Saturday, January 9, 2021

Vancouver Canucks 2020-21 Season Preview

 

From Getty Images

       The 2019-20 was the season of the kids for the Canucks. Elias Pettersson repeated his Calder winning season, and Quinn Hughes finished 2nd this year. In net, Thatcher Demko went off in the playoffs. However, things did get worse for Vancouver in the offseason, as GM Jim Benning made a series of questionable moves. Even though the North Division doesn't have any super teams, they have a bunch of just good teams, and the Canucks are one of them.

Additions: D Nate Schmidt, G Braden Holtby.

Subtractions: G Jacob Markstrom, F Tyler Toffoli, D Chris Tanev, F Josh Leivo, D Troy Stecher, D Oscar Fantenberg.

Best Move: Acquiring Nate Schmidt from Vegas for a third round pick.

Worst Move: Replacing Jacob Markstrom with Braden Holtby.

One Move I'd Make: Trade away Brandon Sutter (if possible)

Best Contract: Bo Horvat, three years remaining with a $5.5 million cap hit.

Worst Contract: Loui Eriksson, two years remaining with a $6 million cap hit. 

New Division Rivals: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg.

Pending UFAs: Tanner Pearson, Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter, Jordie Benn, Sven Baertschi.

Pending RFAs: Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Adam Gaudette, Thatcher Demko, Olli Juolevi. 


Forwards

Elias Pettersson's 2018-19 and 2019-20 weren't really different. In 2019-20, he scored 27 goals with 39 assists, with one less goal and one more assist in three less games than in his rookie season. Pettersson had a 55.2 CF%, over 9% higher than the team average. Pettersson wasn't actually the team leader in points. When the Canucks traded a 1st and 3rd round pick for JT Miller, people thought the price was way too high. But, Miller scored 27 goals with a team leading 72 points, both career highs, in 69 games. Brock Boeser scored 16 goals, a career low, with 45 points in 57 games. Miller, Pettersson and Boeser made up an effective first line nicknamed the "lotto line". In his first season as captain of the Canucks, Bo Horvat scored 22 goals with 53 points. Horvat has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past four seasons, and has crosses the 50 point mark in three of the four seasons. Plus, he is still only 25 years old. The Canucks got Tanner Pearson in 2018-19 when his value was at an all-time low. Last year, he scored 21 goals, hitting the 20 mark for the second time in his career. His 45 points were a career high. Former 6th overall pick Jake Virtanen broke out last, with career highs in goals (18), assists (18) and points (36). He also eclipsed 100 hits for the third consecutive season. Adam Gaudette had an encouraging second season, and he has a great chance at being the third line center. He scored 12 goals with 33 points in 59 games. 2019 second round pick Nils Hoglander has a good shot at the roster. He had 14 points in 23 games in Sweden last year. In last year's World Juniors, Hoglander had five goals with six assists in seven games. Antoine Roussel scored seven goals in 41 games, with 43 penalty minutes. It broke a streak of six consecutive 100+ penalty minute seasons. Jay Beagle was a consistent bottom-six center in Washington, but has fallen off with the Canucks. Last year, Beagle had eight points in 55 games, with a -5.4 GAR. Still, he appears to be the favorite for the fourth line center role. That could go to Brandon Sutter, who was more value than Beagle but can play the wing. Sutter had eight goals with nine assists and a 4 GAR in 44 games last year. Both Beagle and Sutter kill penalties. The last spot on the fourth line is between Tyler Motte and Loui Eriksson. Both can play on the penalty kill. Motte had four goals in 34 games, but matched that in 17 playoff games. The Canucks may try to bury Eriksson's contract. He had 13 points in 49 games last year. The Canucks signed Michael Ferland to a four year deal before 2019-20, but he missed most of the season with concussion issues. He had five points in 14 games. Ferland is expected to start the season on LTIR. Sven Baertschi has had success in the NHL in the past, but spent most of last year in the AHL. He had two assists in six NHL games, but he excelled with the Utica Comets, with 46 points in 43 games. Undrafted forward Zack MacEwen had 11 points in 20 AHL games, and scored five goals in 17 NHL games. 

Defensemen

Quinn Hughes became the star of the Vancouver defense last year, as he finished 2nd in Calder voting and 15th in Norris voting. Hughes had 53 points, 45 of them assists, in 68 game. I don't think anyone saw Hughes more than doubling the point total of his brother Jack, a forward. Dealing with cap issues, the Golden Knights traded energetic defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Canucks. Schmidt was a key part of the first three seasons of Golden Knights hockey. He had 31 points in 59 games last year, with 91 blocked shots. Alex Edler returns for his 15th, and potentially final season as a Canuck. Edler had 33 points in 59 games last year, and he hits the 100 mark in blocked shots for the seventh consecutive season and in hits for the fourth year. However, Edler did see his average ice time hit its lowest point since 2008-09. The Canucks gave Tyler Myers a five year deal last year, and everyone immediately hated it. It makes sense, as Myers had a -1.6 GAR in his first season in Vancouver. The big defenseman had 21 points with 108 blocked shots and 99 hits last year. The Canucks recently signed former rival Travis Hamonic to a PTO. Hamonic opted-out of the playoffs after a 50 game campaign for the Flames. He was productive in 2018-19, with 19 points, a +21 rating and an 8.5 GAR in 69 games. Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks picked over Matthew Tkachuk in 2016, should become a regular after debuting in the postseason. In 45 AHL games, Juolevi had 25 points. After a great 2018-19, Jordie Benn came to Vancouver and regressed. He had seven points in 44 games, with a -3.4 GAR. 

Goalies

Former Vezina winner Braden Holtby has regressed over the past few years. 2019-20 was easily his worst season. As Ilya Samsonov came for his job, Holtby had an .897 SV% with a 3.11 GAA and a -16.76 GSAA. Surprisingly, Holtby is only 31 years old. Thatcher Demko was ineffective in his first year as a backup, with a .905 SV%. But, when Markstrom went down in the postseason, the Golden Knights could not score on Demko. He allowed two goals on 130 shots, for a .985 SV% and a .64 GAA. 


Projected Lines

JT Miller - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson - Bo Horvat - Jake Virtanen

Nils Hoglander - Adam Gaudette - Antoine Roussel

Tyler Motte - Jay Beagle - Brandon Sutter

Extras: Loui Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, Michael Ferland, Zack MacEwen.


Quinn Hughes - Nate Schmidt

Alex Edler - Tyler Myers

Olli Juolevi - Travis Hamonic

Extras: Jordie Benn


Braden Holtby

Thatcher Demko


Projection

The Canucks have a very talented core. After that, it is a bunch of aging veterans who have fallen off. Goaltending is an issue, unless Demko found something in the playoffs. The Canucks have a lot of competition in the North Division, but besides maybe Toronto, their isn't a team that is obviously better than them. The Canucks will finish in third place, with a playoff spot in hand. 

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