The Vancouver Canucks need help on the right side of their defence as well as the bottom-six. With free agency coming up, they could fill both these spots with some pending unrestricted free agents from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here are the three players the Canucks should be interested in.
2021-22 Cap Hit: $1.645 Million
Ilya Mikheyev is a player that should intrigue the Canucks as he checks all the boxes when it comes to needs in their forward group. He is a middle-six forward who can play the penalty kill, contribute offensively and be moved up and down the lineup if needed. Last season with the Leafs, he scored 21 goals and added 11 assists in 53 games.
Mikheyev showed he was a valuable, two-way forward last season as he finished with a 55.3% Corsi with the Leafs and outscored the opposition 36 to 25 at even strength when he was on the ice. One issue in the past for Vancouver has been finding players that can play elevated roles in case of injuries in the top-six. The Russian forward showed he was capable of taking on that challenge as he played just under 100 minutes with John Tavares and Alex Kerfoot last season. During that time, they outscored the opposition 5-1 and finished with a 52% Corsi. Whether it was on the second or third line, he showed he can transform his game to best match whatever role he was placed in.
The third line is an area the Canucks really need to improve next season. Last season, if J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat didn’t score, the team would usually find itself on the losing side. One main reason the best teams in the league are successful is depth scoring, and adding Mikheyev would be a good step forward in fortifying the third line. If the cap hit does not hit north of $3 million, the Canucks should be all in on the Russian forward.
2021-22 Cap Hit: $1.35 Million
Last season, Ilya Lybushkin split time with the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs. In 77 games overall, he finished with 15 points, 92 blocks and 187 hits. Last season, only one player on the Canucks had more than 187 hits, that being Luke Schenn with 273. Vancouver needs to find a way to become a more physical team, and bringing in the 6-foot-2 Russian to patrol the blueline would be a good start.
Lyubushkin showed vast improvements after the trade from Arizona to Toronto. His Corsi improved from 45.2% to 51.2% on the season, and he showed that he could handle tough assignments. There is also an already established connection here in Vancouver as he played just over 65 minutes on a pair with Travis Dermott. During that time, the duo posted a 56.5% Corsi and had an expected goals percentage of 54.7%.
The tricky part with a player like Lyubushkin is there will be interest in him not just from the Leafs but around the league. Teams are always looking for physical, right-shot defencemen to fill out the lineup, which could create a bidding war. The Canucks should be in on the bidding though, as he brings value to a lineup that desperately needs help on the blue line, but only if his cap hit stays below $2.5 million.
2021-22 Cap Hit: $725,000
Colin Blackwell is an exciting player that teams should be lining up to add to their bottom six. In 58 games split between the Seattle Kraken and the Leafs last season, he scored ten goals and added ten assists for 20 points. He is a versatile forward that can play either wing or center and, despite his size at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, isn’t afraid to play a physical brand of hockey as he racked up 91 hits in 2021-22.
Blackwell creates energy every shift he is out there. As mentioned, he plays a physical game but also isn’t afraid to get pucks on the net, as he finished with 77 shots on goal. His play would fit perfectly into Bruce Boudreau’s high tempo, strong forecheck game plan as he is usually the first one into the offensive zone, applying pressure and trying to force turnovers.
Blackwell is exactly the type of player the Canucks should be looking at adding to their bottom six. A player that never takes a shift off and can add some offensive value to the lineup. He also fits the cap structure of this team as his next contract should come with a cap hit under $1.5 million. Adding him could solidify Vancouver’s fourth line and will make them a faster, more dangerous team overall.
These valuable free agents should be available as the Leafs cannot afford to keep them all under their current cap restraints. They have a projected $7.8 million in cap space but still need to re-sign Jack Campbell and Pierre Engvall. This provides a perfect opportunity for the Canucks to improve their roster by signing any of Mikheyev, Lyubushkin or Blackwell for the 2022-23 season.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.