Is it enough? I know I’m itching to get an answer to that question this season. All the moves the Canucks have made during the off-season – are they enough for them to improve upon their last playoff performance? Have the Canucks found the solutions to their problems or are they in for another mediocre and short playoff appearance (if any)?
The Canucks begin the 2015-16 NHL season on October 7th against the Calgary Flames, the team that knocked them out of the 2015 playoffs in six games. As the Canucks begin and continue on through this season, there are several players who are likely going to play a significant role in whether or not the Canucks are successful. These players could be the reason the Canucks go far in the playoffs, or be the reason the Canucks don’t make it at all. Here are (in no particular order) the top five players (or groups of players) to keep an eye on this season:
(1) Brandon Sutter
His last name alone can get people excited. Hailing from the infamous Sutter family, Brandon Sutter could be, according to GM Jim Benning, “a foundation piece” for the Canucks in the years to come. Benning made his belief in the impact Sutter could have on the team even more clear when he signed him to a five year contract extension after acquiring him in a trade that sent forward Nick Bonino and defender Adam Clendening to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sutter will most likely be the second-line centre, and there is a lot of hope that he will be able to contribute offensively on a regular basis, especially as the Sedins reach the later years of their NHL career and as younger players like Bo Horvat continue to develop in the NHL. At 26 years old and with seven years of NHL experience, Sutter bridges the gap between the Sedins and Horvat.
“We acquired Sutter to give us more depth and speed through the middle of the ice, and he is a matchup player too. We’re expecting Bo [Horvat] to come in and have a real good year, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him to have to score,” Benning told NHL.com.
Last year, in 80 games with the Penguins, Sutter had 21 goals and 12 assists; these are the best numbers he has had since 2009-10, when he had 21 goals and 19 assists with the Carolina Hurricanes. However, there have been questions about whether or not Sutter really has the calibre of a second-line centre.
(2) Bo Horvat
Speaking of Bo Horvat, the 20-year old centre is now entering his second year as an NHL regular. Horvat had one of the best rookie performances by a Canuck in quite some time last season. He was strong in the face-off circle and has a mature attitude both on and off the ice. Through 68 games he had 13 goals and 12 assists and in six playoff games had one goal and three assists.
While his play has looked promising and he seems to be developing into a great player, Horvat’s second season will not be easier than the first. Canucks President Trevor Linden knows from experience that a young player’s second year is not always just sunshine and rainbows, even if the player goes in to the season feeling more confident and comfortable than they did in their rookie year.
“Bo is a very mature kid,” Linden told The Province. “But there were no expectations on him whatsoever [last year] and now there is. There is going to be significant pressure on him this year, significant exterior pressure on him. That’s a challenge.”
Despite this, Horvat does bring a lot of great skills and qualities to the team, and he does have the potential to be a key piece to the Canucks’ puzzle. As mentioned above, there is hope that bringing in Sutter will help to relieve some of the pressure off of Horvat, allowing him to stay focused on developing his game in the NHL.
(3) Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom
Even though the Canucks have gotten rid of Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, and Eddie Lack, their goalie situation will not necessarily be any better or more straightforward or clear. This season, since the Canucks traded Lack in the summer, Jacob Markstrom will make the jump up to the NHL to back up Ryan Miller.
With Miller being experienced, but not as consistent as he used to be, the Canucks are likely setting it up for Markstrom to eventually take on the number one goaltending job. At 25 years old, Markstrom has had 50 previous games of NHL experience, losing 28 and winning 13. However, Markstrom had a very good season with the AHL’s Utica Comets in 2014-15, with a 1.88 goals against average and .934% save percentage in 32 games.
“He’s had an excellent year,” Linden told NBC Sports. “He needs to continue to develop at the National Hockey League level, and we’re going to give him that opportunity.”
As for Miller, he will need to improve upon his play last season; he was not necessarily bad in 2014-15, but his play was inconsistent and unspectacular. Many people also often forget that last season Miller was in the midst of adapting a new goaltending style with his new goaltending coach; hopefully he has smoothed out those bumps and will look more comfortable this season.
(4) The Sedins
Most people are tired of hearing others say that ‘the Sedins are getting older, which means they won’t be physically able to contribute to their team as much as in the past.’ Yes, like all other human beings, the Sedins do age. And yes (all kidding aside), it is true that they are two of the oldest players on the Canucks. However, many people from within the Canucks organization know that they still have a lot to offer, and that their age is not necessarily negatively impacting their game.
“The thing with them is they’re so smart they’re able to slow the game down to their own pace,” teammate Alex Burrows told NHL.com. “They’re so smart reading plays offensively … They just do it with their smarts, and that doesn’t really change as you get older.”
Last season was Henrik’s best season offensively since 2010-11, with 18 goals and 55 assists. Daniel also improved on his point totals last season, which was his best season offensively since his 104-point Art Ross year in 2010-11. Most people expect the Sedins to provide goals, successful power plays, and leadership. Hopefully their point totals will continue to rise and improve, their play-making will bring success when their team has the man advantage, and their experience will play a role in mentoring other players.
(5) The Defenders
One of the biggest losses of the Canucks’ off-season was the trade that sent Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks. The Canucks lost a high-character, hard working leader who could also perform well on the ice.
“He’s a warrior. But the team wanted to get younger and provide an opportunity to our defensemen playing in the American [Hockey] League to get a spot on the team, so they traded Kevin to Anaheim,” Burrows told NHL.com.
Benning in particular likes how their young defence prospects with the Utica Comets play the game: “They’re real good puck movers, they get back, they have their head up, and they can transition the puck up the ice fast.”
The Canucks’ current defensive squad consists of Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Luca Sbisa, Matt Bartkowski, and Frank Corrado. Edler, Tanev, Hamhuis and Weber will likely make up the Canucks’ top four. One of the biggest reasons the Canucks have struggled in recent years has been because of defensive issues, so this group of players will be important to observe.