The Vancouver Canucks‘ 12-4-1 record and hot start to the 2023-24 season is by the team’s top players. Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Quinn Hughes lead the league in points with 27. Meanwhile, Boeser is tied for the league lead in goals with 13 in 17, and Thatcher Demko is among the top goalies and a Vezina Trophy favourite.
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However, the top players aren’t the only ones who deserve credit for the team’s impressive play so far. The club has role players who have stepped up on multiple occasions, whether they’re scoring big goals, making small plays that lead to scoring chances or big defensive plays. Here are four unsung heroes for the Canucks this season.
Since returning to the lineup, Ilya Mikheyev has impressed. Through 13 games, he’s scored six goals and posted nine points, all at even strength. In the nine games with the Russian winger, the Canucks are 10-2-1.
Additionally, he’s helped his linemates improve their play, especially Andrei Kuzmenko. In the first four games of the season, he scored one goal and posted two points but received criticism from head coach Rick Tocchet. The head coach said Kuzmenko was struggling and thought once Mikheyev returned, his game would improve. Since Mikheyev’s return, Kuzmenko has scored two goals and posted 12 points in 12 games.
Mikheyev’s first season with the Canucks ended as he had to get ACL surgery. The forward was diagnosed with the injury before the season but was cleared by doctors to play through it. However, his speed wasn’t really on display. Since coming back, that speed that made him a player the organization wanted has been on display. With him in the lineup, the Canucks have a great two-way forward who has had a positive impact on the team.
Phillip Di Giuseppe
The Canucks top six consists of their highest-paid forwards in Pettersson, Kuzmenko, Mikheyev, Boeser, and Miller. The sixth player in that group is Phillip Di Giuseppe, who has the second-lowest cap hit on the roster at $775,000. Di Giuseppe has played well over his cap hit, although he’s only scored three goals and posted seven points in 17 games. He has been the perfect linemate for Miller and Boeser as he’s shown impressive chemistry with both, whether that’s making the right play or doing a great job on the forecheck.
Di Giuseppe being a competent top-six forward allows the Canucks to place other players in their bottom six. Conor Garland and Nils Hoglander are capable of playing in the top six but have been effective in the bottom six, providing the Canucks with depth. As long as Di Giuseppe continues to play hard and do the small stuff, he’ll be effective as a top-six forward.
The Canucks acquired Casey DeSmith from the Montreal Canadiens for Tanner Pearson and a 2025 third-round pick. DeSmith joined the team as a veteran backup, replacing the traded Spencer Martin. Although the Canucks lost 5-2 to the Calgary Flames in the 32-year-old’s last game on Nov. 16, he has done more than what he’s asked for as a backup to Demko.
Through six games started, he has a 4-1-1 record and has played an additional game, coming in for Demko late during the season opener against the Edmonton Oilers. Throughout his seven games played, he posted a 2.89 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Additionally, the overtime loss came in the back half of a back-to-back against the New York Rangers. DeSmith helps by taking a load off of Demko and allowing him to perform at a high level throughout the season. He has done exactly that while helping the Canucks pick up wins.
The Canucks made a key addition before the regular season started in Sam Lafferty. They acquired the forward for a 2024 fifth-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since joining the Canucks, he has centred the fourth line and provided the team with great depth. He has three goals and six points in 17 games. So far, the highlight of his season is the game-winning goal he scored against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Canucks bottom-six has been a problem for the club in the past. However, general manager Patrik Allvin has changed that by adding players like Lafferty to provide depth support. His line usually takes defensive responsibility, as he has a 61.1 defensive zone start percentage. Lafferty takes responsibility on both ends of the ice.
Canucks Getting Help From Outside of Stars
Although Pettersson, Hughes, Miller, Demko, and Boeser have been stellar to start the season, they have received support from their teammates. Mikheyev’s return has been impressive as he has been productive and is back to being the speedy forward the Canucks signed last offseason. Meanwhile, Di Giuseppe is a solid top-six forward who provides his line with solid forechecking and is a smart player. DeSmith is doing his part as a backup. Lastly, Lafferty is a great fourth-line center and takes up defensive responsibility. The Canucks are off to a hot start, and these three players deserve credit for doing their part.