Review: The Canucks limped to an 18-25-3 record (.424 points percentage) under Bruce Boudreau before replacing him behind the bench with Rick Tocchet. They were better under the new coach, going 20-12-4 (.611), though the Canucks still finished a dozen points out of a playoff spot. The Canucks struggled to control play, ranking 24th with 47.0% of shot attempts and 25th with 46.5% of expected goals during score-and-venue-adjusted five-on-five play. That is obviously not a winning formula, especially when it gets paired with abysmal penalty killing. During four-on-five play, the Canucks ranked 27th in expected goals against per 60 minutes and 30th in actual goals against per 60. Even a team with a top ten power play couldn’t overcome those problems.
What’s Changed? After buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, not giving Ethan Bear a qualifying offer after he was injured at the World Championships, and losing Kyle Burroughs as a free agent, the Canucks shored up their blueline, adding Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, and Matt Irwin to provide some veteran stability. The Canucks will also have Filip Hronek in a major role on defense. He played just four games after he was acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline. Up front, Vancouver stuck with low-key additions, bringing in centers Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter, inexpensive options who should be able to help on the lower half of the depth chart. It was not the most aggressive offseason, but the overhaul on the blueline could make a difference.
What would success look like? Barring a bad run of injuries, the Canucks are too good to bottom out, so success would have this team reaching the playoffs. That will require goaltender Thatcher Demko to bounce back to his previous form and the new-look defense will need to be more reliable than what the Canucks were working with last season. Real long-term success would probably include getting Elias Pettersson signed to a long-term contract extension, but if the Canucks continue to get high-end production out of Pettersson and J.T. Miller, that will give them the offensive foundation to be competitive.
What could go wrong? Most teams would be in trouble if they lost their starting goaltender to injury, but that insecurity may be more pronounced in Vancouver, where Thatcher Demko is so much better than backup Spencer Martin. If the new faces on defense don’t make Vancouver any more reliable, and regression comes for sophomore winger Andrei Kuzmenko, suddenly the season could start going sideways for Vancouver. Can head coach Rick Tocchet guide this team to more consistent play? There were some positive signs last season, not least of all that J.T. Miller showed up to play down the stretch, but it is easy to look at the Canucks going into this season and feel like what could go wrong is a more likely outcome that what success would look like.
Top Breakout Candidate: Part of the return for last season’s trade sending Bo Horvat to the Islanders, Anthony Beauvillier is in a great situation with Vancouver to have the best season of his career. He produced 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in his first 18 games with the Canucks before fading late in the season, but he is expected to have a shot at skating on the top line with Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko in addition to having a spot as part of Vancouver’s top power play unit. If Beauvillier holds onto those roles, he should surpass his relatively modest career high of 40 points, set last season.
After producing between 66 and 68 points in three of his first four seasons, Pettersson busted out in 2022-2023, scoring 102 points (39 G, 63 A), a thoroughly impressive season that showcased his offensive potential. Pettersson generated 3.21 shots on goal per game, easily the highest rate of his career, and he should be shooting as much as possible because he has an exceptional release. He scored on 15.2% of his shots last season, the lowest rate of his career, but he has scored on 16.6% of his shots through five NHL seasons. In those five seasons, there are only six players to have at least 500 shots on goal and have a higher shooting percentage than Pettersson – Leon Draisaitl, Brayden Point, Mark Scheifele, T.J. Oshie, Steven Stamkos, and Chris Kreider. From December 3rd through January 14th, Pettersson had 25 points (7 G, 18 A) and 61 shots on goal in 16 games. Pettersson, who still looks like he can get knocked over by a stiff breeze, is a surprisingly effective defender, with his hockey sense overcoming his lack of brawn. His reliable defensive play helps drive his strong possession results, and Pettersson tied with teammate J.T. Miller for the league lead with five shorthanded goals and nine shorthanded points last season. On the power play, Pettersson’s wrist shot from the right circle is a weapon, one that should probably be used more often. The Canucks earned 53.7% of expected goals during five-on-five play with Pettersson on the ice and that was the best mark on the team. Obviously, there is a lot to like about a 100-point scorer that can drive play. Pettersson is likely to see some regression after his on-ice shooting percentage of 12.1%, but his elevated shot rate is a strong foundation for point production. It would still be reasonable to expect 35 goals and 90 points from Pettersson.
