With a new front office led by Patrik Allvin, the Vancouver Canucks signed a handful of players on the first day of free agency. While none of them were big-ticket players like Johnny Gaudreau or Claude Giroux, they were able to convince a mid-tier one in Ilya Mikheyev to join the exciting future that now includes Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Andrei Kuzmenko.
Related: 2022 NHL Free Agent Signing Tracker
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the five players that now call Vancouver home.
Definitely the biggest signing of the day (for the Canucks anyway), Mikheyev inked a four-year deal worth $4.75 million in average annual value (AAV). A big price tag to be sure, but not one linked to a long-term contract. He’s also not on the wrong side of 30, being 27 and firmly in his prime. It’s not like Allvin signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal when he was 31, which is what Benning did back in 2016-17 after the veteran Swede had a career season of 30 goals.
Signed out of Russia by the Toronto Maple Leafs when he was already 25 years old, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Mikheyev is the exact package Allvin and Rutherford were searching for when they took over the team and assessed its strengths and weaknesses. A lack of speed was identified, and the Omsk native has that in spades. Arguably one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, he is a handful for defenders when he is darting towards them at full tilt. He is also a terrific penalty killer, which was a major sore spot for the Canucks last season as they finished with one of the league’s worst PK units at 74.9 percent (tied with the Seattle Kraken for 31st in the league behind the Detroit Red Wings).
Mikheyev also plays a very sound two-way game and is a possession monster, posting one of the best Corsi-for percentages on the Maple Leafs at 55.3 percent. His career high of 21 goals and 32 points in 53 games might be a flash in the pan with his unsustainable 14.3 shooting percentage, but that doesn’t mean he won’t add value to the bottom six. Even when he’s not scoring, he is still versatile enough to play up and down the lineup and contribute on special teams where he scored four power-play goals and four shorthanded goals. If the Canucks are lucky, he could become a player like Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, a Swiss Army knife that can adapt to any role his head coach gives him.
In addition to all his skill on the ice, Mikheyev will bring positive energy to the dressing room. In Toronto, he was a fan favorite for his friendly personality and overall demeanour, so I would expect more of the same in Vancouver; which is great, because Canucks Nation needs another character to gravitate towards. They haven’t had someone like that since Kevin Bieksa walked the hallways of Rogers Arena in the 2010s.
The first signing out of Vancouver was somewhat expected, as Curtis Lazar was rumored to be a target of the Canucks way before free agency opened its doors on Wednesday. The Salmon Arm, BC native grew up cheering for the Canucks, so it really wasn’t a surprise that he decided to sign on the dotted line when they came knocking on his door.
Selected 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators back in 2013, Lazar signed a three-year contract with the Canucks worth $1 million AAV. Likely acquired to replace Juho Lammikko, the 27-year-old will bring size and grit to the fourth-line center position along with a decent body of work in the faceoff circle. While he hasn’t lived up to his first-round status, he has become a reliable option in the bottom six, especially in the hit department where he’s eclipsed the century mark four times. In fact, he set a career-high with 186 last season, which would have been second behind Luke Schenn’s 273 and 14 more than J.T. Miller, who led all forwards. What’s more impressive is that he did it playing only 12 minutes a night.
Needless to say, Lazar checks a lot of the boxes that Allvin and Jim Rutherford had going into free agency, which were size, speed and ‘sandpaper’. Touted for his two-way gritty game before he was drafted, he is exactly what the Canucks need in their bottom six, as he will stand up for his teammates and make the opposition think twice about taking liberties on stars like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
“Lazar is a coach’s dream. He plays an honest, hard-working game at both ends of the ice and will stand up for teammates at a moment’s notice. He possesses the soft hands in tight to score, and is unselfish in his approach to spreading it around. He’s known for his infectious smile and bubbly personality, and has the leadership traits that made him an alternate captain in just his second season in the WHL…He plays hard defensively and will deliver a big hit when the moment presents itself. Although not overly shifty or dynamic, he does everything well. Given his presence and hard-working demeanor, Lazar is a safe pick with a lot of potential.” – Patrick King, Sportsnet.ca
Lazar may not put up 20 goals, but he will play the perfect game on the fourth line and be a character guy in the dressing room. He is also a physical presence and can score when the opportunity presents itself. Sounds like the perfect fourth-liner to me. Now all they need is two other guys like him to fill it out, Tyler Motte, anyone?
