The Vancouver Canucks’ first 10 games this season have been mostly positive. They have scored more, allowed less and have a goaltending tandem that keeps them in games more often than not. They also have two top lines and a defensive core that has produced a lot of offence early on.
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However, the Canucks still have room to improve and have shown some cracks in the armor in a few of the games. They are still a young team with a young captain learning the ropes, so growing pains should be expected. With that said, here are seven takeaways from the first ten games of the season, plus the bonus game from Monday night.
Hughes Is the Real Deal
Quinn Hughes has only played 16 games in the National Hockey League and has put up ten points already. He’s been a one-man breakout machine and has added a clip to the highlight reel in almost every game. His skating and edges have been noticeable nightly, and he’s now running the top unit power play with ease.
His confidence with the puck was on full display against the Washington Capitals when he went coast to coast to set up Brock Boeser for the tying goal. I’m sure that won’t be the last time we see him do that in his career. That’s the exciting part of it – he’s only going to get better.
Head coach Travis Green has put tremendous trust in the 20-year-old defenceman early on. Playing over 20 minutes a night on average, Hughes has looked every bit of a top-two pairing defenceman. His advanced stats are off the charts right now ranking in the top ten in multiple categories. He is second amongst the defence core in scoring with seven points and is second in Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and Fenwick percentage with 54.8 and 53.7 ratings respectively. Needless to say, Hughes is fitting into the NHL quite nicely.
He still has some occasional miscues defensively, but those can be remedied with time. His ability to break out the puck has changed the Canucks’ defence almost overnight. It’s the Quinn Hughes Show folks, let’s enjoy every minute of it.
Goaltending Is not a Problem
Goaltending is a huge part of the Canucks’ success so far this season. Despite the game against the Capitals, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have become a formidable duo in the crease. Under the tutelage of goaltending guru Ian Clarke, both goaltenders have looked calm and in control almost every game. Markstrom’s numbers took a dive after allowing the five goals against the Capitals, but overall, you have to be happy with the two guys behind the mask right now.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Green handles his goaltenders going forward. Demko looked very confident and stable in the four games he played and could be in line for a few more starts then previously expected. With Markstrom struggling against the Capitals, Demko got the call against the Florida Panthers on Monday and recorded his third win of the season.
Captain Horvat, Road Warrior
Bo Horvat’s performance on the last road trip was something to behold. Going into it he still had a big doughnut in the goal column. Fast forward to the end, and he was leading the team in scoring. Over the four games, he accumulated five goals, including his first hat trick in the NHL. I would call that a pretty good trip. He followed that up with another two assists against the Capitals and another assist against the Panthers, so he is definitely firing on all cylinders right now.
He faced his first challenge as a captain when he had to answer for his team’s collapse against the Capitals. He said all the right things after that game and responded with a strong effort against the Panthers on Monday.
It’s a 60-minute hockey game for a reason and (Washington) won the Stanley Cup for a reason…They’ve got some good players over there. We had to play a full 60 to beat that squad.Bo Horvat
Overall, I believe the team is in good hands with Horvat as the captain. So far he has played the same way with the C as he did without it. That’s a good sign for a team that will need a strong leader to pull them through the grind of the next 71 games and hopefully beyond.
The New Guys Are Alright
On paper, the additions of Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, JT Miller, and Micheal Ferland were supposed to make the Canucks a better team. For the most part, they have come as advertised. Myers is sometimes an adventure defensively, but his long reach and ability to move the puck is an asset on the blue line. Benn is a steady presence on the third pairing with Troy Stecher and is a huge part of the Canucks’ fourth-ranked penalty kill.
Miller is probably the addition that has made the most impact on the team so far. He started the season with Horvat and Tanner Pearson on the second line, but now is part of the cleverly named Lotto Line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. He currently is second on the team in points with 13 and averages 19 minutes a night on average. It’s looking like the trade is paying off so far.
Ferland has not had the same success as the others so far. He started in Miller’s position on the top line for the first two games, then was demoted to the third line. Since the beginning of the season, he has seen time on almost every line and only has six points so far.
