. Our fourth line had Wacey Hamilton and Carter Bancks, who are co-captains for our farm team but will likely never sign a contract with the Canucks. But admittedly, the defence hasn’t stepped up and improved over the summer.

        • Virtanen is trending towards the bottom end of his draft projection: defensively responsible bottom-6 winger who can chip in a few goals. The frustrating thing is that physically, he could be doing more. He has very little hockey IQ but he can run over the biggest guys in the league easily, skate as fast as some of the fastest guys in the league, and he has a very hard and accurate wrist shot (which could be better). He only shows flashes of his potential a few times in a season but when he does, it’s highlight reel material. What he lacks in offense, he makes up with good positioning and an excellent backcheck but that’s not why we drafted him.

          So what’s up with Bennett? I don’t get a chance to watch him play but I can see statistically he is under-performing for his draft position as well. I always thought Calgary and Vancouver should do a swap to give each player a fresh start. Virtanen played for the Hitmen so it’s not like he’s going to an unfamiliar place. If I’m not mistaken, he’d play a similar role to what Ferland did.

          • Flint

            No way that a one-for-one deal Virtanen and Bennett would make sense. Bennett had more points his first year in the league than Virtanen has in 140 games. Bennett may not be as physical as Virtanen but he still has a lot of jam in his game.

            Bennett has more skill, he just needs to figure it out. Maybe he never will but I don’t see Virtanen having much more ceiling than where he is it already – maybe Jakes a 15g 15A player at some point but Bennett could be a 25G 25A guy.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    This team needs to be one that the Flames shred if they are to get a good playoff seed. It has to start with opening night … time to break that jinx.

  • BendingCorners

    If the ‘Nucks open the season with a veteran lineup they will finish last in the West. If their prospects make the leap – Pettersson, Demko, Gaudette, Dahlen, Lind and Juolevi – they could finish 6th in the Pacific. Not good but better, and sunk by mediocre defense more than anything else. Hughes plus one more high draft pick might be enough for them to be part of the playoff picture, and it could happen as soon as next year.

  • TheWheeze

    Virtanen for Bennett has been suggested here. Intriguing. Gotta admit it gets lively debate going here. Don’t think Tre will do it. I feel he is fully invested in Bennett and, Jake is a wild card. A player the Flames could probably use, but I don’t even think acquiring him is even on the radar. Granted, I’m sitting home in a recliner watching Winchester and stuffing my face with Cheetos as I type this, so I’m hardly a source of enlightened projection. Just don’t feel it will happen. At least not for Bennett anyway.

    • kantsequentialist

      Hey Backlund’s pretty good at hockey. How old was he when he “proved” he could play in the NHL? How about Niederreider? Pavalski? Virtanen and Bennett will be fine. Just everyone pump the breaks.