By: Brandon Braich, Peak Associate
After four straight years of missing the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks will look to turn things around in the 2019–20 season. Let’s look at how the lineup has taken shape as the season begins:
While the Canucks have struggled in many areas over the last few years, if there has been one defining problem, it has been their inability to put the puck in the net. The Canucks have scored 801 goals over the past four seasons, the lowest of all NHL teams, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights who have only played for two seasons.
For the first time since having the Sedins in their prime, Vancouver should have a potent first line led by Calder Memorial Trophy winner Elias Pettersson. Pettersson was electric early in his debut season, but slowed down as the season progressed. With this in mind, the young Swede bulked up this off-season and is a good bet to represent the Canucks in the coming All-Star game.
Fresh off a new contract, Brock Boeser will look to build upon a promising first two seasons in the league. While Boeser has been productive, he has struggled to stay healthy, and the Canucks will need that to change this season.
New captain Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson, and the recently acquired J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland will round out a strong top six. Horvat had a career season manning the second line last year, scoring 27 goals with 61 points while playing all 82 games.
After the top six is where the question marks begin to pile up, as the Canucks’ depth is potentially a major weakness. Brandon Sutter has gotten off to a decent start, which is a good sign, as the Canucks need a bounce-back year from the veteran forward.
The Canucks controversially waived Sven Baertschi this off-season, a move that will see increased scrutiny if the bottom six fails to produce this year. Already, veteran Loui Eriksson has seen time in the press box. Entering his fourteenth season, Eriksson has seen a steady decline in production and ice time during his tenure with Vancouver.
The Canucks prioritized significant blue line upgrades this off-season by bringing in Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn. While Myers will log major minutes and certainly help the team, many were skeptical of the large contract handed to the soon-to-be 30-year-old defenseman.
The most intriguing piece of the blue line will be rookie Quinn Hughes. Despite turning 20 a few months ago, Hughes has already shown great promise and is a dark horse to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. Hughes is already NHL ready at the offensive end and is an elite skater with great instincts and shot. The question with Hughes will be how he holds up on the defensive end. Coach Travis Green has paired Hughes with Chris Tanev, perhaps hoping the reliable, defensive-minded veteran will be able to help the rookie grow in this area.
Vancouver has a strong tandem in the crease, with veteran Jacob Markstrom entering the year as the clear starter. Markstrom got off to a poor start last season, but finished the year strong by going 20–14–6 with a 2.49 GAA (goals-against average) and .921 save percentage in his final 40 starts. Consistency has always been an issue for the 29-year-old, who has certainly shown promise at times.
If Markstrom struggles, he may not keep his job for long, as top prospect Thatcher Demko will begin the year as the Canucks’ backup. Selected 36 overall in the 2014 draft, Demko has put the work in for the Canucks AHL affiliate and is potentially the goalie of the future if Markstrom doesn’t solidify his grasp on the role over the next season or two.
Expect the Canucks to remain competitive for one of the wild card spots, especially if they can remain healthy. The difference maker may be the power play, where the Canucks will have a legitimate quarterback in Hughes complemented by two big shots at either wing in Pettersson and Boeser. If the Canucks can put together a top five power play unit, expect them to be playing hockey in April for the first time in five seasons.