Welcome to the first edition of the Vancouver Canucks’ 3 Up, 3 Down for the 2022-23 season. This will be a weekly column released on Mondays chronicling the highs and lows of the previous seven days.
After a week of games that began with a split-squad affair against the Calgary Flames and ended with a home-and-home match with the Seattle Kraken, Bruce Boudreau’s troops are unfortunately 0-2-2 and still looking for their first win of the preseason. It wasn’t for lack of trying though, as they had a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead going into the third period of Thursday’s game only to see the Kraken storm back and win it in overtime on a breakaway goal by Ryan Donato.
The Canucks then followed that up with what could be described as a “stinker” on Saturday as they were outshot by the Kraken 11-4 in the first period and 12-1 in the third en route to a 4-0 defeat. While you can say it is only preseason, it’s never good to be winless in four games regardless of the time of year – especially when the team hasn’t looked particularly good as a whole yet.
With that, here’s a look at some of the good and bad from the week that was for the Canucks and their fans.
Plus One: Kuzmenko Looks Like the Real Deal
Andrei Kuzmenko has quickly endeared himself to Canucks fans as he’s arguably been the best forward at training camp and in the preseason so far. With two goals and a plethora of chances against the Kraken on Thursday, he looks ready to take the NHL by storm when the regular season starts in Edmonton on Oct. 12. His speed, creativity and of course, elite shot were on display as he finished the game with two goals and an assist, four shots on goal and 19:11 of ice time.
Kuzmenko looked particularly lethal on the power play posting up in his “office” to the left of the net where he scored a tap-in from a brilliant pass by Elias Pettersson and picked up an assist on a bang-bang play which resulted in Tanner Pearson’s goal at the end of the first. While he seemed to lose steam as the game went on, he almost finished as the hero when he missed the net right at the beginning of overtime. After the game, Quinn Hughes, who fed him the pass that gave Kuzmenko his first goal, praised his new teammate’s skill set.
“Really, really, really skilled. Great shot. Great hands, hockey sense. He’s pretty much got it all and he competes too. And he’s a great guy. I don’t know if you saw but he screened the goalie too. Like, he’s not afraid to get hit by a shot or get gritty. Very impressive,” [Hughes] said of Kuzmenko’s overall package (from ‘Canucks vs. Kraken recap: The Kuzmenko show begins in 4-3 OT loss’, The Province, 9/30/22).
The Canucks clearly were missing the dynamic duo – and Hughes – on Saturday both at even strength and the power play, as they were relatively toothless in their 4-0 defeat. Luckily, they will likely have all three back in the lineup when they face the Edmonton Oilers on Monday (Oct. 3).
Minus One: Defence Corps Is Still a Massive Question Mark
One could argue that it’s preseason and the Canucks didn’t have their full lineup against the Kraken on Saturday. However, that only really applied to their forward group as they were missing Pettersson, Kuzmenko, Conor Garland, Ilya Mikheyev, and Brock Boeser. When it comes to their defence, though, they were only missing Hughes. Of the top-six that will most likely be on the opening night roster, all Oliver Ekman Larsson, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, Jack Rathbone and Tucker Poolman were in the lineup. The only man missing was the aforementioned Hughes, and he was replaced by Abbotsford-bound Christian Wolanin.
Against probably the best the Kraken will throw at the Canucks in the regular season, that group looked disjointed all game long. Yes, Myers had a good game offensively with four shots and quite a few scoring chances, but he also was the one that gave the puck away behind the net, directly leading to Alex Wennberg’s 2-0 goal. And Poolman, while it’s great he’s back on the ice after dealing with headaches last season, also caught the turnover bug when he gave it to Yanni Gourde for the 3-0 tally.
All in all, if they hope to be in the playoff mix this season and limit the siege Thatcher Demko has to deal with, they have to manage the puck better and be harder to play against, as veteran Luke Schenn reiterated after the game. “My personal opinion is we need to have a little more poise with the puck in the D-zone,” Schenn said. “And when we don’t have the puck, we’re stick checking, we’re too soft…We need to figure out what hard-to-play-against means and what that feels like. That’s the only chance you have of winning in this league.”
