Although the NHL’s regular season has been suspended, hockey news is still regularly emerging from the Vancouver Canucks organization. Little of that news involves players on the ice, but it does involve players within the organization and those who are at home during the COVID-19 disruption.
In this post, I’ll try to keep Canucks fans more up-to-date on news emerging from the team.
Item One: Canucks Prospect Vasili Podkolzin Is More than a Good Player
With the Canucks’ first-round pick during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (10th overall), the team chose Russian youngster Vasili Podkolzin. It was an interesting move by general manager Jim Benning because Podkolzin was under contract for two seasons in the KHL, which meant the team would have to wait until 2021-22 before moving him to North American and the NHL.
It was also a “daring” move given how poorly the Canucks had played during the 2018-19 season and the fact that rumours suggested Benning’s job was on the line if he didn’t win soon. In retrospect, the move was wise. Podkolzin has one season remaining in the KHL where he can hone his craft and, as Canucks fans know after a strong 2019-20 season, Benning’s job is no longer in jeopardy.
Recent reports suggest that the young Russian is not just a good prospect, he’s also a good person. It was reported this week that Podkolzin’s been distributing food to aging Russians and other vulnerable people in St. Petersburg. He’s also been busy posting messages on Instagram that encourage others to contribute to their community however they can.
This KHL news reminds us that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a global impact. Good for the teenage Canucks prospect to be pitching in to help others, both in traditional ways (distributing food to needy people) and in new ways (social media) to rally others to help fight the virus.
Item Two: Reid Boucher’s Status is Gaining Overseas Interest
Reid Boucher led the Canucks’ AHL affiliate – the Utica Comets – in scoring during the 2019-20 season with 34 goals and 33 assists in 53 games. That’s better than a point-a-game pace. Furthermore, that pace has been a pretty regular occurrence for the young forward. During the 2017-18 season, he scored 25 goals and 21 assists in 45 games, and during the 2018-19 season, he scored 31 goals and 31 assists in 56 games.
However, given his consistency in putting up such strong numbers, fans have to wonder if the 26-year-old will ever get a shot at the Canucks roster. He didn’t get in a game with the big team before the shutdown this season.
However, other teams have seen that production. This week, Rick Dhaliwal of TSN 1040 Vancouver reported that European clubs are pursuing Boucher for the 2020-21 campaign. Dhaliwal further noted that Boucher didn’t plan to play in Europe; however, he might ask the Canucks to trade him if they’re not going to give him a chance in Vancouver.
Given his history with the organization, Boucher isn’t sure about his future in Vancouver. He’s a restricted free agent, and he plans to stay in North America for now. Still, he’s only played in a single NHL game since the 2017-18 season, and since his NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils in 2013-14, he’s played 133 games in total. That’s not much of a chance for such a highly-productive player.
Item Three: Sven Baertschi’s Time in Vancouver Seems Over
Sven Baertschi, who for three seasons (2015-2018) looked like he would become a regular contributor with the Canucks, is now looking for work in another NHL city. Sadly, the 27-year-old Swiss native suffered debilitating concussions that kept him out of the Canucks’ line up for two seasons and he never found his way back. He had a strong season with the Comets in Utica in 2019-20 with 46 points (13 goals and 33 assists) in 43 games and is looking to leverage that into future NHL employment.
Dhaliwal of TSN 1040 Vancouver tweeted that Baertschi’s agent Andre Rufener noted that the winger wants to play in the NHL next season rather than sign with a European club. However, the fact that he only played in six games with the Canucks in the 2019-20 season, was put on waivers and requested a trade, makes his status in the NHL less certain.
Item Four: Quinn Hughes for the Calder Trophy?
Quinn Hughes, the Canucks’ amazing rookie defenseman, is making a case that the Calder Trophy should land in Vancouver for a second straight season. He’s an offensively-gifted young player who’s emerged as a key piece of the Canucks’ blue line. When the NHL halted its regular season, Hughes was leading the rookie point race with 53 in 68 games and was tied for fourth in scoring among NHL defensemen.
What’s Next with the Canucks?
As always, the recent answer to this question is “Who Knows?” It would be a shame for the Canucks if the NHL’s 2019-20 was over. The team played far better than anyone expected, and during the season, veterans like new captain, Bo Horvat improved their play.
Horvat increased his scoring rate with 53 points in 69 games, and he was on his way to a career-high that would have bested last season’s 61 points. The real improvement he made was in the faceoff circle, where his 850 faceoffs won in 1483 tries ranked third in the NHL.
It will be fun for Canucks fans to see where this team eventually goes.