Canucks’ 5 Burning Questions Heading Into 2022-23 Season

Since the opening day of free agency when the Vancouver Canucks signed Ilya Mikheyev, Curtis Lazar and Dakota Joshua, the news wheel has ground to a halt. Beyond watching Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Joni Jurmo and Jacob Truscott represent their countries in Edmonton at the 2022 World Juniors, all fans and media can do is speculate and predict what the season will bring both before and after the puck drops in that same locale in October. As such, let’s dive into five burning questions heading into the 2022-23 season.

1. Will the Canucks Trade or Re-Sign Miller?

This is without a doubt the biggest question that needs to be answered before the end of the season. Seemingly a part of the rumor mill for a decade, J.T. Miller’s status with the Canucks is still up in the air as to whether he will re-sign with the team or be traded. While president Jim Rutherford has said in the past that there’s no reason to panic until a month before the trade deadline, it would be better for everyone if this situation was resolved sooner rather than later.

Related: Canucks Still Have Trade Partners For J.T. Miller

Obviously, the Canucks would love to keep the 99-point man from 2021-22, but the term and money have to make sense. If it ends up not working out contract-wise, they must move on and get something substantial for him. What the package will be is anyone’s guess, but if I were in Rutherford or Patrik Allvin’s shoes, I would be swinging for the fences and looking in the direction of what the Florida Panthers got for 29-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau. Now, they might have to throw in another asset to get that type of deal done like Bill Zito did with MacKenzie Weegar, but in the end, it could be worth the extra cost.

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

Regardless of what happens, the Canucks need to make a decision on Miller way before the pressure of the deadline in March. The worst-case scenario would be losing him for nothing like they have done with many assets in the past. While it would be a tough call to make, a trade has to happen regardless of where they are in the standings – especially if it’s clear that he will be testing the free agent waters in the offseason. The reward of an improbable Stanley Cup is just not worth the risk.

2. Does Dickinson Bounce Back & Live Up to His Contract?

Now entering the second year of a three-year contract he signed with former general manager Jim Benning, Jason Dickinson has a lot to prove going into the 2022-23 season. Once thought of as the answer to the third-line center question and paid as such ($2.65 million average annual value), a bounce-back season has to be in the cards for him to stay with the Canucks until the deal expires in 2024. Unfortunately, he will have to improve on a lot of things to make that happen. From his poor performance in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill to his lack of offensive game at even strength, he didn’t do a lot for his money in 2021-22.

Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks
Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the Canucks to have success this season, Dickinson has to be more of a factor in all facets of the game. It shouldn’t be an impossible ask considering he was an important part of the Dallas Stars before he was dealt to Vancouver. In fact, his former GM Jim Nill praised the forward and gave him a glowing recommendation when asked what he would eventually bring to his new team.

“You’ll love him there…Great kid, great teammate, leader in the dressing room. Just a real solid player who can play anywhere in the line-up…You can put him anywhere, he’s responsible, he’s physical, and he can skate…”

It would be great if the Canucks could get Nill’s version of Dickinson in 2022-23, rather than the one they got in 2021-22.

3. Will Kuzmenko Be Panarin, Gusev, or Something In Between?

It’s difficult to project how a player that has spent his entire playing career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) will perform in the NHL. It would be insane if Andrei Kuzmenko became someone like Artemi Panarin, but that type of luck doesn’t come around every day. More likely, he will be something between him and Nikita Gusev, who had a great first season with the New Jersey Devils in 2019-20, then flamed out only to return to the KHL in 2021-22.

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For the Canucks and their fans’ sake, let’s hope that Kuzmenko will be closer to Panarin than Gusev and put up a consistent 20-25 goals in a top-nine role. He definitely has the skills to do it as evidenced by his 85 goals and 200 points in the KHL. Known for his great hands in and around the crease, he reminds me of Tyler Toffoli style-wise as the former Canuck did a lot of his damage in that area of the ice. If he can become even a poor man’s Toffoli, I think fans, coaches and management alike will come away from the season with a smile on their faces.

4. Where Will Mikheyev Play & Who Will Be His Linemates?

The second Russian the Canucks added in the offseason was Mikheyev, a speedy versatile forward who was also signed out of the KHL, this time by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019. After scoring a career-high 21 goals in 53 games last season, he will be bringing his intriguing game to the West Coast in 2022-23. Projected by Daily Faceoff to start on a line with Dickinson and fellow Russian Vasily Podkolzin, he should add some speed and skill to a lineup that desperately needs it.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion that Mikheyev will be in the bottom six come opening night. I think head coach Bruce Boudreau will try many line combinations in training camp and the preseason and come to the conclusion that Mikheyev is best utilized at the top of his lineup. In fact, I would put him on a line with Conor Garland and Bo Horvat and create a speedy matchup trio that could both defend and score goals. With Horvat’s faceoff abilities and Garland and Mikheyev’s intense forechecking, the other team would never have the puck.

5. How Will the Much-Maligned Canucks Defence Corps Shake Out?

Apart from the Miller situation, the other big question going into 2022-23 is the state of the defence. It’s been well-documented that the Canucks should improve the defence corps if possible as rumours have floated around about potentially moving one or both of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers for an upgrade. That has proven to be easier said than done, as nothing has happened as of yet – in or out. Unless you count the additions of depth defenceman Wyatt Kalynuk and Christian Wolanin, the same group will likely be trotted out when they start the season on Oct. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers. As such, if the season began today, the Canucks’ defence pairings would look like this:

Quinn Hughes – Luke Schenn

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers

Travis Dermott – Tucker Poolman

Jack Rathbone

Oliver Ekman-Larsson Vancouver Canucks
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s not necessarily a horrible group by any means, it just lacks depth if injuries strike. There is also the question of how they will be deployed under the new direction of Trent Cull, who Boudreau stated will be tasked with running the defence after the departure of Brad Shaw. Cull hasn’t coached in the NHL before, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out when the season begins.

Related: 3 Canucks Poised for Bigger Roles in 2022-23

Regardless of who ends up behind the controls, expect to see a lot more structure in the Canucks’ game with quick puck movement out of their own zone and less reliance on Thatcher Demko to bail them out – considering that was a major talking point during Rutherford and Allvin’s end-of-season media availability. If that happens consistently, the current group of defencemen might just be enough to get them back to the playoffs in April.

Canucks Have Unanswered Questions, But More Optimism Going Into 2022-23

These five questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what needs to be answered going into the 2022-23 season. What’s clear is that there is a lot more optimism than this time last year. From a head coach that seems to have found the pulse of the team to an undisputed starting goaltender in Thatcher Demko – not to mention the deepest forward group in years – the playoffs are something that could be in the cards for the first time in a long time.