To his credit, Schenn was probably the best of the bunch, as he threw his body around effectively and was only one of two defencemen that finished the game without a minus in the plus/minus column. As I mentioned before, yes, it’s only preseason, but good habits have to start forming sooner rather than later or the Canucks are liable to start the season off on the wrong foot yet again. They will have three more preseason games to figure things out before everyone starts playing for keeps next week.
Plus Two: Pettersson Appears Ready to Break Out
Early on in the preseason, it appears Pettersson is ready to have a monster campaign in 2022-23. Over the summer, he did not go on vacation and instead trained hard in preparation for the season. So far, it appears to be paying off. Teaming up with Kuzmenko, he looked as dangerous as ever against the Kraken on Thursday recording two assists and five shots on goal. He also missed the net on a few laser-like one-timers and absolutely undressed 2022 fourth-overall pick Shane Wright. I think it’s safe to say he’s ready to enter the realms of superstar status this season.
“Last season I learned a lot that no matter how good I played the first two seasons, I gotta have that same hunger…I was training harder coming into last season, but I was just letting things get inside my head…[This year] I had a good summer training, didn’t really go on any vacation. I was just working out all summer trying to prepare myself as much as possible… I’m always trying to take steps every season and I’ve just felt I’ve matured a lot from last season.”
Minus Two: Horvat Contract Talks Not Progressing
While J.T. Miller was thankfully re-signed before training camp started, the other big unrestricted free agent the Canucks have at the end of 2022-23 still has not. Captain Bo Horvat and his camp are still in a holding pattern with management and the latest report from Pierre LeBrun indicate they are still far apart in those negotiations.
Hopefully, for Canucks Nation’s sake, this gets resolved way before the trade deadline in March or fans will be inundated with trade talk and rumours similar to what they experienced with Miller last season. Horvat has said all the right things about wanting to stay in Vancouver, but ultimately it will be up to Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin to convince him to sign a deal that not only works for him but also for the long-term health of the franchise.
“I want to be a Vancouver Canuck…I want to stay here and I love our group. My wife and I love the city. If I wanted to play for one team for my whole career, it would be the Vancouver Canucks. Obviously, it’s a long process and we’ll see where it goes.”
Plus Three: Fourth Line Has Potential To Be a Difference Maker
Before Tyler Motte was traded to the New York Rangers at the deadline last season and the duo of Matthew Highmore and Juho Lammikko departed in free agency, the Canucks had a pretty effective fourth line. Going into the 2022-23 season, they are hoping that they will have an even better one with Dakota Joshua and Curtis Lazar anchoring it.
One thing that won’t be missing from that unit will be physicality and grit as both Joshua and Lazar know how to dish out the punishment. While they are still early on in their tenure as Canucks, Joshua in particular has already shown his ability to get under the skin of his opponents in the two games he suited up against the Kraken. Over 25:28 of ice time, he threw 10 hits, got into a spirited fight with John Hayden and even had a few scoring chances. He also was in several scrums after the whistle.
The line is still a work in progress, but once Lazar and Joshua gel with whoever joins them – whether it be Jason Dickinson or Will Lockwood (who had eight hits on Thursday) – they should be hell to play against whenever they hit the ice.
Minus Three: Injury Bug is Already Rearing Its Ugly Head
The last negative to come from this past week is the injury bug. Yes, the one that keeps rearing its ugly head every time training camp and preseason comes around. While it wasn’t from these past seven days, it started with the announcement that Brock Boeser would be out 3-4 weeks following surgery on his hand. Then the news that Ilya Mikheyev was week-to-week after getting injured in the first preseason game against the Flames. Finally, to close things off, Travis Dermott feeling woozy after a hit in practice this past Tuesday (Sept. 27).
Luckily, Boeser’s injury will only keep him out for the first week or so of the regular season and Mikheyev could possibly be back by Oct. 12 when the Canucks open their campaign against the Oilers. Dermott could even return by then as well. That doesn’t make it any less difficult to stomach as the team attempts to avoid a slow start to October. But, it is what it is. All that means is more opportunities for the likes of Danny DeKeyser, Jack Rathbone, Linus Karlsson and others fighting for roster spots.
That does it for another edition of the Canucks’ 3 Up, 3 Down. Hopefully next week we’re talking about some wins in the “plus” section as the regular season will begin in earnest only a couple of days after it is released. Until then, stay positive Canucks Nation!
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer 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.