Young Stars, Depth Additions to Dictate Canucks’ Success

VANCOUVER — After bolstering their ranks with some veteran talent over the summer, the Vancouver Canucks have set their sights on returning to the playoffs.

Whether they make it will depend on the team’s young stars, said coach Travis Green.

“There’s a lot of teams in the league that know what they have in their lineup. We know, but our young, top-end players are the ones that really will probably determine a lot of where we end up with what kind of step they’ve made,” he said.

“That’s not a burden. It’s the exciting part of our organization and where we’re going. I’ve said we’re going to be better this year. I fully believe we will.”

Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green
Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Last season, all three of the Canucks’ top scorers were 23 or younger.

Elias Pettersson 20, led the way, scoring 28 goals and 38 assists in 71 games, and earning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Centre Bo Horvat, now 24, was close behind with a career-high 61 points in his fifth NHL season and 22-year-old right-winger Brock Boeser had a solid sophomore year with 56 points.

Continued Playoff Woes

Still, Vancouver missed the playoffs for the fourth season in a row, finishing with a 35-36-11 record that left the team 12th in the Western Conference.

A spate of injuries didn’t help matters, depleting the blue line and forcing Green to constantly churn his lines.

General manager Jim Benning attempted to address the club’s depth woes over the off-season, adding defencemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, and forwards J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland to the roster.

The NHL veterans are expected to bring experience to a fresh-faced lineup as well as help with toughness and scoring.

“They’ve been in the league for awhile and they know what it takes already,” Horvat said. “Whereas trying out young guys, you’re not sure sometimes how they’re going to pan out or if they’re going to break into the league. It’s nice having guys who’ve been there and done that.”

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With so many lineup changes, it’s key that the players get used to one another early, Green said.

The new guys may have to adjust to a few tweaks to the system, but more importantly, they’ll need to get used to their teammates, he said.

“I think it’s just feeling comfortable,” the coach said. “Even little things like hearing a voice on the ice, knowing who it is, it’s hard to mimic that stuff. You almost need a game-like situation to get used to that and feel comfortable in your surroundings.”

Canucks Integrating Myers to Defense

The adjustment hasn’t been too drastic for Myers, who signed a five-year, US$30-million deal with Vancouver in free agency.

“It’s still the same game. There’s tweaks here and there, but overall this is pretty similar to other years coming in. Different faces, obviously, different room,” he said. “But transition’s been pretty seamless.”

After spending the past five seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Myers is looking forward to starting with a new group.

And he feels like he’s not the only one in the Canucks locker room who’s excited for the upcoming season.

Vancouver Canucks Tyler Myers
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

“Everyone’s a little bit older, a little more experienced,” Myers said. “We have a great young core driving the team and we just have to come together as a group and make it work as best we can.”

The process of coming together as a group has already started, Pettersson said.

“I have fun every time I come to the rink,” he said. “When we practise, we’re practising hard and we can also have a laugh and make jokes with each other so it’s great. That’s what you need to have in a team.”

Vancouver will kick off the season Wednesday when they battle the Oilers in Edmonton.

Vancouver Canucks at a Glance

Head Coach

Travis Green enters his third season.

Last Season

35-36-11, missed playoffs for the fourth season in a row.

Key Players

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish centre was a standout last year, making slick moves against veteran opponents and scoring highlight-reel worthy goals in his rookie campaign. Pettersson spent the off-season working on his conditioning, strength and speed, and fans are eager to see how that work grows his game.

Elias Pettersson, Jacob Markstrom Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and Jacob Markstrom (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Quinn Hughes: After finishing his collegiate hockey career at the University of Michigan, the 19-year-old defenceman showed flashes of his stunning play-making and skating abilities in five games with the Canucks at the end of last season. Hughes was relatively quiet through this year’s pre-season stretch, however, and how the rookie adjusts to the NHL will have a big impact on Vancouver’s success.

Jacob Markstrom: He proved his ability to be a No. 1 goalie last season, posting career highs in starts (60) and wins (28) with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Markstrom is entering the final year of his contract and he’ll be looking to put together a long string of solid performances to help land a lucrative new deal.

The Big Question

With added depth and a core of maturing young stars, can the Canucks be a playoff team?

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2019.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press