An immensely talented player who will palpably downshift his effort when he gets frustrated, Miller has some of the worst backchecking lowlights in the league. However, when he is on his game, Miller uses his size to protect the puck and has high-end skill to go with it, so he creates opportunities in the offensive zone. His 117 assists in the past two seasons he ranks 12th in the league. Miller also plays with a physical edge to his game and recorded a career-high 200 hits last season. Miller has versatility in his toolbox, too. He can play wing or center and in four seasons with the Canucks, has won 55.2% of his 3,363 draws. While he is a big point producer, Miller’s possession game is suspect. The Canucks controlled 50.9% of five-on-five shot attempts with Miller on the ice but earned just 46.5% of expected goals. He should be better than that, but it requires more consistency in his all-around game. Miller had a strong finish to the 2022-2023 season, scoring 28 points (12 G, 16 A) in 21 games after the trade deadline. Miller should still be good for 30 goals and 80-plus points, and it is worth noting that his on-ice shooting percentage last season was 6.9%, his lowest since 2013-2014, so he could be due for some positive regression and that could give him more scoring potential.
The 27-year-old ripped up the NHL in his first season, scoring 39 goals and 74 points, and was an unusually pleasant surprise for the Canucks. As exciting as Kuzmenko was, he is a prime candidate for regression. He scored a bunch of goals from the doorstep in 2022-2023 and led the league with a shooting percentage of 27.3%, which is not a sustainable rate over a long period of time. Among skaters that have recorded at least 500 shots on goal in the past three seasons, only three (Leon Draisaitl, Brayden Point, and Chris Kreider) are the only ones scoring on more than 18.0% of their shots, and none are over 20.0%, so it is unreasonable to expect Kuzmenko to keep filling the net in the same way. Nevertheless, he is a legitimately skilled player who makes the Canucks better and can continue to do that, even if it will be difficult to match his opening act. Kuzmenko finished the season by scoring 30 points (17 G, 13 A) in his last 29 games, but he scored on a ridiculous 32.7% of his shots in that span. Trying to forecast Kuzmenko’s production from 2023-2024, regression is assumed, so 25 goals and 50 points might be a more reasonable expectation, even if that is a massive drop from his first-year production.
Last season was a tough one for Boeser. His father had passed away the previous spring and it took him a long time to get on track. Playing 17:14 per game last season, his lowest average time on ice since his rookie season in 2016-2017, Boeser finished with 55 points (18 G, 37 A), which is just one point behind his career high. However, the Canucks controlled just 43.4% of expected goals and were outscored 67-53 during five-on-five play when Boeser was on the ice. He played with a bunch of different linemates, seven for more than 100 five-on-five minutes, and his second most common linemate, behind only J.T. Miller, was Phil Di Giuseppe. Boeser didn’t score a goal in his first 11 games, but he was returning to form by the end of the season, scoring nine points (5 G, 4 A) with 41 shots on goal in the last 11 games. Boeser has landed in many trade rumors in recent seasons, but he is still in Vancouver. At his best, Boeser has a quick release and a comfort around the net that has allowed him to score more than 20 goals in four different seasons. He should be expected to surpass 20 goals against next season and could reasonably challenge his career-best of 56 points.
