The Canucks’ roster has been cut in half, from 59 at the start of training camp, to 30 heading into Tuesday’s pre-season game against the Los Angeles Kings. That number will be further cut down to 23 before the start of the regular season.
Several players that fans hoped might make the Canucks’ opening night lineup have already been sent down to the Utica Comets, like Jonathan Dahlen and Petrus Palmu.
With just a few cuts remaining, let’s take stock of who’s left on the roster and break down the battles for the last few spots.
Let’s start in net, because it features the easiest decision:
Let’s face it: Thatcher Demko is going back to the AHL to start the season. Demko was in tough to out-battle the incumbent Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson, not just because he’s still young and developing, but because the Canucks want Demko to play a lot of games.
Heading into training camp, there was an argument to be made for Demko being the backup ahead of Nilsson, but some struggles in the preseason suggest that Demko would do well to play more games as the number one guy in Utica. Demko should still get some games with the Canucks this season.
When the Canucks cut Demko, that will bring the roster down to 29. Let’s move on to the defence, where the decision is again pretty clear.
I’ve highlighted the players arguably on the bubble that could be cut, but let’s be honest with ourselves: if the plan is to go with eight defencemen, as has been the standard for the Canucks, then Olli Juolevi is the only player that will be cut.
Juolevi is waiver-exempt, so can be sent down to Utica at no risk. He’ll also get a chance to play big minutes in all situations, while acclimatizing himself to professional hockey on the smaller ice surface. Juolevi has looked fine in the preseason, but there’s no need to rush him at this point.
Cutting Juolevi brings the roster down to 28. Five cuts to go, and they have to come from the forwards.
Here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve highlighted the players that could potentially get sent down and also identified the two injured forwards in red. If Antoine Roussel and Loui Eriksson aren’t ready for the start of the regular season, that makes the Canucks’ job a little easier, but Eriksson is already back practicing with the team and will likely return to the lineup this week.
So, let’s operate on the assumption that Roussel will start the season on the IR as he recovers from his concussion. That brings the roster down to 27: four cuts left.
Brendan Leipsic and Nikolay Goldobin seem like safe bets to make the team. Goldobin simply has too much skill to give up on him at this point and has shown some budding chemistry with Elias Pettersson. And Leipsic has done enough to make the roster, including one of the nicest goals of the preseason.
So we’ll assume those two are on the roster. That leaves six players, four of whom will have to be cut: Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, Tyler Motte, Brendan Gaunce, Adam Gaudette, and Darren Archibald.
It’s safe to say that Archibald and Gaunce will be waived and sent down to Utica. That brings the roster to 25: two cuts remaining.
So, which of Gagner, Granlund, Motte, and Gaudette will make the team?
From the standpoint of waiver eligibility, it’s an easy decision: Gagner and Granlund would have to clear waivers, Motte and Gaudette would not. It would be easy to justify prioritizing asset management and sending down the two younger players.
At the same time, you could argue that Motte and Gaudette have been better in the preseason than Gagner and Granlund.
Motte has undoubtedly been one of the best Canucks in the preseason, making an argument for a bottom-six role with his speed, grit, and determination. While he has limited offensive upside, he fits as a fourth-line energy forward or a 13th forward that can be plugged into the lineup in case of injury.
There’s an argument to be made that Gaudette is one of the four best centres on the roster, depending on how you feel about Jay Beagle. Gaudette’s speed and drive has frequently made him one of the more exciting Canucks on the ice in preseason.
Gaudette seems like a better fit in Utica to start the season, however. With Horvat, Pettersson, Sutter, and Beagle up the middle, Gaudette would end up as the 13th forward in Vancouver, when this is a crucial season for him to play significant minutes. In Utica, Gaudette can play in all situations and refine his two-way game.
That leaves just three players: Gagner, Granlund, and Motte. Are the Canucks willing to cut a veteran like Gagner? Would they risk losing Granlund on waivers? Is keeping Motte on the roster reason enough to lose one of those two players?