We are just a few short weeks away before training camp is underway for the 2021-22 NHL regular season. There has been an endless amount of news and excitement over the course of the offseason. Whether it’s blockbuster trades, the expansion draft of the Seattle Kraken, free agency, or franchise player standoffs with their current organizations. While things begin to settle and players start making their way to their respective cities, there will be a few storylines to watch during the Vancouver Canucks camp.
There will be battles for final roster spots, players coming into camp in the best shape of their lives, but a few deadlines specifically will dominate for Vancouver. Some will last the entirety leading up to the season opener, while others will dissipate as the regular season draws closer. Still, all eyes will be on the superstars, line combinations, and the new acquisitions with the large turnover from the offseason.
The Arrivals of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes
This is the main question mark surrounding Canucks camp, and it hinges on the anticipation of the new deals in place for their two superstars, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The two cornerstone players have yet to sign new deals as we are just a few weeks away from the rest of the team skating together. Many questions are still up in the air. How can the Canucks afford this? Will they be signed long-term or to bridge deals?
Pettersson, who made comments about his willingness to play for a team contending for a Stanley Cup when he told TSN, “I want to stay there (Vancouver) now, but I also want to play for a team that’s winning and has the chance to go far into the playoffs every year…”. While he doesn’t have the same compared to other contracts as Hughes would have (we’ll get to it), the resume speaks for itself. He is the number one center on a potent line alongside Brock Boeser and JT. Miller, who have had major success together in previous years before Pettersson was sidelined for the final 30 games of the 2020 season with a wrist injury. Let’s not forget, he had back-to-back 66 point seasons through his first two campaigns, including 28 and 27 goal campaigns, respectively, all while missing 11 and 14 games as well.
Hughes, on the other hand, has a few things going for him. The first is that he had a full season this past year, playing in all 56 games, compiling 41 points in the process. In his rookie year, appearing in 68 games, Hughes put up 53 points, including 25 on the power play, something that Vancouver will hope he can continue to quarterback.
The other benefit to Hughes and his camp is he has a few comparable contracts that were just signed that fit the mold today. Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche signed a six-year extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $9 million. Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars also got a new eight-year deal to the tune of $67.6 million and an AAV of $8.45 million. Based on points, minutes played, that will be about where Hughes comes in, should it be long-term. If a bridge deal is the route, somewhere in the $6-$7 range.
So if (and when) both Pettersson and Hughes are extended, there will be quite a few eyes on them upon their arrival.
Line Combinations for the Forward Group
Head coach Travis Green will have his pick of the litter when it comes to line combinations for the 2021-22 season. This lineup will definitely be deeper than last year’s roster, which really struggled once injuries and the COVID-19 wave hit the team.
My guess is that Pettersson is reunited on the top-line with Miller and Boeser, who had tremendous success together last season, combining for 183 points. Bo Horvat will have some options on the second line, but Conor Garland seems to be a lock within the top-six. Tanner Pearson could join along the left wing, who could bounce back to his 2019 form where he had 45 points, including 21 goals. Jason Dickinson gives Vancouver the third-line center they’ve been looking for and could have some young guns with him in either Nils Hoglander or highly-touted rookie Vasily Podkolzin. Brandon Sutter seems like a solid fit as the fourth-line center after re-signing with the club to a one-year, $1.125 million contract. He could be looking at Tyler Mott and/or Matthew Highmore as guys who could slot in there.
While these are all speculations, we’ll see what Green whips up in a couple of weeks.
How the New Guys Fit In
The other big question mark will be simply, how are the new guys fitting in? The Canucks turned over nearly two-thirds of their roster, which brings in a shift in the franchise and a level of uncertainty. Garland might be the safest bet, as he’s a young, ascending player who scored 39 points in 49 games last year. He’s a former 20-goal scorer and will instantly impact the top-six, and whether he plays with Horvat or Pettersson, it’s definitely an upgrade from who he played with for the Arizona Coyotes.
Dickinson, who was recently signed to a thrived in his role last year in Dallas. He chipped in 15 points across 51 games, playing 16:12 time on ice (TOI) per game, and had strong underlying numbers, sporting a 55.3 Corsi For Percentage (CF%). He seems like an ideal fit for how he plays the game and what the Canucks lacked last year.
Defensively is where the biggest changes happened for Vancouver. Alexander Edler and Nate Schmidt are out, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman are in. The Canucks hope that a change of scenery will re-invigorate Ekman-Larsson’s career while playing alongside a more defensive-minded partner in either Tyler Myers or Travis Hamonic. Poolman played a career-high 18:18 TOI across 39 games, and while he only recorded one assist, he’s one year removed from scoring four goals and 16 points in 57 games.
There can easily be more items added to the list of things to watch, but these will be the main talking points as the players gear up and get ready for this coming season. All in all, it should make for an eventful next few weeks.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.