Acquired from the Islanders in the Bo Horvat trade, Beauvillier started his Canucks career with 11 points (6 G, 5 A) in his first 11 games. His pace slowed after that, and he ended up with 20 points (9 G, 11 A) in 33 games for Vancouver on his way to a career-high 40 points. The 26-year-old winger has skills that allow him to play in a scoring role but has yet to establish the consistency in his all-around game to maintain a spot on a first line. However, his most common linemates in Vancouver last season were Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko so if that is going to be his reality in 2023-2024, then Beauvillier had better produce more than 40 points if he is going to warrant staying in that spot. The upside for Beauvillier is that he could also get first-unit power play time, which could push him closer to 50 points if he manages to stay in that role. Heading into the last year of his contract, Beauvillier is also likely trade bait if the Canucks are not in playoff contention by the trade deadline.
A smallish but skilled and feisty winger, Garland saw his ice time cut last season and frequently finds his name in trade rumors. Even so, he is a valuable contributor on a Vancouver team with a lot of unproven options on the wing. After elevating his game early in his career in Arizona, Garland has been productive but there have been challenges in two seasons with Vancouver. The 27-year-old scored a hat trick in the final game of the season to give him 46 points (17 G, 29 A) in 81 games. Of course, he had scored two goals in the previous 24 games, so there are ups and downs in Garland’s production. That scoring is not irreplaceable, but if the Canucks are planning on competing for a playoff spot, Garland’s reliability should not be overlooked. A reasonable forecast for Garland this season would put him around 45-50 points, but if he can’t secure a regular spot in the top six, that could present more of a challenge for his offensive production.
After signing as a free agent with the Canucks, Mikheyev made a smooth transition into his new role, providing a strong two-way game, driving play, and scoring 28 points (13 G, 15 A) in 46 games before requiring surgery to repair a torn ACL. Mikheyev had played through the injury before finally deciding on the surgery. The lanky winger is an excellent skater which, combined with his size, makes him a strong forechecker. He can create scoring chances and, so far in his career, his output has varied based largely on whether his shots are going in. From November 18 through December 27, Mikheyev contributed 14 points (8 G, 6 A) in 17 games. A healthy Mikheyev should be a fixture in Vancouver’s top six and his all-around play gives Vancouver a better chance to succeed. Mikheyev has never played more than 54 games in an NHL season, so it is difficult to trust his durability. That makes it a challenge to project him to score much more than 30 points, but he could provide more if he manages to stay healthy for a full season.
An August free agent signing by the Canucks, Suter produced a modest 24 points (10 G, 14 A) in 79 games for Detroit last season and while that is not a big draw, Suter’s defensive play and penalty killing were positive contributions. That means that there is a role for him to fill, even if that role might be further down the depth chart than what he experienced in his first couple of seasons with Chicago. While his defensive play is the most attractive part of his game, Suter is not lost around the net. He shoots the puck well enough that he can score from distance, though the challenge can be creating enough of those opportunities. After averaging more than two shots on goal per game in his first two seasons, Suter had just 1.34 shots per game in 2022-2023, and that puts a limit on offensive production. There should be a path to Suter pushing for 30 points this season, which is quite useful if it is accompanied by Suter’s strong defensive play.
While the 22-year-old winger has power forward potential, he managed just seven points in 39 games last season and was demoted to Abbotsford, where he contributed 18 points (7 G, 11 A) in 28 games. Podkolzin offers a tantalizing blend of size and skill and if it all gets harnessed properly, he could be an exciting scoring winger who also plays an aggressive physical game, but he remains a work in progress, and it will be up to Podkolzin to establish that he is indeed capable of taking his game to the next level. He has the release of a goal-scorer and showed a lot more in his rookie season before fading from view in his sophomore campaign. He has recorded 136 hits in 118 career games, averaging 12:29 of ice time per game. As Podkolzin continues to grow, the Canucks should find him a regular role and let him develop. Without any assurances of a major role at the start of the season, expectations should remain modest. If Podkolzin matches his rookie output of 26 points, that should be considered a successful season.
