The Vancouver Canucks made a number of significant changes during the offseason, so predicting the team’s 2019-20 season is like driving on a foggy morning. It’s simply difficult to see very far ahead. To be honest, I have no idea how this season’s iteration of the Canucks will do. But, I can offer my own optimistic predictions.
Here’s what we know. We know that the team has some significant talent. Elias Pettersson is a keeper, whose value to the team seems only ready to go up. There’s a good chance he will get significantly better.
If Bo Horvat gets consistent linemates with whom he can build chemistry, he has the talent and the
Shrouded in Possibilities
The question of what the team’s season will look like is shrouded in possibilities and what-ifs. It’s simply difficult to know with any certainty how much this team is capable of improving with their new additions and the growth of its young core.
If fans listen to the Canucks radio talk shows, most radio pundits believe the team will improve – but not that much. Perhaps it will add another five to 10 points over last year’s standings but will have no real playoff run capability. That’s a safe prediction.
Ever the optimist, I believe they have underestimated the team’s strength. With that optimism, here go my predictions.
Prediction One: Pettersson Will Be Named Captain
Most fans believe this is the season that Horvat will be named captain; and, if that were the case, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d be a good captain. He cares. He leads by example. He plays with his heart, and no one can ever fault his work ethic. In short, he would be a great choice.
But, there’s just something very special about Pettersson. And it isn’t simply his skill set, although that skill set is vast and will surely grow as he gains experience. Pettersson is driven. He’s focused. He simply won’t quit, and I believe he has the power to carry his charges with him. In addition, he’s both likeable with his teammates and has wisdom beyond his years.
In watching Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, there was a moment where the camera trained on Pettersson’s face. He was so focused that he looked almost angry. That’s not a bad look to have as a leader.
Finally, the word is that he’s arrived in training camp even more prepared this season than he was last season: he’s stronger, faster, more willing to do what it takes to win. In short, he’s the real deal. He’s what captains are made of.
Prediction Two: Canucks Power Play Will Rank in the NHL’s Top 10
It’s with the power play that the newcomers will have the biggest impact. Micheal Ferland is a net-crashing soldier. J.T. Miller adds experience and skill to the offense, and Tyler Myers could be one of the best power-play producers in the NHL if he’s given the ice time.
Although the team had the talent, last season’s power play was ugly, finishing 22nd in the NHL with a 17.1% success rate. If the team is to make the playoffs, the power play needs to drastically improve.
Give Benning credit. Adding Miller will obviously help the power play. He’s been effective on first power-play units during his last two seasons with both the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, I predict Myers will have the greatest impact on the success of the power play.
The way it played out last season, the Canucks used defenseman Alex Edler on its first power-play unit, and he was good: he scored 10 goals and 34 points in just 56 games, including 17 power-play points. Rookie Quinn Hughes, if he’s as good as he looks, has a great on-ice vision that should also become an advantage on the power play.
However, over the past two seasons, Myers was ninth among NHL defensemen in power-play points per 60 minutes. That means, on average over his ice time, Myers is a highly-effective, power-play defenseman. He also ranked first among NHL defensemen in primary assists; that’s the pass (or shot and a rebound) that leads directly to a goal.
Given the team’s snipers like Boeser and Pettersson, Myers could have a huge impact. I predict he will.
Prediction Three: Breakthrough Seasons from Goldobin and Virtanen
Most fans have given up on Nikolay Goldobin, but I’m not one of them. I believe he’s come to training camp more ready to play defense and with the will to become an improved two-way player. During Sept. 17 preseason victory against the Oilers, Goldobin worked hard and made a number of strong defensive players. If he’s going to get productive ice time, which would allow him to stick on the team, he needs to do just that – work hard and play defense. I believe he will.
Already Jake Virtanen has scored twice in the preseason. In the Sept. 16 3-2 comeback win over the Calgary Flames, he potted one late in period three and then scored the overtime winner. Last season, Virtanen had career highs with 15 goals and 25 points. He also plays a physical game, and had 154 hits in 70 games. Although the 23-year-old winger has been in a bottom-six role throughout his career, if he continues to show well during the preseason, he should earn a larger role in the regular season.
Prediction Four: Canucks Will Make Playoffs
I predict that the changes Benning made during the offseason, the growth of Pettersson, creating regular linemates for Bo Horvat, and an improved power play augurs well for the Canucks’ success this season.
As well, if Quinn Hughes has success as a rookie and Thatcher Demko emerges as a viable backup who allows Jacob Markstrom to have more rest and stay sharper, that too will help lead the team to its first postseason Stanley Cup Playoff run since 2015.
Alas, in 2015, the Canucks were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m not so sure they can move past the first round; but, for me, making the playoffs is a start. That said, as NHL fans know well, “Anything can happen in the playoffs.” Ask the St. Louis Blues.