3 Reasons the Canucks Will Make the Playoffs in 2022-23

Every season brings new hope and optimism, regardless of where teams finished in the standings the previous year. That’s the case with the Vancouver Canucks who made a few changes in the offseason to improve their chances of making the playoffs in 2022-23. They also re-signed a major piece of their offence in J.T. Miller to a seven-year extension worth $56 million ($8 million average annual value – AAV), which removes a huge distraction that could have been hanging over the organization throughout the season.

J.T. Miller Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Now, Bo Horvat remains the only key pending unrestricted free agent to sign – something president Jim Rutherford has said did not get affected with the Miller contract. If he can somehow get him locked into a long-term contract before the season begins, then the Canucks will have their core set for the next few seasons to come. In short, even though he didn’t make any of the major changes that fans were hoping for during the offseason, this team is still set up rather nicely to make the playoffs in April. Here are three reasons why.

Three-Headed Monster Down the Middle With Miller, Pettersson & Horvat

Throughout the offseason, whenever Bruce Boudreau has discussed his roster with the media, he has pointed to his team having three strong centers going into 2022-23. That has to mean Elias Pettersson will be centering his own unit rather than teaming up with Miller on the top line, who usually took the faceoffs before moving over to the wing. If Pettersson has improved his ability in the dot, that would make the Canucks a formidable opponent as they would have a three-headed offensive monster down the middle.

When you talk about strength down the middle, that’s what I’m really excited about. J.T. is the leader of our group, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be the leader of that group again this year.

– Bruce Boudreau

As a trio, Miller (32), Pettersson (32) and Horvat (31) scored a combined 95 goals and 219 points last season making up 38 percent of the Canucks’ total offence. If they could adequately center three lines, the top nine would rival some of the best the NHL has to offer. But that all hinges on Pettersson’s net efficiency on faceoffs. Throughout his career to this point, that has been a sore spot of his game as he only has a 42.6 percent career average. While he was better in 2021-22, finishing with a 44.1 percent rating, he needs to get that number to start hovering around the 50 percent mark to adequately anchor a forward line. His game is all about possessing the puck, and that all starts with a won faceoff. If he can’t do that consistently, all his line will be doing is chasing the game each and every shift, which of course, isn’t ideal.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pettersson is all about improvement, so I’m sure he worked on his faceoffs in the offseason. As such, I believe he will get that number up to that 50 percent watermark and thrive centering his own line without Miller’s assistance. With that, the Canucks could have a forward group that looks something like this on opening night (barring injuries, of course):

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Vasily PodkolzinJ.T. MillerConor Garland
Ilya MikheyevElias PetterssonBrock Boeser
Nils HoglanderBo HorvatAndrei Kuzmenko
Tanner PearsonCurtis LazarDakota Joshua
Jason DickinsonWill Lockwood

I don’t know about you, but that looks like a playoff-bound lineup to me, as every line has a strong centerman that can *hopefully* win faceoffs consistently and wingers that can score goals. With this alignment, the Canucks really have a top-nine, instead of the traditional first, second and third line. Hence, Horvat really isn’t the “third-line center”, even though he’s listed as that in the above table. As a result, Boudreau should be able to use his three trios as interchangeable parts depending on which opponent his team is playing. In fact, he could even split the ice time down the middle, creating three first lines and one gritty fourth line.

Thatcher Demko

That’s all there really is to say. Thatcher Demko is going to be a huge reason why the Canucks will be in the mix for the playoffs all season long. After another year that saw him take a step forward in his development, he has taken full control of the crease for the foreseeable future – all on a budget-friendly $5 million AAV contract that will be that way until the 2026-27 season. Talk about a steal, especially when you look at Sergei Bobrovsky who is getting paid $10.5 million AAV at 33 years old while putting up similar numbers as Demko in 2021-22.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Demko is probably the most important player on the Canucks right now, even more so than Miller, Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. Bottom line, if he doesn’t stop the puck consistently this season, they probably won’t make the playoffs. That’s just the hard truth of it. Fortunately, that’s the least of their worries as goaltending is likely the biggest strength of the team at this point. Sure, there’s a little risk involved in having a backup with only nine NHL games under his belt, but considering Spencer Martin’s strong showing in those nine games and the fact that veteran backups (see Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak) have hardly worked out so far, this change has a good chance of paying off.

Related: 3 Canucks Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23

With Martin hopefully taking at least 30 starts (and every second half of a back-to-back), Demko should be well-rested down the stretch and into the playoffs. That alone will be key to the Canucks making the dance in April because Demko looked noticeably tired in the final two weeks of last season. A better, more structured defence would also be a welcomed sight for both goaltenders, as they wouldn’t have to face a plethora of high-danger chances and shots every night.

Full Season of “Bruce There It Is!”

The last reason for optimism going into the 2022-23 season is, of course, Boudreau. The man, the myth, the legend that got Canucks fans giddy all throughout last season chanting “Bruce there it is!” every time the Canucks won, were on the verge of winning or had just scored a goal. Yes, he was that beloved by the fan base – and why not? He made the team an exciting squad to watch again with a high-paced forechecking style, one that had not been seen since the days of prime-Alain Vigneault and the Sedins in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

After Travis Green was fired in December of last year, the Canucks went on an insane run and almost made it into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth going 32-15-10 after starting the season an abysmal 8-15-2. They also improved in every area of their game, especially in their own end, allowing the third-fewest goals in the league from the point Green was fired on Dec. 6, 2021. Boudreau also added a more positive personality to the dressing room and seemingly made it fun to come to the rink again. All in all, he helped shift the culture of the team for the better.

Bruce Boudreau Vancouver Canucks head coach
Bruce Boudreau, Vancouver Canucks head coach (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As for this season, Boudreau has high hopes for his group, saying, “We want to be positive, look at the good things we did and build off of it…There’s always room for improvement, but I think one of the things in talking to the players this summer is that everyone is excited to get back and get ready to play. Talking to Elias (Pettersson), to J.T. (Miller) to Brock (Boeser), to all of them, they can’t wait to get here and start training camp. That’s a great sign.”

Boudreau is also excited to see what Mikheyev and Kuzmenko will add to the Canucks in 2022-23.

“I watched a lot of (Ilya) Mikheyev play, whether video in the summertime or watching the Leafs play over the years. I’m really excited to see him and (Andrei) Kuzmenko. The [conversations] we’ve had and the video we’ve seen is that (Kuzmenko) is a really skilled player. (We might) have gotten a real secret weapon in free agency.”

Related: Canucks 2022-23 Season Preview Section

All in all, the Canucks should have the weapons up front and the goaltending to compete in the Pacific Division and Western Conference wild card race this season. If the defence can stay healthy and the coaching staff that now includes Mike Yeo and Trent Cull can instill a more structured defensive system, they should be able to make the playoffs. Of course, that all depends on the health and continued production from the big boys of Miller, Horvat, Pettersson and Brock Boeser and new additions Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko and Curtis Lazar. But they definitely have the pieces to do it and bring the white towels back to Rogers Arena for the first time since Horvat’s rookie season in 2015.