On March 3, Marc-Andre Fleury shut out the Vancouver Canucks 3-0. It was his eighth shutout of the season and second in a row. Surprisingly, Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom probably had the better game. The Vegas Golden Knights completely shut down the Canucks offense. Markstrom made 45 saves, was the Canucks’ best player, and still took home a loss.
The Canucks didn’t even have a shot on goal for two long stretches, one 11 minutes and the other 13 minutes. Obviously, the team needs to play better to have a chance of beating the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs who come to town on March 6. If there’s any hope for the playoffs, the team needs to start winning games in bunches. And, those bunches need to happen soon.
Preparing for this important game, there are a number of Canucks news items to review.
Item 1: Brandon Sutter Is Out for the Season
The Canucks announced that Brandon Sutter would undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia. Because his expected recovery time is two months, he will be lost to the team for the remainder of the season. Sutter had the same surgery in 2015, but on his opposite side.
It’s been a tough year for the 30-year-old centre. He’s played just 26 games this season because of the separated shoulder and the sports hernia, and his scoring has been limited to four goals and two assists for the season.
Last season’s solid play (11 goals, 15 assists and 26 points) seems like a long time ago. Sutter last played on Feb. 9, which was likely his last game as a Canuck.
Sutter currently has a no-trade clause, but that changes to a modified no-trade clause this summer, when he can give the team a list of 15 teams he cannot be traded to. With the Canucks’ core of younger centers, including Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette, Sutter will probably be moved. The final two years of his contract, at $4.375 million per year, are too much to carry for someone who hasn’t contributed much to the team’s success.
Item 2: Quinn Hughes Is Coming to Town
The Canucks might be sliding towards a postseason abyss, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things for fans to look forward to. One coming attraction is Quinn Hughes, the offensive-minded defenseman who will show up in the team’s dressing room when his college season ends.
For Canuck fans, that’s something to look forward to. Hughes, drafted seventh overall by the Canucks last June, is a speedy, puck-moving defenseman who can lead the rush or make good breakout passes. Playing at the University of Michigan, Hughes is one of the best prospects in college hockey. He’s expected to sign with the Canucks after his season concludes. That’s good news for the team.
Hughes obviously comes from good hockey stock. Brother Jack Hughes is regarded as the top prospect for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and is projected to be the first-overall pick.
Item 3: Canucks’ Collegiate Prospects Worth Watching
Hughes is not the only college player on his way to the team. Will Lockwood, a teammate of Hughes at the University of Michigan, went to the Canucks in the third round of the 2016 Draft (64th overall). He is a strong two-way player, best known for his speed and the ability to create space for himself and his teammates. At Michigan, he is a big part of the team’s power play unit.
Lockwood, at 20 years old, is in his third season at Michigan. He’s had a solid season, with 15 goals and 15 assists in 34 games, and is the team’s alternate captain. Like Hughes, Lockwood will probably sign an entry-level contract with the Canucks this month. He might not make the jump right to the NHL, but he looks destined to become a solid NHL player.
Ty Madden has been a surprise. He wasn’t selected until the third round (68th overall), but he has shown himself to be a highly-skilled offensive player who flew under the radar until the 2019 World Juniors tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Madden showed well, scoring two goals in Team USA’s game against Finland and finishing the tournament with three goals and an assist.
Madden is currently playing with the Gaudette’s alma mater, Northeastern University. There, Madden is tied for second in goals on the team with 10, for fourth on the team in points with 25 and for the lead in power play goals. He’s only a freshman.
There’s no doubt Madden has the skills, but does he have the size? Elite Prospects lists Madden at only 150 pounds. The belief is that Madden will return to college one more year, but that’s not a certainty.
One interesting note about the young Canucks coming from the college ranks is that both Hughes and Madden were born in Florida. Lockwood is also an American, but comes from Michigan, which is better known for producing hockey players than Florida.
Item Four: Tanner Pearson Joins Canucks
At the trade deadline, Tanner Pearson was traded to the Canucks from the Penguins for Erik Gudbranson. It looks like a trade with a potential upside for the Canucks. It didn’t take long for Pearson to hit the scoresheet, scoring a goal in the team’s 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. The Canucks are Pearson’s third NHL team this season, having already played with the Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins before joining the Canucks.
The 26-year-old Pearson now has 16 points in 64 games this campaign. Obviously, it’s an off-season for the new Canuck. During the 2016-17 season, he scored 24 goals and 20 assists in 80 games. He has a history of scoring. The current Canucks depth chart shows him slotted in at the left-wing on the first line with center Horvat and right-winger Nikolay Goldobin.
Item Five: Alex Edler Is Back from His Injury
Alex Edler had been out with a concussion for a month after suffering a frightening injury when his stick got caught in Jakub Voracek’s skate and he fell face-first on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers game on Feb. 4. In his return to the Canucks lineup, he played almost 22 minutes. Those are solid minutes. When Edler was gone for the month, the Canucks defense relied on youngsters Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton because veteran defenseman Chris Tanev was also out with an injury.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks have 16 games remaining, with 11 of those games at home. Although their schedule is not that difficult through to the end of the season, it would take a minor miracle for the team to make the playoffs. They are simply too many points behind.
Sitting at a record of 27-30-9 (63 points), the team would need to make up nine points in 16 games. That’s tough. Yet, in many ways, the season has been both exciting and surprising. At the beginning of the season, few predicted the team would do as well as it has. Then, not many people saw Pettersson coming.
Although the team is not officially in next season mode, it has made some wise trades and is waiting to look at a number of really strong prospects. It’s not time to say “wait until next season” yet, but I for one am looking forward to next season.