Not since the 2011 Stanley Cup final has there been so much buzz around the Vancouver Canucks, but this scenario should end in less rioting and more celebrating for Canucks fans. The rebuilt of the farm system full of high quality prospects and those same players inching closer to being NHL ready should have the Vancouver faithful excited for the near future, but how did they get here?
Goodbye to the old guard.
There is a time to say goodbye to all players, and the marquee twins that lead Vancouver for so long have collectively hung up their skates. In their final NHL season Daniel and Henrik were 2nd and 3rd in team scoring with 55 and 50 points. Both were severe minus players (-22, -20), but with a team in transition that is relatively expected. Regardless, the Sedin’s went out with a bang for the Canucks and did it side by side, as per usual.
It will be a little odd not seeing the Sedins in the league next season. The Swedish twins have been a fixture in the league since the 2000/2001 season, and are have represented the organization admirably for the better part of two decades. With the new generation creeping towards being NHL ready it was time for the 37 year old forwards to move on, opening space and money for the upcoming players.
The man responsible for the six year $36 million deal to Loui Eriksson seemed to have a strong draft for Vancouver, but any man willing to commit to Eriksson for that long should have a close eye kept on him. General Manager Jim Benning sported a new hair style (Dracula-esque) at the NHL Entry Draft this year, and apparently it brought with it a new Benning attitude. No big splash moves, no collusion talk, no tampering with impending free agents; Jimmy was cool and focused on the draft.
Is he the man for the job, the man to take Vancouver to the next step of their development life? He seems as good an option as any right now. Vancouver can learn a lesson from Edmonton and not change their front office while the team is still developing, even if a Stanley Cup winning GM is available like Peter Chiarelli was. Benning may not be totally trust worthy to the fan base and may not be the best GM in the league, but no doubt he wants to see out him impressive prospect pool as they step towards the NHL and prove the doubters wrong.
Benning proved to be a little more shrewd in his off season acquisitions so far this summer with some sensible free agent signings. Jay Beagle, 32, received a 4 year $12 million contract which he couldn’t refuse. He likely won’t see out the contract in the NHL and it will probably send him into retirement, but Beagle is a big body who can suck up some serious minutes (PK included) for a developing team at centre.
Antoine Roussel picked up the exact same deal as Beagle, getting four years of job security at a fair rate for both him an the Canucks. Another “insulation” player, Roussel provides a veteran presence at left wing and at 28 will help balance out what should be a young roster for the next few years. He isn’t a big points player, but Vancouver liked his game enough to commit to him for four years; hey, you cant play ALL your prospects, right?
Another left winger, and another $3 million ($3.366,666 actually) committed, Sven Baertschi re-upped with the Canucks for three more years. Baertschi asked for a trade out of Calgary and got it when it was moved to Vancouver for a 2nd round pick. Calgary thought they salvaged something from the failed first rounder, but sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs. In the last three seasons Baertschi has been able to focus on his game with consistent playing time and has put up 28, 35, and 29 points in his three seasons with the Canucks. He knows the coach, the team, and the system and is a good player to keep around. This may be their best signing of the summer.
The Canucks round out their early summer signings with Tim Schaller and Darren Archibald. Schaller, 27, provides some solid centre depth for Vancouver and brings some more veteran presence to the team on his 2 year $1.9m/year deal. Archibald is more of the same; in Vancouver’s system since 2013/14 Archibald is an extra forward type player providing stability and depth on the wing at a minimal ($650,000) 1 year deal.
The most exciting part of the Canucks right now is their youngsters who are creeping closer to being NHL ready. Much like the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver has stockpiled some high calibre home grown talent and is ready to start reaping the benefits of their patience.
Most exciting of the bunch is Elias Pettersson who is currently playing in the SweHL. The 5th overall pick from Vancouver in the 2017 entry draft has had a phenomenal season with Vaxjo HC, putting up 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points in 44 games. Pettersson added 19 points in 13 playoff games too. He is undoubtedly the highest ranked prospect in Vancouver’s system and is already garnering consideration for the Calder Trophy next season. Should he step into team, the 6’2″ centre will lead the second line, behind only Bo Horvat at centre ice.
If Pettersson is the most exciting prospect for Vancouver then Thatcher Demko is the most important. Commonly referred to as the most important position on the ice, goaltending is what makes teams elite. The 22 year old goalie hopes to slot in for Vancouver, if not this season than in the near future, and bring with him the elite AHL stats he has been putting up for the Utica Comets. 2.44 GAA in 54 games, with one shut out and a .922 save percentage – not bad. Not every team can boast homegrown goaltending talent, so for Vancouver Demko could push them over the top as a young contender team should he come to fruition.
The third prospect that helps set up the Canucks as a promising young team is Olli Juolevi. 6’3″ and near 200lbs – Juolevi brings size and physicality to to the ice with his style of play. Like Pettersson, Juolevi is already getting consideration for the 2018/19 Calder and for good reason. The 5th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has developed nicely since being drafted into a physical presence with offensive upside. According to eliteprospects.com, he is an elite skater with good hockey sense who can escape danger with ease. He knows his limits physically, and projects to be an elite all around defenseman. Look for a midseason call up from the AHL Utica Comets for Juolevi.
Canadian Team Rankings
Alright, so: the old guard has moved on into retirement, the GM is straightening things out, the free agent signings were shrewd and not over the top, and the prospects are stockpiled and elite. With the talent the current roster has like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen (who I think will turn it around), Troy Stetcher, Ben Hutton, and goalie Jacob Markstrom the Canucks are a sneaky good team. The emergence of Boeser last season carried Vancouver to a solid start and made them fun to watch for a few months of the season; he provides them with a solid base to start next season off with.
As it stands now Toronto and Winnipeg are tied at 1 for Canadian team ranking – both are elite teams that can score at will and have impeccable goaltending. Where Winnipeg is better on D, Toronto is better at the centre ice position, but both are too close to call a winner as it stands now. Tied for 3rd then would be Edmonton and Calgary. Both teams had horrible seasons last year, and underperformed. For Edmonton they need to support McDavid with a better cast, and for Calgary the need an elite goaltender. After the Alberta teams Vancouver is ranked 5th for Canadian teams.
Vancouver has a strong skeleton to their NHL franchise and is rising very quickly as their prospect talent looks to step into the big leagues. Both Montreal and Ottawa are tied for last, simply because both franchises don’t want to accept a rebuild and don’t want to cash in on their most valuable assets in Karlsson and Price respectively.
For Vancouver fans the time to grit your teeth and bear the bad play and results is over; bring on the youth and excitement. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks can challenge the Oilers and Flames for games next season and push up towards the top tier of Canadian NHL teams in the next few seasons.