As many fans and analysts alike have pointed out already this offseason, the Vancouver Canucks seem to have a logjam of bottom-six forwards. We don’t know exactly who is going to make the roster after the obvious core players who comprise most of the top-six forward group — guys like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are obvious first-line calibre players.
What we do know, however, is that there is a spot in the lineup for 23-year-old Zack MacEwen if he truly applies himself at camp this September.
In 69 games with the Utica Comets this past season, the Prince Edward Island native put up 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points — good enough for third on the team behind only Reid Boucher and Tanner Kero. You may be wondering why MacEwen would get the nod over Boucher and Kero, seeing as they both had more points and in fewer games.
It’s really quite simple: MacEwen has the size and skill to be an impact player this season. Although we only had a small sample size to go by — he played just four games for the Canucks in the 2018-19 season — the 6-foot-3, 205-pound former Gatineau Olympique notched one assist and was noticeable on the ice.
In a game against the San Jose Sharks in February of 2019, MacEwen dropped the gloves with Sharks’ forward Barclay Goodrow after Logan Couture scored to make the score 2-1 in favour of San Jose. It was a fight full of vigour and zing, and Zack Attack did not disappoint, landing blow-after-blow before wrestling Goodrow to the ice.
Goodrow stands at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds — roughly the same size as the Canucks’ young tough guy. MacEwen made a killer first impression and showed the fans exactly what kind of game he can and will bring to the NHL club when the time comes — and it looks like it has.
Offseason Training Is No Joke
The abundance of third and fourth line players in Vancouver has coerced many NHL hopefuls to undergo intense offseason training. Many of them know that the only way they’re going to outshine their peers at camp is to take their conditioning to the next level.
One way to ensure a productive training session: do it with Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon. That’s exactly what MacEwen did this summer, at least according to a JABO (Just a Bit Outside) Vancouver podcast listener from Nova Scotia.
While there is no way of us knowing with complete certainty whether or not the information is true, it would surely be an obscure lie to fabricate — and to be honest, we like the idea of our boy putting in work with a couple of NHL superstars. If it is true, Canucks fans can get excited about this kid. While anyone would appreciate a chance to work closely with players of their calibre, it would definitely indicate how intensely MacEwen is pursuing a spot on the Canucks opening night roster.
MacEwen’s Role in Vancouver
The team beefed up this summer, and that may be an understatement. I’m talking about the acquisition of 6-foot-8, 229-pound defenseman Tyler Myers. I’m talking about 6-foot-1, 217 pound Micheal Ferland. I’m talking about 6-foot-1, 218-pound J.T. Miller. General manager Jim Benning was busy altering the genetic makeup of the team, rounding it off with size and skill. Myers is a top-four defender while Miller and Ferland are likely to slot in on the first and second lines, respectively.
Where does that leave somebody with MacEwen’s skillset? A big, gritty forward with a great release and untapped potential is surely going to start the season on the fourth line, right?
Not necessarily. While we’ll still have to wait and see what happens at training camp in the next few weeks, it isn’t entirely unlikely that MacEwen works his way up to the third line to start the year. If he impresses head coach Travis Green enough then he may bump another guy down the lineup a bit.
That’s not to say another player doesn’t deserve a shot where we naturally envision them playing — like Jake Virtanen on the third-line wing or Brandon Sutter as the third-line centre — but if MacEwen comes ready to play, there isn’t a good reason he shouldn’t play up the lineup.
We’ve seen the effect that Pettersson has on his linemates’ scoring chances — he tends to make those around him better — much like the Sedins used to with their wingers. Maybe a lineup where MacEwen sees some time with ‘Petey and Brock’ does wonders for his confidence and point totals. Maybe he is the Bertuzzi to Pettersson’s Näslund.
Maybe he rounds out the second coming of the revered West Coast Express line. Or maybe —just maybe — he becomes an irreplaceable third-line centre who provides the Canucks with bottom-six leadership and instills fear in opposing players.
With a bit of creativity and risk-taking, would a lineup like this work for the team?
MacEwen – Pettersson – Boeser
Miller – Horvat – Pearson
Goldobin – Gaudette – Virtanen
Ferland – Beagle – Leivo
Or if that forward group has you clenching your fist, maybe something like this will be more appealing?
Miller – Pettersson – Boeser
Goldobin – Horvat – Pearson
Ferland – MacEwen – Virtanen
Motte – Gaudette – Leivo
In any scenario, somebody will be left off the roster — probably more than one player that fans will believe should be there. That’s part of the process though and thats why training camp is so important. There may be trades, there may be AHL assignments, or there may be nothing spectacular at all.
One thing is guaranteed, though: MacEwen is ready for the NHL.
Shane Wilson is a staff writer from Richmond, British Columbia. The former executive editor for Australia-based news outlet Rock Nation covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers and hosts a monthly comedy show in Steveston, B.C.