3 Canucks Looking To Bounce Back in 2022

If all goes well, the Vancouver Canucks will be playing their first game in 12 days when they meet up with the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Their last game was on Dec. 16 when they dispatched the San Jose Sharks 5-2 to post their sixth-straight win under new coach Bruce Boudreau. Since then, the entire NHL has been bombarded with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 which has produced several postponements and scores of names being added to the NHL’s COVID protocol list.

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Fortunately for the Canucks, there are currently no names on that list as all players have tested negative in recent days. If that remains to be the case, they will enter the game without the regular names of Guillaume Brisebois, Travis Hamonic, Matthew Highmore, Brady Keeper, Brandon Sutter and Micheal Ferland, who all have injuries not related to COVID.

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Since Boudreau took over the Canucks on Dec. 5, they have looked like a totally different team than the one that skated off to boos and chants of “Fire Benning” after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 on Dec. 4. Their best players have been their best players and they play a more up-tempo game that is not only more exciting but capable of winning games more consistently. Now, the question will be, can they keep it up after such a long layoff? Let’s take a look at three players that will have to step up their games to answer that question in the affirmative.

Elias Pettersson

It’s no secret that Elias Pettersson has struggled to generate offence this season. He has gone nine games without a goal twice already and at times has looked more like an AHL player than an NHL one. After signing a lucrative three-year contract worth $7.35 million in average annual value (AAV) during the preseason, a lot more was expected from the former fifth-overall pick. As of this writing, he is on pace to record only 16 goals and 42 points, which would be career-lows in a full NHL season.

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking on the bright side, Pettersson’s work ethic and overall two-way game have not waivered throughout his various slumps. Along with Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, his production has also picked up since the coaching change. Before the pandemic paused the season, he was on a three-game point streak (two goals, one assist) and was starting to gain significant chemistry with Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin. If that is a sign of things to come, he should be a much more productive player in 2022.

Jason Dickinson

Another player that has benefited from the coaching change is Jason Dickinson. When he was acquired from the Dallas Stars in the offseason, everyone praised then-general manager Jim Benning for the move. He appeared to be exactly what they needed in the bottom six to make their attack a more balanced one. Except, he wasn’t, not by a long shot. Before Boudreau took over behind the bench, he struggled to find a role in Travis Green’s system and at times looked lost in the lineup. He couldn’t even help prop up a penalty-killing unit that had lost key contributors in Sutter, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel.

Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks
Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like Pettersson, Dickinson’s game has been reinvigorated under Boudreau. He has finally found a role as a shutdown winger alongside Horvat and Nils Hoglander and even his strengths as a penalty killer have started to shine through. In addition to that, he has also started to generate a lot more scoring chances. Pre-Boudreau he had 27 scoring chances in 23 games. Since Boudreau took over, he has 11 in six games and five of those have been of the high-danger variety. If he keeps that up, he should start seeing the fruits of his labour sooner rather than later.

Jack Rathbone

When Jack Rathbone ended the 2020-21 season with three points in eight games, fans and experts alike were envisioning a breakout season for the rookie in 2021-22. If not that, at least a regular spot in the Canucks’ seven-man defence core. Both of those scenarios have not happened…yet. With taxi squads being reinstated due to the uncertainty of COVID, he could have his role elevated very soon. Boudreau loves pace and the former Harvard Crimson star is all about that and then some.

Jack Rathbone Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rathbone’s mobility and first pass are the two most impressive parts of his game. Boudreau had guys like Mike Green and John Carlson on his payroll with the Washington Capitals. He might have the next generation with Quinn Hughes and Rathbone on his team right now. If he is given a chance to play in his system on a regular basis, we might see a monster get unleashed. With what we have seen in the AHL and NCAA, he is definitely more than the pointless, minus-5 defenceman he has been this season so far.

Playoffs Are No Longer a Fantasy For the Canucks

When the Canucks dropped to 8-15-2 after that loss against the Penguins on Dec. 4, the 2022 Draft started to become a topic of interest. Now, playoffs are starting to enter the conversation again. Aided by a six-game winning streak, they are six points out of a playoff spot and finally on a path of positive momentum.

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If they get a bounce-back second-half from Pettersson, Dickinson and Rathbone, the Canucks look more like a playoff team than a lottery one. If the point production from Garland, Boeser, Podkolzin, Horvat, Hoglander and J.T. Miller continue alongside them, they are not just a playoff contender but dare I say it, a Stanley Cup one as well.

All stats were taken from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference