October 4th 2017- With the Canucks set to open their season against Edmonton on Saturday, Van City Sport previews what could be on tap for the Canucks this season.
After finishing 28th and 29th in the past two seasons, the good news for the Canucks, is there is only one direction to go this season.
The Canucks had one of the busiest off seasons in the NHL, signing the likes of Alex Burmistrov, Sam Gagner, Anders Nilsson, Thomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto through free agency, as well as picking up former 8th overall draft pick defenseman Derick Pouliot from Pittsburgh in a trade for Andrey Pedan.
The good news is, the organization has admitted they are rebuilding. The bad news is, it’s a rebuild, so it won’t be fast. The Canucks look to be on pace for yet another sub-par year without playoffs. With the acquisition of seasoned NHL veterans throughout the off season, as well as the deep and talented prospect pool that is headlined by former first rounder’s Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser, this year’s Canuck team looks to be able to compete better than the last couple of seasons.
The Canucks still face tough decisions before opening night. One of the biggest decisions being naming their starting goaltender.
With Ryan Miller having departed for Anaheim, the Canucks brought in former Buffalo Sabers goaltender Anders Nilson to challenge Jacob Markstrom for the starting position. At 6’6” Nilsson started 26 games for the Sabres in their 2016-17 campaign, posting a .923 save percentage. Markstrom took part in 26 games, playing second string to Miller and finishing the season with a .911 save percentage. While the two are expected to share the goaltending duties in Vancouver, it is unclear who the starter is. New head coach Travis Green played both Swedes throughout the preseason, with each of them looking like reliable goaltenders. Van City Sport hockey analyst Ben Jansen shared his thoughts on the goaltender battle brewing in Vancouver, saying “We have two goalies who offer much the same in the way of skill, but I see Markstrom starting out the season, because of his familiarity with the club and the city. But don’t be surprised to see Nilson take his fair share of games throughout the campaign.” Vancouver will need standout goaltending from the both of them if the club is to have any chance at a successful season.
The rest of the Canucks lineup looks set for opening night, especially the forwards who will look to rebound after scoring only 182 goals and finishing second last offensively in 2016-17.
Green, who plans to roll four lines will be looking for offensive contributions from all of his forwards throughout the season. Lacking the offensive star power most other western teams possess, the Canucks will have to hope for a bounce back season from the Sedins, a breakout season from Virtanen and Boeser, as well as successful seasons from potential 20 goal scorers Vanek, Horvat, Eriksson, Baertschi, Granlund, Gagner and Sutter. Brock Boeser showed he was able to score in the NHL last season, but the question is; can he maintain it throughout a full season? If Boeser is able to lead the Canucks offense alongside the Sedins and Horvat, then the Canucks could have some success offensively this season.
While Alex Edler and Chris Tanev will once again anchor the defense, the Canucks will need to get more out of Troy Stetcher, and Ben Hutton as well as hope Erik Gudbranson is able to stay healthy. The Canucks defense will only be helped with the acquisition of Derick Pouliot from Pittsburgh, though he is no “quick-fix” to the Canucks defensive woes.
Vancouver’s blue line scored only 22 goals last year, tying them for the lowest scoring defense in the league alongside the dismal Colorado Avalanche. If Pouliot is able to help the defenders’ goal scoring struggles, the Canucks could prove to be a tougher opponent to play against this winter.
Vancouver isn’t expecting a “miracle” this season, but they aren’t expecting to come last either. Ben Jansen projects the Canucks will come twentieth in the league this season and miss the playoffs. While twentieth is nothing to boast about, improvement would be gladly welcomed by the fan base and the organization. This is a franchise in a rebuild, with veterans on their way out and youth on the way in. The dream scenario for the Canucks this year will be to have their younger players start to make themselves NHL regulars, playing big minutes and providing an offensive spark.
Vancouver opens their season at home to their Pacific Division foes, the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday the 8th. Puck drop is set for 7pm (Pacific). The game will be shown on CBC as well as across the Sportsnet Network.