His physicality has been lacking and his ice time has dwindled to ten minutes a game on average. That is definitely not what we were expecting from a guy that accumulated 40 points last season. However, it’s still early, and there were some positive signs against the Capitals when he played with Horvat and Jake Virtanen. He then followed that up with a strong game against the Panthers posting two assists in the win. So it’s looking like the real Ferland is starting to emerge, which is good for the team moving forward.
Overall, all the new guys brought in by general manager Jim Benning have made a positive impact on the team. If the new additions continue to bring the same game the rest of the season, the odds are very good that the Canucks could finally snag a playoff spot.
The Defence Is Solid and Deep
Early on this season, the defence core of the Canucks has contributed 27 points to the offence. That is a welcome development for a team that has struggled to find production from their back end in the past few seasons. Leading the charge offensively is Alex Edler with nine points. He seems to be just picking up where he left off last season when he led the defence in scoring with 34 points. If he stays healthy, it looks like he will shatter those numbers.
Not far behind is the rookie Hughes with seven points. As mentioned earlier, he is driving the attack from the backend. I’m sure just his presence back there gives the rest of the defence core confidence to jump up in the play.
I think Chris Tanev has benefitted the most offensively from being paired with Hughes. Over the first ten games, he’s shown more confidence in his offensive game and has contributed four points already. His offensive zone start percentage is also a career-high at 48.6 percent. To put that in perspective, he only started in the offensive zone just over 37 percent of the time last season. He’s not being used as a shutdown defenceman this season, so that’s freed up his offensive game a little more.
The remaining core of Benn, Myers and Stecher have provided some offence and steady defence leading the Canucks to an impressive second place in goals against. The defence is also the deepest it’s been in years. Beyond the top six, the team still has NHL options in Oscar Fantenberg, Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, and Olli Juolevi. If injuries strike, and we all know they will eventually, the defence won’t suffer a massive downgrade like in past seasons.
The Fourth Line Is Valuable
For the first time in a long time, the Canucks have a fourth line that has an identity. Tyler Motte, Jay Beagle, and Tim Schaller have formed a very effective unit early this season. Having said that, Motte is now out with a broken bone in his foot, so he won’t be available for a couple of weeks. However, when he was in the lineup, he provided speed, tenacity and great penalty killing.
In fact, they all have been a major part of the team’s solid fourth-ranked penalty kill. Beagle currently leads the team in face-off percentage with an exceptional 65 percent success rate and Schaller already has four goals, including one shorthanded.
It took Schaller 38 games to score his first goal as a Canuck last season, and he only had three overall. This season he’s looking more like the player that scored 12 goals with the Boston Bruins in the 2017-18 season. If he can continue that sort of production, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with him being a mainstay on the fourth line this season.
Overall, the line has been a pleasant surprise. Lots of people, me included, left Schaller off the roster when they projected the lineups for this season. But he put his head down and forced his way aboard. If the fourth line can continue the same work ethic throughout the season, the Canucks will always have a reliable option to throw out on the ice when they need an injection of energy. That’s something we haven’t been able to say for a while.
Not Playing 60 Minutes
Not everything can be sunshine and rainbows. Despite the Canucks’ strong start to the season, they still have things to improve upon. One is their ability to play 60 minutes of solid hockey. In recent games against the Capitals and New York Rangers, the Canucks had leads going into the final frame. In one they were badly outplayed and in the other outscored. If you hope to make the playoffs, these two things cannot happen, especially in the third period.
They got away with it against the Rangers but got burned against a better team in the Capitals. Blowing a three-goal lead in any game shows that you have some stuff to work on. Hopefully, they will learn from the experience and avoid that type of period in the future.
The Canucks’ first ten games were very positive. The air around the team is still of the optimistic variety, so that’s also a plus. Pettersson and Boeser haven’t hit their stride yet either, so there’s still that to look forward to. Even though Pettersson is over a point-a-game with 14 points in 11 games. Most of his points have been assists, so once he starts scoring, the NHL better head for the hills.
Hughes will continue to improve, and he’s already a human highlight reel. Miller has been a revelation since coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Jake Virtanen is starting to produce too. So there’s not much to complain about right now in Canucks Nation.
To top it all off, they responded with an impressive 7-2 win against the Panthers after their first difficult loss of the season. All in all, the team just feels different this season. The ride has just begun Canucks fans, hold onto your hats and enjoy the next 10!
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.