Henk, Dan, Chris, and Ryan: four players that will consistently make an impact for the Vancouver Canucks throughout the 2015-16 season. After a disappointing end to the 2014-15 season in which they lost in six games to the Calgary Flames, the Canucks are looking stronger with a younger core carried by their veteran leadership.
The Canucks had a surprising summer, making a splash with several trades and a couple free agent signings.
A surprise that came to many Canucks fans was the trade of fan-favourite goaltender Eddie Lack, who was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in 2015 (Guillaume Brisebois) and a seventh-round pick in 2016. It is difficult to determine whether or not Ryan Miller’s backup Jacob Markstrom is NHL-ready. Markstrom posted an outstanding .934 save % and a 1.88 GAA for a 22-7-2 record with the Canucks’ affiliate, but wasn’t able to replicate his efforts. Markstrom had a .879 save % and 3.08 GAA which earned him a 1-1-0 record in three games. In order to maintain the position as backup to Ryan Miller, Markstrom needs to show that he is an NHL-caliber goaltender.
Another fan-favourite that was traded from the Canucks was the heart and soul leader Kevin Bieksa. At 34 years-young, Bieksa played a decade for the Canucks, until being traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a second-round pick in 2016. Trading away a leader that puts his heart and soul into every game might have been a costly mistake, but it might also allow for younger defensive prospects to come up.
Having Matt Bartkowski and Luca Sbisa will be a sufficient third pairing, and having a right-handed shooting Frank Corrado as a potential extra roster player is quite the convenience. The Canucks have an adequate defensive core, but their defensive game will likely be exploited against high-scoring teams.
Trading Nick Bonino and defenseman Adam Clendening was a questionable move that ships away a promising defensive prospect, but also bolsters the depth at center (http://wp.me/p44cfc-4V).
Throughout training camp, Brandon Sutter was said by Alexandre Burrows to remind him of “A young Ryan Kesler.” Having Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat competing to be the second-line center could make them both better, providing that they post better numbers than 2014-15 (Sutter: 33, Horvat: 25).
One of the less flashy trades was the grit for grit trade: Zack Kassian for Brandon Prust. Prust posted 18 points in a full season with the Habs, while Zack Kassian posted 16 in just about half the time (42 games). The trade leaves the hockey universe scratching their head. Who knows what Prust will add as a third line forward with the Canucks?
Will Jake Virtanen and Hunter Shinkaruk make the team out of training camp? Both would be excellent additions, especially with Jake Virtanen’s total package of talent and grit. Out of the two, Jake Virtanen should make the team. He has a dynamic edge that would be perfect to have playing against other Western Conference teams. Virtanen could be a perfect fit as a skilled, gritty right-winger alongside Bo Horvat or Brandon Sutter.
The Canucks’ success will be driven by committee. Henrik and Daniel Sedin will continue to lead the offensive potency with Radim Vrbata on the first line, but it surely can’t be relied on the aging twins. The Canucks will compete for a playoff spot, but it definitely won’t be a walk in the park.
Vancouver needs an impactful, right-handed defenseman that can play with Dan Hamhuis. Scoring needs to come from all four lines. Ryan Miller should continue as a top goalie in the league. One question remains: have the Canucks taken a step back or a step forward?