A one-man transition game, Hughes recorded career highs of 69 assists and 76 points last season. While that offensive production is elite, Hughes’ play away from the puck is improving, too, and was a positive factor in his defensive contribution during the 2022-2023 season. Hughes has been a monster performer on the Vancouver power play, recording 65 power play points in the past two seasons to lead all defensemen. His 144 points overall in the past two seasons ranks fourth, behind Roman Josi, Cale Makar, and Adam Fox, so he is traveling in good company. Hughes started the season with 21 assists through the first 18 games and finished the season with 15 points (2 G, 13 A) in his last 15 games, despite having a six-game scoreless drought.
Acquired from the Detroit Red Wings before the trade deadline, Hronek finished with a career-high 39 points (9 G, 30 A) even though he was shut down after just four games in Vancouver due to a shoulder injury. Hronek has established himself as a quality right-shot puck-moving defenseman who can make long-range passes and quarterback the power play. At the same time, his defensive game showed progress last season and if Hronek can handle logging big minutes and still provide solid defensive play, he will be a factor for the Canucks in the 2023-2024 season. Hronek scored 16 of his 39 points on the power play last season, and it seems unlikely that he will have the chance to duplicate those power play numbers so long as Hughes is anchoring the first power play unit. Even so, Hronek’s track record suggests that 35 points is well within his range.
The much-maligned veteran defenseman has played more than 20 minutes per game in every one of his 14 NHL seasons, though last season’s 20:54 ATOI per game was the lowest of his career. There have been ups and downs along the way and last season would have to be considered a down because Myers had poor possession numbers, including 45.1% Corsi and 44.7% of expected goals during five-on-five play. The Canucks were outscored by 22 goals during five-on-five play with him on the ice, tying his career worst five-on-five goal differential. He is an excellent skater, especially for someone who is 6’ 8”, but it all comes down to decision making with Myers and too often those decisions lead to problems in the defensive zone. At this stage of his career, Myers still gets significant ice time, but he is not as much of an offensive threat, so 20 points is around the high end of what should be expected.
Following a strong season playing on Seattle’s third pairing, Soucy signed with Vancouver as a free agent, and that could come with an opportunity to play in the top four. Although Soucy finished with a modest 16 points (3 G, 13 A), while playing 16:18 per game in 78 games for the Kraken, he also picked up a career-high 143 hits, so if his ice time gets a boost, those numbers should climb, too. Soucy is a big presence in the defensive zone, standing 6-foot-5 and not afraid to use that size to his advantage, and the 29-year-old could be ready for a new phase in his career. While he could see a little more playing time this season, Soucy still has limited scoring upside. His career high is 21 points, set in 2021-2022 with Seattle, so anything beyond that would have to be considered a bonus.
The 2022-23 season was a terrible, horrible, no-good day of sorts for starter Thatcher Demko. After starting the season looking uncharacteristically sloppy in net, the team’s number one suffered a torn groin midway through the season and missed a whopping three months of game action; by the time he came back, it was too little too late for his season’s performance. Although he was able to return to the Vezina-worthy form he had showcased in his first few years in the league, his struggles at the start of the year were enough to put him firmly in the league’s statistical basement while his team spent another year looking more forward to the draft lottery than the postseason.
When he’s healthy and playing at his best, Demko is a game-changer for the Canucks – something they desperately need, particularly given the kind of cap-related struggles they continue to find themselves in. He plays an uncharacteristically active game for a goaltender of his size but has the kind of strong foundational base to his technique to deliver more consistent saves when he needs to. He’s got the kind of game that makes it look like he’s having a ton of fun when his opponents are trying to frustrate him, making him well worth the price of admission night in and night out. But although he had an unexpected break in the season to mentally reset (something he even admitted to during media sessions in the spring), it’s hard to head into the 2022-23 season feeling as confident in what he can deliver as fans might have the year prior. He was struggling even before his injury, and the lack of a clear step forward for the Canucks yet again makes it risky to assert that he’ll be fine to lead the charge without some kind of improvement on the team’s blue line in front of him. He’s got the talent to make the Canucks a threat in the West – but as evidenced last year, he needs the team to step up around him to really challenge for a spot as a Pacific Division contender.
Projected Starts: 55 - 60