On Dec. 10, the Vancouver Canucks face a rejuvenated Toronto Maple Leafs team that skated into St. Louis and knocked the Stanley Cup champions’ star goalie Jordan Binnington out of the crease for the first time in his regular-season career.
Wouldn’t the Canucks like to do that again after the controversy Binnington caused when he clearly stated that he – rather than Canucks star Elias Pettersson – should have won the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie last season? I’m sure at least one person will note that aloud prior to the game.
As these two teams ready themselves for that game, what news and rumors are emerging from the team?
Item One: Canucks Injury Update
Sutter Ready to Return
The Canucks have two injuries in the news. First, Brandon Sutter is recovering and might play against Maple Leafs. He practiced on Monday and could be in the lineup. He hasn’t played in almost a month (since Nov. 12); but, during practice, he rotated into the fourth line.
That he skated on the fourth line might be telling because he’s not a typical fourth-line player. He has scored five goals and eight points and has played almost 15 minutes per game. I’m thinking that head coach Travis Green might see letting him start in the bottom six as a way to slide him into the lineup.
Jordie Benn Misses Practice with an Illness
Jordie Benn has an unknown “illness” and didn’t practice Monday. If he doesn’t play, that would be rare. Like his defensive counterpart Chris Tanev, he’d almost have to lose a leg before he wouldn’t play. If Benn did miss the game it would be his first time out of the lineup this season.
The veteran defenseman isn’t much for scoring, but he does have three assists in his last three games. That’s modest, but for him noticeable. If Benn doesn’t play, 23-year-old Jalen Chatfield, who’s in his third season with the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets, is ready to make his first NHL start.
Item Two: Hughes Is Racking up Assists
Quinn Hughes had an assist on the game-winner in Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres. It was another power-play point, which lifts him to 14 assists for the season. Forget about rookie scoring, that assists total puts him second among NHL defensemen for the most assists this season. His 24 points in total also tie him for sixth among all NHL defensemen.
One has to wonder watching Hughes prosper, do the Canucks have another Calder candidate on the roster? No one thought he would be as good as he is, but that’s the same thing fans said about Pettersson. Good drafting by general manager Jim Benning.
Item Three: DiPietro Moves Back to Utica
The Canucks 20-year-old goalie prospect Michael DiPietro was reassigned to the Comets now that Jacob Markstrom has returned from his father’s memorial service. DiPietro didn’t see any action during his call-up, and in his 13 games with the Comets this season he has a 7-4-1 record, a .913 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average.
Item Four: Myers Finally Scores a Goal
One of the biggest surprises on the Canucks this season is the absence of scoring from one of the tallest defensemen in the NHL – Tyler Myers. It isn’t that Myers has played poorly, but there was an expectation that he would add to the scoring – especially on the Canucks’ power play. As fans know, the power play is really rolling, but Myers hasn’t been noticed on the score sheet for much of that success.
However, against the Sabres, Myers scored a short-handed goal and had an even-strength assist. It was the 29-year-old’s first goal for the Canucks and came in his 30th game. It also ended a 15-game scoreless drought. Myers has only six points despite playing beside Hughes and logging some time on the second power-play unit. As I noted, it’s been an odd season for Myers; however, his lack of production hasn’t seemed to harm the team’s power-play units at all.
Item Five: Roussel, We’re Glad You’re Back
Antoine Roussel scored two goals in the team’s overtime win against the Sabres. Roussel had missed the first 28 games of the season healing from offseason knee surgery, but he’s sure made his presence felt on the team with his high-octane play since his comeback.
The 30-year-old veteran Roussel has three goals in two games since making his return; however, it’s not likely he can keep up that pace. Being a point-a-game player is just not in his hockey DNA. However, he’s a feel-good story for the team and he contributes a physical edge on the ice that the team’s missed with Micheal Ferland out of the lineup for such an extended period of time.
Item Six: Miller Is Always Part of the Conversation
I’m not sure I’ve written a Canucks post this season without mentioning J.T. Miller’s name. He certainly has been added value to the team. Once again, the high-scoring, on-ice leader came through for the team. This time it was Miller who scored the overtime goal that handed the Canucks the victory.
The 26-year-old Miller hasn’t missed finding the score sheet in eight games, and during that streak has scored five goals and 11 points. Miller’s personal scoring season mark was set during 2017-18 when he played both with the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, there’s a good chance he’ll break that previous best of 23 goals and 58 points. Already this season, Miller has 13 goals, 18 assists, and 31 points for a more than point-a-game average.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
After the game against the Maple Leafs, the Canucks entertain the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday evening. Should they be able to win these two games, the team would have a 17-11-4 record. That is far better than most expected for this team.
Then, as I suggested, no one expected Miller to be such a strong scorer and leader. To my mind, his play – along with rookie Hughes – has been the difference-maker for this team.