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For the first time in 19 years, the Canucks will enter an NHL season without the Sedins. It’s a time of transition and change — a “new era” as head coach Travis Green called it.
Whether or not you enjoy the the beginning of this new era will largely depend on your point of view. Do you want to watch some exciting young players begin to carve out their own legacy in the NHL? Or do you want to watch the Canucks win games?
If it’s the former, you’re in luck. If it’s the latter, however, this could be an exceptionally frustrating season for you. Let’s break down the coming season for the Canucks into its component parts.
OFFENCE The Canucks will once again struggle to score. Brock Boeser is their biggest scoring threat and he’ll try to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and build on his 29 goals from last season. His centre, Bo Horvat, can hope for 25-30 goals, while left wing Sven Baertschi will look to best his career-high 18 goals from last season.
After the top line, the Canucks have more questions than answers. Can rookie Elias Pettersson carry the second line? Will Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Leipsic be able to break out? Can Loui Eriksson, the highest-paid player on the Canucks, re-find his scoring touch?
The majority of the Canucks’ scoring will have to come from the top two lines, as their bottom-six is built for defence, not offence.
DEFENCE The Canucks are expected to return the same group on defence as last season, with any improvement having to come from within. Veterans Alex Edler and Chris Tanev form the core of the defence and will anchor the top two pairings.
Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher are both looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons. Hutton has come into camp in better shape and has earned more trust from head coach Travis Green, while Stecher has shown improved confidence in joining the rush and being an offensive catalyst.
Michael Del Zotto and Erik Gudbranson round out the top-six, with Derrick Pouliot, Alex Biega, and rookie Olli Juolevi likely to get plenty of playing time during the season when injuries inevitably come.
GOALTENDING Jacob Markstrom won’t steal many games, but his first season as a number one goaltender wasn’t all that bad. Though he had a bad habit of giving up early goals, he finished the season with a save percentage of .912, right around league average. That may seem like faint praise, but being an average NHL goaltender across 60 games is no small accomplishment.
If Markstrom can repeat that performance, goaltending won’t be a strength, but it will also be the least of the Canucks’ concerns. Backup Anders Nilsson is hoping to bounce back from a mediocre season, while prospect Thatcher Demko will be waiting in Utica for his shot.
SPECIAL TEAMS It’s time for a new generation to take over from the Sedins on the power play. Adding Pettersson to Boeser on the top unit should give the Canucks two credible scoring threats on opposite sides of the ice, while Horvat and Baertschi can dish and finish from the front of the net and slot.
Edler is the incumbent on the point, but younger defenceman like Hutton, Stecher, or Pouliot will push for his spot. If the top unit clicks, they could become the Canucks’ biggest offensive threat.
The additions of free agents Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Tim Schaller will take some of the weight off younger players and hopefully improve last year’s 21st ranked penalty kill.
OVERALL As The Who once said, the kids are alright. Pettersson should compete for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, and other rookies like Adam Gaudette, Jonathan Dahlen, and Olli Juolevi will push to get called-up from Utica throughout the season. The addition of these rookies just isn’t enough to push the Canucks into credible playoff position.
While the younger Canucks should entertain, the most likely result is a finish at the bottom of the Pacific Division and another high draft pick to aid in the rebuild.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
I’m dropping the gloves with the rest of the Pacific Division for rudely getting better this off-season. For example, the Sharks added Erik Karlsson, the Kings added Ilya Kovalchuk, and the Golden Knights added Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. They’re supposed to stay stagnant while the Canucks catch up.
A tap of the stick to Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot. He looks absolutely terrifying, with wildly-rotating googly eyes, a rotund body, a gaping maw of a mouth, and bizarrely unkempt orange hair. He’s amazing and immediately leaped to the top of my NHL Mascot Power Rankings.
Gritty is an absolute monster pic.twitter.com/c8Ot7jKszA— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) September 27, 2018
6% - According to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, the Canucks have a 6% chance of making the playoffs. The only two teams with lower odds according to his model are the Detroit Red Wings (2%) and Ottawa Senators (4%). Notably, the Senators projection came before they traded Erik Karlsson.
1 - The Canucks are expected to have just one rookie, Elias Pettersson, in the opening night lineup. You might expect more from a rebuilding team, but the Canucks are starting most of their rookies in the AHL, with the expectation that they will be called up throughout the season.