With an active offseason that’s seen quite a few additions to the Vancouver Canucks roster, the new faces will enter this season to prove they were worth acquiring. However, beyond the newbies, the events of last season have created several returnees with a case of their own to prove their value in 2019-20. From solidifying their role to bounce-back seasons, here’s the top three returning Canucks with something to prove as we enter the upcoming season.
1. Jake Virtanen
Awaiting his breakout season, the Canucks’ sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is at the top of this list. Unsurprisingly, with such a high selection in the draft comes equally high expectations. For Virtanen, meeting those expectations has been an uphill battle.
As a big-bodied winger suiting up for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen in junior, the power forward played the role of a menacing opponent who could also put the puck in the net with ease. Seeing his potential after he tallied 45 goals in the WHL during his draft season, the Canucks jumped at the chance to take Virtanen.
While Virtanen still plays with pugnacity and urgency in Vancouver, his goal-scoring touch has yet to translate to the NHL level. Potting just 32 goals in 210 career NHL games to this point, the waiting game continues for a possible offensive breakout season in the winger’s upcoming fourth campaign in the league.
Luckily for Virtanen, the Canucks’ top nine forward group has recently been beefed up after acquiring Tanner Pearson at the trade deadline and J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland in the offseason. With these new faces, Virtanen will likely get a more regular look with skilled linemates. This shift will provide a better opportunity for the probable third-line winger to contribute offensively and put more pucks in the net. Now all that’s left for him is to prove that he still has what it takes to be a regular goal-scorer and the formidable offensive threat he was drafted to be.
2. Chris Tanev
Moving to the blue line, defenseman Chris Tanev enters this season in an interesting spot. While the blueliners has shown plenty of potential to be a quality top-four presence in the Canucks’ defensive core, injuries have plagued his otherwise promising play. In the past three seasons, the most amount of games he has suited up for is 55.
With Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn coming into the fray on the Canucks blue line, Tanev will be most likely be paired with top-notch talent. With a possible pairing alongside A-level prospect Quinn Hughes in what would be the skilled youngster’s first full season, he could have all the tools he needs to have an impactful season.
What it will come down to – and where Tanev will need to prove himself – is whether he can remain healthy and contribute for a full 82-game campaign. Of course, injuries happen – and some unpreventable – but regardless, another injury-plagued season for him could be the final nail in the coffin when it comes to his ability to be a full-time factor in the Canucks’ future. So, a full-length season becomes that much more important for the blueliner and something he will unquestionably be looking to prove he can complete in 2019-20.
3. Brock Boeser
Sure, the third and final pick on this list could’ve easily been another forward (like Virtanen) who falls somewhere in the middle-six, such as Sven Baertschi or Josh Leivo. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the top six forwards – despite their skill and mostly locked-in roster spots – can still have their own personal vendettas this season.
To focus in on one, first-liner Brock Boeser will surely come into this season with a fire in his eyes. The 23rd-overall pick by the Canucks in the 2015 NHL Draft had an incredible rookie campaign, tallying 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games. Last season, while joined at the hip with rookie phenom Elias Pettersson, Boeser just managed to eclipse his first season’s total by one point despite playing in seven more games.
While the right winger still had an impressive season producing at a 0.89 point-per-game pace, Boeser’s stellar rookie numbers made this a ‘slump season’ by comparison. Aiming for a full 82-game campaign this season, he will undoubtedly be looking to smash through the 60-point plateau and 30-goal mark to prove his status as an elite-level scorer. In doing so, the top forward would prove to be the perfect candidate to remain alongside Pettersson and continue to drive the majority of the Canucks’ offense on a scary first line.
As always, the start of a new season brings new expectations and new urgencies onto every player, both new and old. While this post just covered a few of the highlights, look for these names and all others to come out of the gate with a bee in their bonnet and something to prove – to Canucks fans, management, and themselves.