The Vancouver Canucks entered the 2022 offseason with a new front office for the first time since Jim Benning took over the team ahead of the 2014-15 season, so fans really didn’t know what to expect when the bell rang to start free agency on July 13. Well, it turned out to be more of the same – not so much massive contracts, but a familiar handful of signings on opening day.
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When the dust settled, new general manager Patrik Allvin had inked deals with speedster Ilya Mikheyev, gritty fourth-liners Curtis Lazar and Dakota Joshua, goaltender Collin Delia and depth defencemen Wyatt Kalynuk and Christian Wolanin. That goes along with Andrei Kuzmenko, who was announced as officially signed after agreeing to a contract on June 20.
Apart from Mikheyev, Allvin stayed away from the luxury condos (i.e. Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, etc.) and stuck to the middle-class apartments to improve his team for the 2022-23 season. Mostly because he didn’t have a bank account for any high-end purchases. Regardless, he still got a few useful pieces that should help the Canucks gain a foothold in a Pacific Division that now has four fewer stars. Much to the delight of fans in the Western hemisphere, Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns are no longer available to terrorize their teams this season as all of them are now residents of the East. So, maybe, just maybe, the Canucks can finally catch a break and be among the playoff teams come April 2023.
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However, that optimistic outcome will depend on a number of factors, including how the newbies fit into the lineup. So without further ado, here are some predictions on how each of them will do in their first season in a Canucks uniform – save for the signings that will most likely end up in Abbotsford.
Arguably the most sought-after European free agent on the market this season, Kuzmenko was wined and dined by several NHL teams before he ultimately decided to sign on the dotted line with the Canucks. While he might only be in Vancouver for a short time, he will be an intriguing player to watch in training camp and throughout the season. Lauded for his NHL-caliber shot and quick hands around the net, he might turn out to be as good as Artemi Panarin or as average as Fabian Brunnström – who the Canucks went hard after before he signed with the Dallas Stars in 2008. I’m sure fans and management are hoping it’s the former, not the latter, but only time will determine that.
According to Daily Faceoff’s projected line combinations, Kuzmenko is slated to be on a line with Conor Garland and Bo Horvat to start the season. If that ends up being the case, he will be surrounded by a lot of skill that could finish with him being in the conversation for the Calder Trophy (ala Michael Bunting and Panarin before him). As for power play time, they have him on the second unit where he will likely use his playmaking skills from behind the net to set up opportunities for whoever is in the bumper position.
Now, the fun part, a prediction on how many goals and points the latest Russian to wear No. 96 will get. Let’s get one thing straight though, he will not be as prolific as the Russian Rocket who wore that number between 1995 and 1997. However, I do believe 20 goals are in his future as his shot alone will get him at least into the double digits. If he plays in the Daily Faceoff’s projected second-line and second-unit power play positions, more could be in store as well. Of course, that is all contingent on health and chemistry with his linemates. Whatever the case may be, he should be an exciting player to watch when the puck finally drops on Oct. 12.
Prediction: 23 goals, 50 points playing consistently in the top-nine and on the power play
Definitely the biggest free agent signing Allvin and the Canucks made on July 13, Mikheyev will bring speed, size and a tremendous two-way toolbox to Vancouver’s top-nine – or top-six depending on who you ask. The 6-foot-3 forward had a breakout year last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he scored a career-high 21 goals and 32 points along with eight goals on special teams (four power play and four shorthanded), so he’s as versatile as you can get.
It’s hard to say at this point where Mikheyev will slot in, but I would expect him to become a favourite of Bruce Boudreau’s in no time flat as he can play up and down the lineup and on both special teams. His speed is going to give the roster a major boost too, no matter if he plays with fellow Russian Andrei Kuzmenko in the bottom-six or on the top line with resident superstar Elias Pettersson.
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So what should fans expect from Mikheyev in the goal department? Conservatively, 20 goals should be in reach especially if he plays consistently with a pivot like Pettersson, J.T. Miller or Bo Horvat. And you know he will be part of at least the second-unit power play and potentially first-unit penalty kill where he can use his speed to score shorthanded goals. Who knows, he could even flirt with 25 or 30. We will just have to wait and see.
Prediction: 25 goals and 50 points with five shorthanded goals
If everything goes according to plan, Lazar could be the best fourth-liner the Canucks have had since Max Lapierre and Manny Malhotra were part of the team in the 2010s. Possessing first-round pedigree from when he was selected 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2013, he will add size, speed and physicality to a lineup that desperately needs all three. Whether he plays down the middle or not remains to be seen, but wherever he lines up he will make his presence known. If you don’t believe me, just look at the 186 hits he threw last season.
Lazar was once projected to become a top-six or even top-line forward. Unfortunately, that hasn’t come to fruition as he’s carved out a niche as a reliable bottom-six guy who occasionally gets involved in the offence. This isn’t a bad thing by any means as we all know how important those types of players are in the playoffs. Just ask Jon Cooper, who rode the line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow to back-to-back Stanley Cups.
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Expectations shouldn’t be too high for Lazar going into his first season in his home province of British Columbia, especially when it comes to goals and points. If he provides the same game he gave former Boston Bruins and current Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy, I think fans will be happy. That game being hits, standing up for his teammates and making life generally miserable for any opponent who steps foot into Rogers Arena. Any goals he scores will just be a bonus.
Prediction: 10 goals and 200 hits
Similar to Lazar, Joshua was signed because of his size and physical presence. Yet another new kid on the block that stands over 6 feet, he isn’t necessarily guaranteed a spot on the opening night roster, but he definitely has the inside track – that is if you take Allvin’s words as gospel.
“We are so pleased to be able to sign a player with this type of upside,” said Allvin. “Dakota is a big body, has a heavy game, plays hard, and is a good skater. Ryan Johnson and Trent Cull were very impressed with his skillset when he played six games for the Utica Comets the year we shared our farm team with St Louis. Adding him to our roster will definitely make us a tougher team to play against.”
How is Joshua going to make the Canucks tougher to play against if he’s not in the lineup? If I were a betting man, I would say his name and number will be announced by Al Murdoch as part of the 2022-23 Canucks come the home opener on Oct. 22. As for a prediction, Joshua wasn’t brought in to provide offence. He was added to bring the pain on the forecheck and in every other zone on the ice. I would expect him to be a big part of the penalty kill too as he has shown the propensity to win faceoffs (55.4 percent career average). If he scores the odd goal or two doing those things, then that’s just icing on the cake.
Prediction: Plays almost every night and throws over 200 hits
Canucks Hope New Additions Bring Playoff Games to Rogers Arena
Last August, I did a similar article to this one where I predicted how the newcomers would do. That time it was Garland, Ekman-Larsson, Jason Dickinson, Jaroslav Halak, Luke Schenn and Tucker Poolman. Suffice it to say, I didn’t do too well as I wrongly predicted productive seasons from Ekman-Larsson, Dickinson and Poolman. I was also one goal and eight points off Garland’s final 19 goals and 52 points and failed to see the future of Schenn taking on a prominent role in the top four. Finally, I said that all those additions made the team stronger and thus capable of making the playoffs.
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Well, I am at it again as I believe the Canucks are a better team than they were last season when they eventually missed the postseason in the final week. If the additions up front all hit their potential and the defence holds up – even without any changes – they do have a good enough team to compete for a playoff berth, maybe even a top-three spot in their division. After the many losses that the Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks saw in the offseason, you never know what could happen, right?