Yes, you read that title correctly. The Vancouver Canucks are currently a playoff team in the National Hockey League. Players are stepping up at the right time and systems are being played quite effectively – the Canucks are playing a fast and tough to play against style of hockey. Considering the Canucks haven’t seen the postseason in three seasons, it’s a nice change of pace.
Perhaps what is most impressive about the team’s current spot in the Pacific Division is the fact that they’ve battled a handful of key injuries. For example, rookie sensation Elias Pettersson has been the offensive face of the team and he’s been absent for 11 contests and counting so far this season.
Canucks’ 2018-19: The Obstacles
Heading into the 2018-19 season, concerns were across the board for this re-building Canucks squad – scoring, defence and goaltending were all big question marks.
Canucks’ Scoring Concerns
After the retirement of Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the offensive workload was being primarily shifted to names like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Previously, the Canucks had counted on the Sedins for a combined 100 points or more in their later seasons. Could the youthful duo step up and fill the void? Keep in mind that Boeser was coming off a season-ending back injury.
Canucks’ Defensive Concerns
Coming out of the atrocious 2017-18 season that saw the Canucks give up the most goals in the Western Conference (264), fans were hopeful for an offseason deal to make some changes to the defense corps. Spoiler alert, the Canucks made no moves and kept the exact same group.
A lot of responsibility and pressure was now on players like Ben Hutton, Derrick Pouliot and Troy Stecher to step up and not only play lights-out defence, but also contribute offensively. With Quinn Hughes on the come up, I’m sure the team was looking to just kill some time.
Canucks’ Goaltending Concerns
The Canucks had a very interesting log jam between the pipes to start the 2018-19 campaign. The team had two nearly identical goalies in Anders Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom and also two phenomenal prospects by the names of Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro. Neither Nilsson nor Markstrom are goalies you want to build a franchise around, unfortunately. They’re both great and capable backups in most organizations, but this team is going to build around Demko and DiPietro, but the question is when?
How long would the team need to ride two mediocre goalies before they can start really looking towards a competitive future?
Canucks’ 2018-19: The Surprises
This 2018-19 Canucks squad was undoubtedly in need of a miracle or two to be a competitive hockey club. Maybe the hockey gods started feeling bad for the Canucks faithful and threw them a few bones.
Canucks’ Scoring Surprises
The Canucks scored the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference in the 2017-18 season (218) and that was with the 105 points from the Sedins. All eyes were now on Boeser and Horvat, and also this kid coming out of the SHL, the aforementioned Pettersson.
Everybody knew that Pettersson was good, but I don’t think anybody thought that the 19-year-old Swede would have the success he’s had – he now has 23 goals for 44 points in 39 games. The addition of this offensive flare down the middle completely revamped the team’s offence.
Now Pettersson plays with Boeser, and the two have combined for one of the most lethal lines in the league. This also allowed Horvat to slide down a line and add more depth to the team.
Beyond that, the team’s depth-scorers like Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen are having career-best seasons and taking some of that previously-mentioned pressure off the backs of players like Boeser, Horvat and Pettersson.
Canucks’ Defence Surprises
As you most likely read above, the Canucks made no changes on defence so they were relying heavily on their guys to come through in a big way and, you know what, they have. Primarily Hutton, who was subjected to very public criticisms from not only the fans, but also Travis Green and his staff. It was clear that Green was displeased with Hutton’s conditioning, among other things.
— James Cybulski (@JamesCybulski) May 18, 2018
Hutton’s conditioning is no longer a concern and Green, once again, publicized his notice of such. Hutton is playing with the swagger that we saw in his 25-point rookie season. He’s skating with confidence and moving the puck with authority – something we have not seen from the Brockville, Ontario product in a few seasons. Currently, Hutton is top-10 in Canucks scoring with 17 points and is on-pace to shatter his career-high 25-point marker.
Canucks’ Goaltending Surprises
Both Nilsson and Markstrom had losing records for the 2017-18 season and fans were witness to quite a few rough games and weak goals allowed. Jumping to the 2018-19 season, Nilsson once again had a losing record before being traded to the Ottawa Senators, but Markstrom is posting a pretty solid record of 19-12-5. He’s had a number of really strong performances and won over the confidence of the fans, and most importantly, his teammates.
The #Canucks best offseason addition in the summer of 2018: goaltending coach Ian Clark.
Jacob Markstrom is playing lights out & Clark’s early work (in the lead up to the season & now) with Thatcher Demko is off to a good start. #NHL
— Randip Janda (@RandipJanda) January 19, 2019
Also, Demko made history this season and became the first goalie in Canucks history to win his first two starts – he won his only start last season, and so far this season, he’s undefeated. He’s likely going to get some more action as we head for the back-nine of the season.
Canucks’ 2019 Playoffs
There’s still quite a bit of hockey left to be played and the Canucks could easily slip out of a playoff position. Honestly, fans would be just fine with that – they are fully committed to the rebuild. With that being said, you can’t put a price on playoff experience.
Even if the Canucks make it and face an early first-round exit, it’s still experience for their youthful core, who the team is expecting to carry them to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Every loss is a lesson and I’m a firm supporter of a Canucks playoff run in 2018-19.
Before April arrives, the NHL Trade Deadline stops by first and there’s a lot of talk about the Canucks making some moves. There’s a lot of interest in veteran defender Alex Edler,who could make for a solid rental on a Cup-contending team – someone like the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The plan appears to be flip Edler at the deadline for some sort of return, whether that be a pick, prospect or established player, and then re-sign him in the offseason and bring him back into the fold so he can retire where he started it. Beyond Edler, I don’t believe the Canucks will be too active as the deadline approaches. However, the addition of a true top-line winger to play alongside Pettersson and Boeser would be happily welcomed.
After the deadline passes, the key to any postseason success for the Canucks will be staying healthy and keeping the big guns firing. Outside of that, Demko will need to play big whenever he gets the call.
What do you think about the Canucks in the playoffs? Are you on team tank or team playoffs? How do you feel about deadline moves? Let me know in the comments down below!
Matt is a longtime fan, player and student of the game of hockey. Broadcast and Online Journalism student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.