After a 2021-22 season that had more twists and turns than a roller coaster, the Vancouver Canucks head into 2022-23 with the potential for even more as J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat are entering contract years with unrestricted free agency (UFA) on the horizon in 2023. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope within the fan base (and the locker room for that matter). Under the direction of Bruce Boudreau, who is about to lead his first training camp in Vancouver, the team has unprecedented depth at forward and a system that – if played through a full 82 games – would have gotten them 106 points and a coveted playoff spot last season. So what does that mean for the future? Let’s take a look at four hot takes for the 2022-23 season.
1. Podkolzin Scores 30 Goals
Coming off a solid rookie season where he put up 14 goals and 26 points, Vasily Podkolzin won’t have a sophomore slump, but rather a sophomore surge in 2022-23. Yes, I am predicting that he will more than double his production and hit the 30-goal mark in his second campaign in the NHL. While I could have been conservative and predicted 20 goals, that’s not really a hot take, right?
As the season went on, Podkolzin seemed to get better and better as he gained the confidence of Boudreau and started to get more reps in the top six alongside Miller, Horvat and Elias Pettersson. His size, speed and physicality also began to present themselves more consistently from game to game and shift to shift, as he finished the season with 17 straight games of icetime in the double digits. He even hit a career-high 18:44 against the Dallas Stars on April 18 – a game he posted two points in, capping off a three-game stretch where he recorded four goals and six points.
What became clear as the 2021-22 season went along was the fact that Podkolzin thrived with skilled players on his line. When he was relegated to the third and fourth lines, he looked out of place. However, particularly with Miller, he appeared to be more engaged and without a doubt more dangerous. If he is able to play with the likes of Miller and Pettersson over a full season – and get consistent power play time – there is a high probability that he finishes in the neighbourhood of 30 goals. If you don’t believe me, take it from the Canucks’ best player and first 90-plus point man since Daniel Sedin.
He’s got unlimited potential. It’s crazy. He can be the most powerful skater on the ice, have the most powerful shot on the ice, very humble, young kid. He wants to learn, [he’s the] first guy on, last guy off at the age of 21. He’s physically engaged, he’s built like a man already. I mean, the sky’s the limit…J.T. Miller on Podkolzin’s NHL potential
If a veteran who has been around the block a few times and has played with stars like Rick Nash, Steven Stamkos and Brad Richards predicts greatness coming from Podkolzin, then we should too.
2. Hoglander Bounces Back & Scores 20 Goals
This might be the hottest take of the four presented here, considering Nils Hoglander is coming off a disappointing season both in production and health. Finishing the 2021-22 campaign with only 10 goals and 18 points in 60 games and getting shut down due to a upper-left-leg/core muscle issue, he will be looking to bounce back to the 2020-21 form that saw him impress everyone with his tenacity and work ethic.
Because of said work ethic, I am putting some of my betting chips on Hoglander to not only return to form but also hit 20 goals for the first time in his career. With an offseason of rehab under his belt, he should be able to regain the speed that was seemingly lost last season and hopefully grab the confidence of Boudreau who wasn’t always impressed with his defensive game.
Contrary to my colleage Adam Kierszenblat’s opinion, I believe Hoglander still has a place on the Canucks and that he will end up being a key part of the lineup when the 2022-23 season comes to an end. If he’s able to prove to Boudreau that he can be a good two-way player (which he definitely was during his rookie season – in my view anyway), then he should get 12-15 minutes of consistent ice time shuttling around the lineup like a Jannik Hansen or Alex Burrows. His energy is contagious, and at only 21 years old, still has oodles of potential as a goalscoring, utility winger. As it is with anyone that possesses work ethic as an attribute, it’s best to never count them out as a cadidate for a surprising comeback.
3. Pettersson Hits the Century Mark in Points
It’s no secret that Pettersson struggled early last season to put up points. However, once his wrist and confidence were at 100 percent, the points flowed like the Hoover Dam. Surprisingly finishing with a career-high 32 goals and 68 points, every concern that was in the minds of fans and media at the beginning of the campaign were thrown out the window.
Pettersson is a unique and elite talent capable of superstardom. Something that general manager (GM) Patrik Allvin didn’t believe he had when he stated early in his tenure that the Canucks didn’t have a superstar on their roster.
We don’t have the superstar. We’re not a contending team right now. So every single player has something to prove to us. And that’s going to be the mindset moving forward.
I think it’s safe to say that Pettersson changed his new GM’s mind as he put up 10 goals and 19 points in 12 games since Allvin made that statement. May be he did it to motivate his young superstar? I guess we will never know. Regardless, if he can sustain that type of pace over a full 82 games in 2022-23, he will easily hit 100 points for the first time in his career. Knowing his skill level and drive to always be better than the season before, I would not put it past him.
4. Canucks Make the Playoffs & Finish Second in the Pacific Division
As mentioned, the Canucks were on pace for 106 points if the same winning percentage was applied to an 82-game season. That would have placed them above the Edmonton Oilers for second place in the Pacific Division, and by extension, in the playoffs. Now that Boudreau will be the head coach from the beginning of camp through to the end of the season, the hope will be that he can translate that abbreviated success to a full campaign in 2022-23.
It’s not far-fetched to think that could happen either, as the division champion Calgary Flames lost two 100-point players in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk in the offseason to free agency and trade respectively. While they did potentially replace 115 of those points with Jonathan Huberdeau, there’s no guarantee that he will click as well as they did with top-line center Elias Lindholm. There’s also the question of who will play with the duo and whether he will have as much success as either Gaudreau or Tkachuk did. Either way, they will probably take a step back.
As for the other contenders, the Los Angeles Kings could present an obstacle to this hot take coming true, but that will all depend on Jonathan Quick continuing to win the battle with Father Time and Cal Petersen bouncing back from a mediocre season. The Vegas Golden Knights are a mess without yet another key player in Max Pacioretty and the recent announcement that Robin Lehner will be out the entire 2022-23 season due to surgery. The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have exciting young prospects coming up, but are probably a couple of seasons away from contention. Finally, the Seattle Kraken, who, while much improved from an offseason of changes, still have a lot of question marks and will likely finish outside of the playoff picture after battling for a wild-card spot.
All in all, the Canucks have just as good of a chance as the Flames and Kings of finishing second in the Pacific Division. With their depth at forward, solid goaltending provided by Thatcher Demko and hopefully-improved defensive structure led by a new group that includes Trent Cull and Mike Yeo, I am betting they will surprise everyone and make the playoffs as the second seed in the Pacific.
Lots of Optimism & Uncertainty Going Into 2022-23
If just two of these hot takes come true, the Canucks will be in a good position to not only make the playoffs, but also make some noise when they get there. Having said that, there is still a lot of uncertainty going into 2022-23. From the ongoing contract talks with Miller and Horvat to a defence corps that is one injury away from being as thin as tissue paper, things could, unfortunately, go the other way too. We will just have to wait and see, beginning with the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton and finishing with the last regular season game in April against the Arizona Coyotes – and hopefully extending into the playoffs as well.
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.