Canucks Roundtable: Projecting the 2020-21 Opening Night Roster

The Vancouver Canucks roster looks to be set for the 2020-21 season, well most of it anyway. They are still over the cap as of this writing, so there will have to be some sort of salary dump before the season officially begins. Since that shouldn’t change the makeup of the team too much, we thought it would be fun to do some projections on how it could end up being constructed come opening night.

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In this edition of the Canucks roundtable, I am joined by my fellow THW writers, Sartaaj Bhullar, Jorden Puzzella, and The Old Prof to debate the different options they could go with when it finally comes around. So without further ado, let’s get to our predictions!

Sartaaj Bhullar – More of the Same

With the Canucks’ inability to shed any salary this offseason, they will be forced to go with more of the same this season.

J.T. MillerElias PetterssonJake Virtanen
Tanner PearsonBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Antoine RousselAdam GaudetteBrandon Sutter
Tyler MotteJay BeagleZack MacEwen
Jayce Hawryluk
Quinn HughesTyler MyersThatcher Demko
Alex EdlerNate SchmidtBraden Holtby
Olli JuoleviJordie Benn
Brogan RaffertyJalen Chatfield

I think the forward lineup will be similar to the ones the Canucks iced last season minus Tyler Toffoli and the addition of Jayce Hawryluk. Jake Virtanen on the top line helps spread the offence out throughout the top-six as Brock Boeser will be on the second line. As for Hawryluk, I believe he will get a good look at some point next season as well, and I think he’ll be a permanent member of the bottom-six midway through the season.

Jake Virtanen Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On defence, Quinn Hughes on the top pair and Nate Schmidt on the second pair allows the Canucks to spread out their mobile defencemen. On the bottom pair, Olli Juolevi gets his first chance to be a permanent member of the main roster. Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield will both be the extra defencemen for the Canucks next season.

In net, Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby will split starts with the loss of Jacob Markstrom. Demko will be the club’s 1A, while Holtby will be the 1B. Although they are both pretty good goaltenders, it will be tough for both of them to completely replace what Markstrom was able to accomplish last season.

Jorden Puzzella – Something Old, Something New

Will the added advantage of having players game ready be too tantalizing for general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green to pass up? I think so. Therefore, here are my opening night predictions:

J.T. MillerElias PetterssonSven Baertschi
Nils HoglanderBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Tanner PearsonAdam GaudetteJake Virtanen
Antoine RousselBrandon SutterJayce Hawryluk
Tyler MotteJay Beagle
Quinn HughesTyler MyersBraden Holtby
Jack RathboneNate SchmidtThatcher Demko
Alex EdlerOlli Juolevi
Jordie Benn

Without space to bring in some new blood, Benning and Green will have to start the season with what they have in the system. Though what makes this projected line up so exciting is the fact that the Canucks have a player gearing up for his NHL debut while playing overseas. This player would give them an advantage on opening night over opposing NHL lineups filled with men who haven’t played a competitive game in months.

Nils Hoglander, Rogle BK.
Nils Hoglander of Rogle BK. (photo by Andreas Ljunggren)

I foresee teams having success with players currently playing overseas being a trend in the NHL this season, and the Canucks have two very exciting young men who are ready to light the lamp. The first rookie I believe the Canucks can take advantage of is Vasili Podkolzin, who is currently playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, but will not be available until their season ends in March or April of 2021.

The other rookie in game shape and ready for opening night is Nils Hoglander of the SHL’s Rogle BK. Both of whom should add scoring depth and aggression to the Canucks top lines when they finally come over from Europe.

Once Podkolzin can join the team, I’d love to see him bring his combination of size, speed, and aggression next to Pettersson. The reason I have Sven Baertschi playing right-wing instead of his listed left-wing position is that I believe he will be given every opportunity to succeed, which will result in Benning trading the oft-injured Swiss forward to finish the final year of his contract elsewhere.

