The Hockey News has already predicted that the Vancouver Canucks will finally become Stanley Cup champions this season – if there is a season that is. The Canucks currently do not look like the team that went to the Cup Finals in 2011. There have been additions as well as departures, injuries and requests to be traded, and after their disappointing season-ending first round in the spring this team needs to turn their actions around and return to their previous pinnacle of success.
But how are they to reach that again? There are two players whose actions will be crucial to the Canucks’ progress, the first of which is Cory Schneider. It is no secret that Roberto Luongo will be leaving Vancouver sometime in the near future. He recently stated that he wants to return to Florida and the Canucks management are preparing for future seasons without him. Schneider unofficially took over the number one goaltending spot in the first round against the LA Kings in the spring. As well, AHL goalie Eddie Lack was recently re-signed, further reflecting the fact that the days of Luongo in Vancouver will become few and far between as new and younger faces step up to fill his role.
Schneider will be taking over a huge role from Luongo. While Schneider is already extremely well-spoken and respected among his team and the public, he must succeed this season. The Canucks do not necessarily need him to steal the show with flashy saves, but instead need him to provide good, solid goaltending that they can depend on each game. Schneider has never played a full season as an NHL starter, so this is not just crucial for the team, but for himself and his image. How he copes with the pressure of playing in Vancouver will determine much of his and his team’s success.
While it was not Luongo’s fault that the Canucks lost the Cup in 2011, the team began to recognize the goaltending issues that had started to creep up on them in the first round when Schneider played game six against the Chicago Blackhawks. If Schneider has the mental stability and consistency to make it through a whole season and the playoffs then the Canucks will be one step above most other teams. Last season Schneider posted a 20-8-1 record, and the Canucks generally played very well when he was in net.
The second player who must play well this season is Ryan Kesler. He was one of the major causes of the Canucks’ 2011 Cup run, but seemed almost invisible last season because of injuries and surgery, returning to the lineup too early and therefore limiting his success. He now has had more offseason shoulder and wrist surgeries and his agent has claimed that he will not return ahead of schedule.
“…he’s not returning until he’s 100 percent,” Kurt Overhardt, Kesler’s agent, told The Province. “Don’t expect him until December.”
While Henrik Sedin will be the only top center playing for the Canucks for the first few months, Kesler needs to fully recover.
“You’re never going to question Kesler’s determination to be an impact player, but if the body can’t follow he’s just not going to be the same player,” NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com.
“I have no question if he’s healthy he can get back to that elite level. But he needs his body to be at a level commensurate with his heart.”
Kesler played a large role as part of the Canucks’ core group and offensive depth and he greatly impacts the success of others who need to improve, such as Mason Raymond and David Booth. Raymond and Booth are both capable of scoring 20-plus goals. Raymond scored 25 goals in 2009-10, but has not reached 20 since. Booth, who was brought on to the team partly to play with and create chemistry with Kesler, has had three seasons in which he scored over 20 goals, even reaching the 30 goal mark once. Last season, his first with the Canucks, was not one of those 20 goal seasons. These players have the capability and the skills needed to play a large role in the Canucks’ success and Kesler is likely the man to get them jump started.
Kesler is also needed to score, both during five-on-five and on the power play. As well, he is a leader on and off the ice and is a crucial part of the team. Kesler has a significant role, but just because he has a role, it does not mean that he has filled it. This season, he needs to fill his role.
While there are multiple different aspects that are important to the Canuck’s success, Schneider and Kesler are two important factors for the Canucks this season. If these two create success, they will greatly impact their teammates and help them get a little bit closer to their predicted Stanley Cup win.