After the duo that will definitely play for the Canucks during the 2022-23 season, we turn to the depth pieces that could potentially fill in when the injury bug strikes. First up is goaltender Collin Delia, who signed a one-year deal worth $750,000. With Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin manning the crease for the big club, he will likely be the third goaltender and the first call-up should one of them go down with an injury. Rick Dhaliwal, who co-hosts Donnie and Dhali, spoke of the team needing a veteran netminder in the minors, and Delia certainly meets that criteria as he has 112 games of American Hockey League (AHL) experience.
Delia has also seen time in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that signed him out of Merrimack College back in the summer of 2018. In 32 appearances, he has a record of 9-12-5 along with a 3.68 goals-against average (GAA) and .904 save percentage (SV%). While those numbers aren’t flattering, he was behind a very suspect defence and system in Chicago, which might explain the inflated stats.
The biggest question to come out of this signing is, what does this mean for Mikey DiPietro and his future in Vancouver? The former third-round pick in 2017 has been the subject of trade rumors as recently as the 2022 NHL Draft, so this could mean a move is imminent. If that ultimately happens, the baby Canucks will be running with a tandem consisting of Delia and 21-year-old Arturs Silovs, who is coming off a very impressive World Championship performance with Latvia where he posted a 1.22 GAA and .952 SV% in four games.
To bolster their depth on defence, the Canucks also added Wyatt Kalynuk who, like Delia, spent most of the 2021-22 season in Rockford. He was fairly productive there too, scoring seven goals and 27 points in 52 games. The mobile blueliner was selected in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017 and debuted in the NHL during the 2020-21 season where he burst onto the scene with four goals and nine points in 21 games. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to his sophomore campaign, as he only got into five games with the Blackhawks in 2021-22 going pointless with a minus-3 in the plus/minus column.
Kalynuk won’t be expected to take on a role in the Canucks’ defence corps going into the 2022-23 season. He was signed for depth when the inevitable injury to one of their regulars happens. When and if he gets into the lineup, he should provide speed and a bit of an offensive flair to the back end as he’s been known to jump into the play. He could also fill in on the second power play unit if needed.
The final piece of the free agency puzzle from Day 1 was 26-year-old Dakota Joshua, a former fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2014. Again, signed to strengthen the minor league team in Abbotsford and for depth should the parent club need it, he could actually be a dark horse candidate to fill out the fourth line alongside Lazar and potentially Nils Hoglander. Known to be a physical presence (77 hits in 2021-22) and a decent faceoff man (53.3 percent – albeit in a small sample size of 75 draws), he definitely fits the description of ‘sandpaper’ and a player that is difficult to play against.
If Joshua does not make the Canucks out of training camp, he should be a massive addition down the freeway in Abbotsford. While he only had nine goals and 20 points in the regular season, he exploded for seven goals and 15 points in the AHL Playoffs with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the AHL affiliate for the St. Louis Blues. In fact, he was a huge reason why they made it all the way to the Calder Cup Final against the Chicago Wolves, where they were defeated in five games. The former Ohio State Buckeye will be an interesting player to watch in training camp, that’s for sure.
Day 1 of Free Agency Was Just the Beginning of the Canucks’ Offseason
All in all, the Canucks weren’t too busy on the first day of free agency but added a couple of intriguing pieces for the 2022-23 season in Lazar and Mikheyev. The work isn’t done yet though as Allvin still needs to clear cap space and upgrade the defence before the puck drops in October. Oh yes, there’s also still the matter of J.T. Miller and whether he will be traded or not and the potential for more moves involving the likes of Tanner Pearson, Tyler Myers, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and others. Long story short, Day 1 was just the beginning of a long offseason that could still see some massive changes to the roster before training camp and the Young Stars tournament gets going in Whistler and Penticton respectively.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.