The 2020-21 season will be one the Vancouver Canucks will want to forget. Just a year removed from taking the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks will be watching the postseason from home this time around. Yet, there are positives to take away from this season.
Even in a disappointing season, there are positives to reflect on and build for the future. From in the crease to the players who became leaders and the young players who made an immediate impact, there is a lot to look forward to in Vancouver.
Demko Is the Guy Going Forward
The big question entering the season was how Thatcher Demko would perform in an increased role after their starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom, left in free agency? Demko showed flashes of brilliance in the playoff bubble last season, but would he continue to grow? Throw in Brayden Holtby, who was signed during the offseason, and that question was hovering over the Canucks for the first half of the season.
Demko had a rough start to the season. He split time with Holtby and struggled to establish his game. Then head coach Travis Green decided to start one of them and see how they fared in consecutive starts; he made the right call. At one point, Demko started eight straight games and 11 of 12 for an 8-3 record. His goals-against average (GAA) isn’t anything special at 2.87, but his save percentage (SV%) is something to be optimistic about at .914. With a couple of improvements to the defense to give Demo some help, we could see his game take another step forward in 2021-22.
Canucks Leaders Emerged
Every team has to deal with injuries, and Vancouver was no different. Elias Pettersson was the biggest one, who has been out since March 2 due to a wrist injury, and was shut down for the remainder of the season. Injuries to veterans like Antoine Roussel, Brandon Sutter, and Alex Edler who were lost for short stints didn’t help, then throw in a COVID-19 wave that hit the Canucks particularly hard and kept the team off the ice for nearly a month.
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Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes are already leaders, but other Canucks veterans also stood out. Tyler Myers came into his own in his second season with the club, and after a fantastic initial season, J.T. Miller followed it up with another strong campaign, finishing second on the club with 41 points.
Young Players Making an Impact
There are a few tough decisions to be made this offseason. Who will Vancouver expose in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft? General manager Jim Benning will also have to sign Pettersson and Hughes to contract extensions that won’t come cheap. However, it’s reassuring to know the impact of several young players who are still on cheap contracts.
Expectations were high for Nils Hoglander coming into his rookie season, but he impressed early and often. He scored 12 goals and 14 assists through 52 games and has averaged 15:25 of ice time per game. Being just under a half a point-per-game pace is impressive for a 20-year-old, and something he can build on.
Jack Rathbone’s time in the NHL this season was short but impressive. Through five games, he has a goal and an assist, but he looks quick, raw and promising. At just 21 years old, there is a lot to look forward to from the 2017 fourth-round pick.
As far as expectations, Boeser wasn’t shy about how he felt after missing the postseason. He spoke to the media after a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames Thursday night, and when asked about how it felt missing the postseason, said, “It sucks.” However, the team should be optimistic heading into the offseason. If Demko continues to excel, core players are signed during the offseason and the young guns take another step forward, it might not be long before Vancouver is back competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.