The Canucks may not have made the playoffs in a weak Pacific Division, but last year did bring some promising positives. For one, they have a very solid core, one that was not separated despite rumors this offseason. Also, they had a great second half. After Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach, Vancouver went 32-15-10. That is a pace for 106 points over a full season! The team may not be that good, but they showed that they could be a contender. Execution over a full season is the only thing missing.
Offseason additions: F Ilya Mikheyev, F Andrei Kuzmenko, F Curtis Lazar, G Collin Delia, D Danny DeKeyser (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: F Alex Chiasson, G Jaroslav Halak, D Brad Hunt, F Matthew Highmore, F Juho Lammikko.
Even though his first two seasons with the team were great, it didn’t feel like we knew that JT Miller was a superstar for sure until 2021-22. Not only was he first on the team in points, but it wasn’t close. Miller had 99 points, while no other player had 70. After over a year of vague trade rumblings, Miller secured a seven-year, $56 million extension this offseason. The other big contract signed by the team this summer showed a lot loss confidence, as Brock Boeser only got a three-year deal in restricted free agency. Boeser has been unable to reach the magic of his rookie season, and his 46 points in 71 games last season was the worst of his career. Boeser is normally touted for his shot, but had just a 6.65 on-ice shooting percentage at even strength, so there is reason to chalk it up to bad luck. With Miller playing a lot more center last season, the left wing depth certainly is weaker for the Canucks. Tanner Pearson is coming off a rebound season, but he only scored 14 goals in it. Pearson’s goals for percentage of fifty-nine was the second-highest on the team.
The face of the franchise is supposed to be Elias Pettersson, but he was lost for the first part of last season. Through his first 37 games, Pettersson scored just six goals with 11 assists. It was a mind-boggling cold streak for an elite player. Luckily, he looked more like himself after that scoring 26 goals with 51 points in the final 43 games of the year. While his 32 goals and 68 points were both career-highs, the Canucks should expect more out of Pettersson. While the beginning of the season had a ton of lows, the addition of Conor Garland was not one of them. Acquired from Arizona in the offseason, Garland scored 19 goals with 33 assists for 52 points in 77 games. Garland had a 53.96 xGF% and a 60.87 GF%, both of which led the team. While he may not be well known yet outside of Vancouver circles, then hope is that Andrei Kuzmenko can be an impact player for the top-six. An undrafted 26-year-old, Kuzmenko was signed from St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. He scored 20 goals with 53 total points in 45 games for them last year, and added 14 in 16 postseason games.
Captain Bo Horvat’s potential role as the third line center is not a commentary on his play, rather on the strength of Vancouver’s center depth. Horvat scored 31 goals in 70 games last year while adding 21 assists. He plays on both special teams units, and received a Selke vote for the first time in his career last season. Horvat’s defensive work would go well with Ilya Mikheyev, who priced his way out of Toronto by scoring 21 goals in 53 games last season. While it was the first time that he had shown the ability to score that much, Mikheyev also rocked a 57.67 xGF%. Vancouver entered the season with Calder hype for Vasily Podkolzin. While he didn’t deliver on that, Podkolzin still had a fine rookie campaign. He scored 14 goals with 12 assists, and that is in a much smaller role than other rookies around the league. As long as he is playing in the top-nine, Podkolzin can expect to have a very good linemate, or two, which could increase his scoring.
The additions of Kuzmenko and Mikheyev will end up hurting Nils Hoglander the most. The talent is there with the 2019 second-round pick, but the production hasn’t been. Playing in 60 games, he scored ten goals with eight assists. His ice time was cut back from his solid rookie season, which is a bit of a concern. Still, Hoglander had the fourth-best xGF% among the team’s forwards. The Canucks tried to take advantage of the expansion draft last year and plucked Jason Dickinson from the Stars. However, Dickinson struggled in his first year with the team. He had just 11 points in 62 games, which is not the concern. The concern is his 2.65 xGA/60, the second-worst on the team, and his 43.6 xGF%, the worst. Dickinson’s poor play was enough for the team to have already signed a potential replacement in Curtis Lazar. An effective part of Boston’s bottom line last season, Lazar scored eight goals with 186 hits last season. Longtime AHL player Justin Dowling landed with the Canucks last year after being in the Stars system since 2012-13. Dowling had four points in 22 NHL games, and 14 in 15 AHL contests.
The defensive concerns with Quinn Hughes are real, as he had the worst xGA/60 on the Vancouver defensive core. But there is no denying his offensive skill. Hughes had 68 points in 76 games, finishing eighth among defenders in scoring. He was included on nine different Norris ballots. To try and curb Hughes’ defensive struggles, the Canucks put him with veteran Luke Schenn, who may have found a home in Vancouver. Schenn had 17 points in 66 games, along with 273 hits and a 57.8 goals for percentage.
The Canucks acquired a lost Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Coyotes. In his first season with the team, the results were much, much better, although still not close to prime Ekman-Larsson. His production was still low, as Ekman-Larsson had just 29 points. He had a 50.55 xGF%, the second-best on the D-core. The always-polarizing Tyler Myers had 18 points last year, which was a career-low. But he is still using his body, and has stayed healthy since signing with Vancouver. Myers blocked 148 shots with 145 hits last season.
Vancouver made a savvy move at the deadline by sending a third-round pick to Toronto for Travis Dermott. While he isn’t physical and has always played in a sheltered role, Dermott has brought solid results. He had a 53.6 xGF% after the trade, which was much better than any other regular Vancouver defender. The Canucks still owe Tucker Poolman $7.5 million over the next three seasons after a giving him a confusing four-year deal in free agency last season. Poolman had been a depth defender for the Jets before, and continued to be one last year. Poolman played in 40 games last year, blocking 73 shots. While he only had five career NHL games entering last season, Kyle Burroughs ended up playing in 42 for the Canucks last year. He had five points with 39 penalty minutes and 122 hits. Veteran Danny DeKeyser is in Canucks camp on a PTO after ten seasons in Detroit. Once a strong second-pairing defender, DeKeyser has hit a tough aging curve. He had 11 points in 59 games for the Red Wings last year.
His standard numbers have never looked great, but Thatcher Demko is a star. He had a .915 save percentage with a 2.72 GAA last season, which is solid. Demko had a 7.3 goals saved above expected, and finished in the top-ten the season before. It is hard to think about where this team would have been last year without Demko. He is a workhorse who may have to work even harder without a veteran backup. Twenty-seven-year-old Spencer Martin made his first NHL start since 2016-17 last season, and had a .950 save percentage in six games. In 25 AHL contests, Martin had a 2.43 GAA with a .914 save percentage.
Tanner Pearson – JT Miller – Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Conor Garland
Ilya Mikheyev – Bo Horvat – Vasily Podkolzin
Nils Hoglander – Jason Dickinson – Curtis Lazar
Scratched: Justin Dowling
Quinn Hughes – Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Travis Dermott – Tucker Poolman
Scratched: Danny DeKeyser, Kyle Burroughs