It was a tough 2020 campaign for the Vancouver Canucks. A few injuries and a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the end of the season were just parts of a difficult season where they finished last in the North division amongst all of their Canadian peers. With a young roster, you’d think they’d go for the longer timeline and develop their young talent, but their offseason moves suggest otherwise. The moves suggest a win-now approach that should hopefully move them up the Pacific division standings quickly.
While the team lost some key guys, such as Braden Holtby and Nate Schmidt, they made splashy moves to correspond with these losses. They acquired from the Arizona Coyotes Oliver Ekman-Larsson and arguably their best skater Conor Garland. Those two are an impressive couple of players to add to your team, as it was made very clear the Coyotes are gunning for the first pick and plan on losing as much as possible. This year and beyond, Vancouver has some tough decisions to face hanging tight with the salary cap after re-signing Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
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This group should be better than last year. Young guys are developing, and the acquisition of Garland makes for an intriguing forward core with gritty players and increased speed to their lineup. Adding Vasily Podkolzin and Jason Dickinson create jam and also quite a bit of lineup flexibility. It will be interesting to see what the lines look like and how these new additions will be used.
This group is young. The average age is just 25 years old, and they made some exciting additions and are keeping their core guys around. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road. Remember, this was the last place team a year ago. If nothing else, there should be some excitement to watching these guys and excitement in watching the young kids develop.
The defensemen group is not great. Adding OEL is a huge help, and he’s going to be playing big minutes for Vancouver. Ekman-Larsson has a huge contract, and the hope is he can return to the form he was a few years ago after a couple of down seasons in Arizona. The environment around this team at least gives a healthier environment for winning that the Coyotes don’t have at this point. If he returns to form, that’ll work wonders for the Canucks as they also try to get Hughes back into form after a down season last year. It’s safe to say the vast majority of the defense will be reliant on these two guys getting back to form and being productive players.
Behind those two, it gets iffy. Tucker Poolman signed a big contract that’s probably more than he deserved to get, but the Canucks needed to make a move primarily due to market conditions. Looking down the lineup, there’s a lot of offense-based defensemen and not a lot of defense. Travis Hamonic is a guy that could be a big help as far as being a solid defender. There are pieces, but they need to perform.
Everything is based on Thatcher Demko. This guy looks to be among the best in the league as he continues to develop. At every level, he’s continued to grow and develop. He’s gone through the minors quickly, became a starter, became the full-time number one goalie in 2019. The big question surrounding him now is if he can play 55 games. If he can stay healthy, he’s an excellent backstop for a team that’s weakness is defense.
As for the backup Jaroslav Halak, he’s been a number two for most of his career. He’s an older player, but he fits the role well. If they’re forced to rely on him for long stretches, they’re going to be in trouble, but he’s a perfectly serviceable backup that can fill in some games.
Biggest Question Facing the Canucks
How do the young kids develop? They have a potential star in Hughes coming off a down year. They have guys like Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, and Demko that all are looking at prominent roles for a team that isn’t satisfied with being at the bottom of the division and letting them develop. If they can take the next steps in their development, this team could make the Pacific division race more interesting.
As has been the theme throughout, the young guys and the additions made this offseason are the key. They have intriguing talent, but it needs to be recognized and utilized correctly to get the most out of them. The offense should be improved across the lineup. For the defense, it’s really on the two defensemen at the top.
At just 20 years old, Hughes just got a big extension that takes him into his UFA years. That was a big leap of faith after his last year. It’s a big opportunity to show why he earned the bag. He’s the clear top defenseman on the roster and will be asked to play a lot of minutes producing both offensively and defensively. The defense is the team’s big weakness. It would be a massive help for him to take on the star role.
Like Hughes, OEL will have a huge say in if this defense is going to be worth anything. He’s been bad the last couple of years in Arizona. But it’s Arizona. He’s just 31 and not quite at the end of his prime. This would be the place for him to revive his career a little bit and be a productive defenseman. He’s going to play large amounts of minutes, and it’s going to be everything if he can get back into his old form, or at least something resembling it.
Despite strong moves that push the timeline of this team forward, entering the season with caution should be warranted. The Pacific division is relatively weak with many rebuilding teams, so they should be able to find their way into the top half of the division, but they won’t be able to compete with Edmonton and Vegas at the top. Not this year, at least.
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