With the preseason completed and rosters being pared down as we speak, the Vancouver Canucks are about to embark on their 50th Anniversary season. It promises to be a nostalgic one as the organization looks back on the many exciting and emotional moments that have occurred over the last 50 seasons.
Apart from the celebrations, the Canucks have hockey to play and games to win. The ere around the team is one of optimism and excitement as the theme of the season is Colourful Past, Bright Future. That statement is as true now as it has ever been, especially the last part. Firmly placed in the sure hands of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes, the Canucks’ future has a definite positive feel to it. With that said, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the Canucks in 2019-20.
The Canucks have not had an easy time scoring goals over the past few seasons, consistently finishing in the bottom half of the league. This has been one of the reasons they have not made it to the big dance in four seasons. If all goes to plan, this season will be much different.
The additions of J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Micheal Ferland from the Carolina Hurricanes should help with that. Miller has been paired with Horvat for most of the preseason and there appears to be some chemistry between them. If he can put up 20 goals or more, the Canucks will have a much easier time winning games. He has displayed some great vision as well, so Horvat’s totals could see an uptick this season too.
As for Ferland, the sample size is much smaller. Because of an illness, he was only able to get into two preseason games. But in the games he did play, he was noticeable. In the first one he laid out Colby Cave with a big hit and in the second he scored a goal driving to the net and putting in his own rebound. Going by how head coach Travis Green has put together his lineup in the preseason, Ferland will be riding shotgun with Pettersson. He should be able to pot at least 20 goals alongside him.
Add in the continued improvement of the core-three of Pettersson, Horvat, and Boeser, the Canucks should have an easier time scoring goals this season. Pettersson, in particular, was impressive throughout the preseason, showing off his soft hands and impeccable release. All signs point to him being even more of a threat than last year. If that happens, the NHL better run for cover.
Potent Power Play
The power play could turn out to be the reason the Canucks make the playoffs this season. It has the potential to be that good. Granted we have only seen bits and pieces of the units that will ultimately play in the regular season. However, what has been displayed has been sublime. Despite missing Ferland and quarterback defenceman Quinn Hughes, the Canucks gave fans a sneak peek at what the power play could do.
En route to a 6-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators, the newly formed power-play unit of Miller, Pettersson, Boeser, Alex Edler and Josh Leivo combined for three of the four goals. The fourth was by Horvat on a 5-on-3. Every opportunity they had looked dangerous as they zipped the puck around with authority. Replace Edler and Leivo with Ferland and Hughes and the Canucks have a very potent number one unit.
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The biggest difference this year is the potential addition of a very solid second wave of attack. If the units introduced this past week stay the same for the regular season, Horvat will be anchoring the second unit. Assistant coach Newell Brown wants competition between his units, so expect to see a healthy dose of the second group this season. If all goes to plan, the power play will be much improved in 2019-20.
The Canucks didn’t only improve their offence this offseason, the defence also got an upgrade. Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg were signed in free agency and Hughes will play his first full NHL season.
It’s difficult to judge the impact of the additions on the team in the preseason. Myers saw big minutes paired mostly with Edler and Benn spent the majority of his time with Troy Stecher. Benn had his moments, including a breakaway goal coming out of the penalty box. Myers had an up and down preseason, showing his propensity for puck movement as well as some poor decisions in the defensive zone. Fantenberg only got into one game before going down with a concussion.
Both Myers and Benn will be expected to improve a unit that has not seen much scoring or consistent playoff-calibre defence in a long time. Add in the immense potential of rookie Hughes, the Canucks should see more scoring from their defence core as well.
The Canucks could have a wild card on defence as well. Returning veteran Edler is appearing to have a renaissance offensively. After finishing the 2018-19 season with 34 points in 56 games, he closed the preseason leading the league in scoring with seven points. Four of those points came in one game playing on the first unit power play, so that may not be a good indication of future performance. However, if he does, in fact, get time on the potent first unit, he could put up some serious point totals in 2019-20.
All in all, the potential of this mobile defensive core as well as the depth currently in the American Hockey League with the Utica Comets, the defence looks to be in good hands going into the season. Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield all had strong camps, so even when injuries hit, solid options are just a callup away.
Jacob Markstrom returns to the crease as the starting goaltender for the Canucks in 2019-20. Thatcher Demko will assume the backup role behind him. Markstrom had a relatively solid preseason starting three of the eight games, finishing with a 2.70 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .925 save percentage (SV%). Demko, on the other hand, was just average. It was just preseason, so the panic button should not be brought out yet. The defence was in flux every game, so it’s difficult to judge the goaltending under those circumstances.
Preseason performances aside, the Canucks have a solid duo going into the regular season. If Markstrom is able to replicate or even improve upon his 2018-19 season, they have a very capable starting goaltender. Then, if Demko can provide 15-20 consistent starts as the backup, Markstrom won’t have to be overworked. That could be the recipe for a playoff-caliber tandem.
You had to know that was coming. Hockey Gaud arrived in a big way this preseason. Adam Gaudette led the Canucks in scoring with four goals and was second only to Edler in points with six. His two assists showed off some NHL level playmaking as well. If the team truly rewards players on the basis of merit, he has a spot on this team.
Even if he isn’t on the ice for opening night, Gaudette will see a lot of time with the Canucks this season. He looks NHL ready and poised to take the next step in his development. It will be interesting to see how Green deploys him when he ultimately makes the lineup as a permanent fixture. Regardless, 2019-20 will be Gaudette’s coming out party.
Hughes will be given every opportunity to succeed this season. Paired primarily with Tanev in the preseason, he has looked very comfortable. His fluid skating and elite vision have been on full display and he looks ready to begin his assault on the Calder Trophy. The potential of a brother feud is very real going into the regular season.
On the Hot Seat
Jake Virtanen is running out of chances to make an impact on the Canucks. After starting training camp in Green’s dog house and impressing with two goals in the first preseason game, he disappeared. As the competition ratcheted up, his game seemed to regress. If he hopes to stay in Canucks colours for the foreseeable future, consistency has to become his motto. The talent is there, the work ethic needs to catch up.
It seems like Nikolay Goldobin has always been on the hot seat. Just like Virtanen, he has to start finding some consistency in his game. The work ethic is sometimes lacking as well. With the additions made in the offseason to the top-six and the emergence of Gaudette, it’s now or never for the man they call Goldy.
His preseason was a mixed bag. He was only noticeable when he was placed on a line with Horvat and Miller. As usual, his lack of defensive awareness was on display at times too. If he hopes to make it past this season in Vancouver, that has to be removed from his game. If improvements are not made, there are plenty of players itching to take his spot in the lineup.
Will the Canucks Make the Playoffs?
If injuries to key players are kept at bay, there’s no reason why the Canucks can’t be in the thick of things when the postseason rolls around. The biggest difference this season is the depth they have in the organization. If injuries do hit, which seems inevitable with this team, they finally have the depth to counter it. The elite teams never use injuries as an excuse for failure, because the depth allows them to survive it.
The Canucks also have the luxury of multiple players in the bottom six who can jump to the top of the lineup. Depending on who ultimately makes the roster, players like Sven Baertschi, Tanner Pearson, Leivo, Gaudette, Virtanen, and Goldobin all have the skills to play in offensive roles. For the first time ever, Green has options when offence is not coming easy during the course of a game.
In the end, the Canucks are a much-improved team offensively and defensively. If all goes to plan, playoff hockey will return to the west coast and the white towels will be back in full force. Let the season finally begin!
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.