Canucks Embrace Youth Movement as Virtanen, McCann and Hutton Crack The Roster

As of Monday, the Canucks had fully embraced the youth movement.

Well, not entirely. With at least seven key core players over the age of 32, the Canucks are by no means the youngest team in the NHL. However for them to keep two 19-year-olds in the starting lineup for opening night is the most dramatic youth movement this team has ever seen.

Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann, along with 22-year-old defenceman Ben Hutton will make up the trio of rookies who will begin the season with the Canucks. 30-year-old Adam Cracknell also made the team after his strong showing in training camp.

The tough decision to keep these three on the team meant that the Canucks had to place some veterans on waivers Monday. Those who fell victim included 24-year-old Linden Vey and 22-year-old defenceman Frankie Corrado. 27-year-old defenceman Alex Biega was also waived following a strong camp.

While the decision to waive those two players will be criticized, you have to love managements’ decision to actually give NHL jobs to the players who deserve it. All three players earned jobs with strong training camps and will rightfully start the season with the big club.

Waiving Vey: A Logical Decision

Waiving goodbye to Vey was almost inevitable after his poor showing in training camp. Despite being given second line ice-time in a couple preseason games, Vey failed to impress and was easily outplayed by both Virtanen and McCann.

Linden Vey was among the Canucks final cuts after his poor preseason. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Linden Vey was among the Canucks final cuts after his poor preseason. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Vey was also never a good fit for the Canucks bottom-six. Even though he put on ten pounds during the summer, his game was never suited to a grinding role that he would have played with the Canucks. Even if he gets claimed, it’s not going to be a big loss to the organization. He has fallen down the Canucks depth chart behind all of Virtanen, McCann, and even Cracknell at centre. You could even argue that Cole Cassels is a more-valued asset in the Canucks organization.

The big loss was the second-round pick that the Canucks gave up to get Vey at the draft in 2014. The Los Angeles Kings acquired defencemen Roland McKeown with that pick and later traded him to Carolina in the Andrej Sekera swap. Not that the Canucks would have selected him, but he would have been a good addition to a rather thin pool of prospect defencemen in the Canucks system.

Was Waiving Corrado The Right Move?

Even though Corrado had an unspectacular training camp he is still one of the best prospect in the Canucks system, and exposing him to the waiver wire isn’t exactly good asset management. Corrado is still young with lots of upside, and losing him for nothing isn’t an ideal situation for the Canucks.

As solid as Corrado has the potential to be, he clearly isn’t as dynamic as Hutton. Corrado easily had the leg up on Hutton coming into training camp, being a veteran of 125 NHL/AHL games compared to Hutton’s 4 AHL games. However Hutton wowed both fans and management with his dynamic skating and playmaking ability. He often jumped up into the rush during preseason and was successful in creating offence for the Canucks.

It’s been a long time since Canucks fans have had reason to get this excited about a rookie defenceman joining the team, and Hutton sure deserves a chance to showcase his abilities in hockey games that matter.

More Evidence of the Youth Movement

Pretty much all the Canucks veterans underwhelmed in training camp. If that continues into the regular season then the Canucks don’t have a hope of making the playoffs, regardless of how well their young guns play. Here’s a look at the Canucks five leading scorers during the preseason

1. Bo Horvat 5 4 1 5
2. Ben Hutton 7 1 4 5
3. Sven Baertschi 6 0 5 5
4. Jared McCann 6 2 2 4
5. Jake Virtanen 6 2 2 4

Other than these fives, no Canuck had more than two points in the preseason. The five players listed above combined for nine of the Canucks 15 preseason goals, and the line of Sven Baertschi, Horvat, and Virtanen combined for ten of the Canucks 40 preseason points in one night against Edmonton.

Other than the trio of rookies about to play for the Canucks, Baertschi and Horvat had their say in the Canucks youth movement with their strong preseason performances. There were a lot of questions about whether Baertschi could handle the top-six role that he is being gifted by the Canucks. He didn’t look strong during his first couple of preseason games but slowly progressed, and ended up posting all five of his assists in the next two preseason games.

What was even more promising is that Baertschi built chemistry with Horvat. These two will likely begin the season on a line with sniper Radim Vrbata, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if Head Coach Willie Desjardins wants to give Virtanen a second look on that line at some point in the future.

Horvat was easily the Canucks best player during training camp, and he looks poised to at least double his 25 points from last season. That may be high expectations for the second year player, but he’s raised them himself with his strong play in the second-half of last season combined with his possessed preseason play.

This Is Only The First Step for Virtanen, McCann

There is no guarantee that Virtanen or McCann will have the same success that Bo Horvat had as a 19-year-old last season. They will have nine games to show that they belong in the NHL this season before the Canucks burn a year off of their entry-level deals. It’s a smart move to at least keep them around and see how they perform, because the Canucks can bring another player up from Utica if they decide that either Virtanen or McCann should go back to junior. Hello, Brendan Gaunce.

The fact that the Canucks are going with two 19-year-olds is creating a buzz in this city. For a team with falling ticket sales (their decade-long sellout streak ended last October) and low expectations, injecting some youth and energy into the lineup is likely going to pique interest and sell more seats. Don’t think that didn’t cross President Trevor Linden’s mind in the discussions on whether to keep the trio of rookies.

It would have been an easier decision to not expose young players such as Vey and Corrado to the waiver wire, but you have to love this bold and exciting move by Canucks management.