The Old Prof – Canucks Elite Core Will Keep Improving

Sure, the Canucks lost some pieces in what were, for me, totally surprising moves. Though they still have an elite core of players leading them into 2020-21.

J.T. MillerElias PetterssonBrock Boeser
Tanner PearsonBo HorvatJake Virtanen
Tyler MotteAdam GaudetteBrandon Sutter
Antoine RousselJay BeagleZack MacEwen
Quinn HughesJordie BennThatcher Demko
Alex EdlerNate SchmidtBraden Holtby
Olli JuoleviTyler Myers

The Canucks still have Pettersson, and he’s going to be better this season than before. They have Hughes, and he’s going to be much better this season than before, and they have captain Bo Horvat, and he’ll be exactly the player he was during last season’s playoffs.

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Though the key for me this season will be J.T. Miller. He’s the center of the action on this team. I think it’s time for Virtanen to become the power forward he’s been projected to be since he was drafted. Boeser doesn’t get much respect, but he could have his best season coming up.

I don’t think the Canucks’ defence is that bad. The loss of Chris Tanev just means they will have to find someone else to ride shotgun with Hughes, and until someone better comes along, why not try Jordie Benn? Let’s hope fans are surprised by the play of Juolevi. They have been patiently waiting for him for a long time, and he could blossom on a pair with Tyler Myers.

Green is a good coach, and that counts. The team will miss, but be able to replace, Markstrom with Holtby and Demko. I’m unsure how that will play out, but it’s getting sunnier in Vancouver by the day with this franchise.

Matthew Zator – Gaudette Gets Some Wingers

The Canucks did not add much to their forward group and only replaced Troy Stecher, Oscar Fantenberg and Tanev with Schmidt. Though they did add an interesting winger in Hawryluk, who I believe will get a long look in training camp. With that said, here are my projections for opening night.

J.T. MillerElias PetterssonBrock Boeser
Tanner PearsonBo HorvatJayce Hawryluk
Nils HoglanderAdam GaudetteJake Virtanen
Tyler MotteJay BeagleZack MacEwen
Antoine RousselBrandon Sutter
Quinn HughesNate SchmidtThatcher Demko
Alex EdlerTyler MyersBraden Holtby
Olli JuoleviJack Rathbone
Jordie Benn

The Canucks’ top-six stays relatively intact, except for the regrettable departure of Toffoli. Virtanen is the most popular choice amongst the masses to take his place, but I submit to you a different option in the form of Hawryluk.

Jayce Hawryluk, Connor Brown
Former Panther & Senator Jayce Hawryluk could find himself in the top-six with the Canucks in 2020-21 (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Hawryluk plays the game like Tyler Motte, but with more offensive upside. He hits a tonne, works his butt off and has pretty good hands around the net. He’s basically what Virtanen should be. So why not play him on the second line with Horvat and Pearson?

In my lineup, Gaudette finally gets some skill and speed to work with in Virtanen and Nils Hoglander, so that he’s not stuck playing a defensive role between two grinders in Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter. Behind the two-way energy line, Jay Beagle centers the lunch pail line with Motte and Zack MacEwen to round out the roster.

Sutter and Roussel are in the press box and Loui Eriksson is either in the minors or traded to another team by the time the puck drops in January. Baertschi could get a look in training camp, but ultimately I think Hoglander will edge him out for a spot, just like Gaudette did in 2019-20.

On defence, it gets interesting with the loaded up top pairing of Hughes and Schmidt and the rookie bottom pairing of Juolevi and Rathbone. Despite the risks involved with having an inexperienced pairing, I believe the poise and maturity of Juolevi will go perfectly with the dynamic mobility and smarts of Rathbone. I’m not sure Green will go for it, but he should definitely consider the possibility by playing them in the preseason together. He might be pleasantly surprised by the result.

Finally, the goaltending gets a makeover with Demko taking over as the starter and Holtby backing him up. I think they will split the starts over the course of the season, but Demko will get most of the opportunities in the end. They could form one of the best tandems in the NHL if all goes according to plan.

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