The Canucks have come to contract terms with a lot of key players this offseason already, but there’s still work to do with re-signing several pending restricted free agents.
The team has locked up free agents Anton Rodin, Troy Stecher, Thatcher Demko and Michael Garteig, as well as re-signed one pending RFA already in Markus Granlund. Not bad, in an offseason that’s still very young.
Canucks fans so far have had at least one concern quieted heading into this summer, of whether or not the team will be able to sign notable college players. The team has succeeded on every front for being able to pursue high quality NCAA players, and come to terms with several in Demko, who was Vancouver’s second round draft pick in 2014, as well as Stecher and Garteig. And adding Rodin, the 2015-16 Swedish Elite League MVP, doesn’t hurt either.
But apart from Granlund, none of the several pending RFA’s with the team have come to terms on a new deal with Vancouver. While there’s no need to panic since free agency is still almost two months away, there’s a number of these players who the Canucks will surely hope to have re-signed by July 1st. Here’s three who are likely the most important.
It’s likely that 23-year-old Sven Baertschi is the Canucks top priority among RFA’s to re-sign in the organization.
— Jon Abbott (@HockeyAbbs) April 26, 2016
After being highly-touted for having great potential but never playing more than 26 NHL games in a season, the Swiss forward finally found his footing in the league this year. Baertschi set career-high’s with Vancouver in goals, assists, points, games played, powerplay goals, shots and shooting percentage.
There’s nothing to suggest that Baertschi won’t be a big producer next season in Vancouver. At his best this year, he was strong on the puck, confident making plays and sharp in his shooting. The winger also found chemistry with center Bo Horvat when playing on his line, a welcoming sight for Canucks fans.
He’ll likely be a big part of the Canucks team next year, and the former 13th overall pick in 2011 could have the potential to be for a long time.
The 22-year-old Emerson Etem proved to be valuable with Vancouver last year thanks to his size and strength. But will he transition his offensive touch to the NHL? Etem was a prolific scorer in the WHL, and has put up steady scoring as well during his stints in the AHL. He hasn’t had this same success yet in the NHL, however. Perhaps it’s because he’s on a level playing field, and isn’t better than his competition solely because of his speed and size.
Etem is especially hard on himself for his lack of consistent production to date, but he still had an impact in the Canucks lineup thanks to his work ethic and unwavering drive. He also admitted in the Canucks exit interviews this season that he felt his offensive game improved once he learned the team’s systems.
It was only four months ago that Etem was acquired by the Canucks for Nicklas Jensen and a sixth round draft pick; there’d be no sense in not re-signing him. Besides, it’s hard to find a player in the team’s lineup who played as hard as Etem did in the last 10 games, when the season was waiting to be over.
Etem on contract talks: “The goal is to stay here as long as possible. I really enjoyed my time here.” #Canucks
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) April 11, 2016
It may seem out of left field to have defenseman Philip Larsen here, a pending RFA who the Canucks own the NHL rights to, who isn’t currently on the roster. But general manager Jim Benning stated, after trading for his rights before the 2016 trade deadline, that the Canucks goal this summer is to sign Larsen and give him a chance to earn a spot on the team.
The Danish blueliner has spent the past two years in the KHL. Among defenseman this past season in that league, Larsen was in the top-five in scoring, as well as tied for second in goals. He seemingly turned a corner in his offensive production from the back-end. The Canucks see him as a right-handed defenseman who could potentially run a powerplay and be an effective puck-moving d-man.
Larsen also has a history of playing for Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, going back to his days with the Dallas Stars early in his career.
Larsen says playing for Willie Desjardins and Glen Gulutzan before will help. “They helped me a lot, it’s a big plus.” #Canucks
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) February 26, 2016
It’s no coincidence that Benning, who has a sharp eye for talent, traded for Larsen’s contract rights, right as the 26-year-old appears to be hitting his prime. He could be a replacement for Yannick Weber, who is likely bound for free agency, on the Canucks blue line as a player who fits the offensive-defenseman mold that the team was lacking last season.