2017-18 NHL Team Preview: Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver Canucks forward Sam Gagner talked to reporters about his time spent playing in Columbus, and how his overall game has improved over the years.

The good news? The Vancouver Canucks have finally admitted it’s a rebuild. The bad news? It’s a rebuild, and it won’t happen fast.

The headline-stealing news on the West Coast this season will revolve around the Sedin Bros. playing out the final year of their contracts in the only NHL town they’ve ever known. Do they re-sign in Vancouver for less than the $7 million they’ll each make this season? Do the Canucks even want them back? Do they wish to strike out on their own, knowing that the length of this rebuild possibly exceeds the remaining time the twins have left in the NHL?

The biggest issue Vancouver has is simple: The Sedins aren’t supposed to be first-line players anymore. They are, because the Canucks drafted so poorly for so long. Like the Alberta teams before them, that’s why the Canucks are rebuilding.

Patience, Johnny Canuck. Patience.

UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH

Take your pick: Brock Boeser? Troy Stecher? Jake Virtanen? Olli Juolevi? Nikolay Goldobin?
The fun part about the Canucks this season will be watching a host of youngsters find their way as NHL players. The trick will be to compete enough as a team that the kids don’t get ‘Edmonton-ized’ by losing all the time. Incoming free agents Sam Gagner, Alexander Burmistrov, Michael Del Zotto and Patrick Wiercioch will be in charge of keeping the compete level up.

After leading the team in scoring last season, Bo Horvat is no longer on this list — though he’s got miles to grow as well. Boeser was really impressive in just nine games late last season, scoring four goals, while Stecher was fifth among NHL rookie D-men with 24 points.

Does Juolevi make this team? Size, not skill, is his impediment. Does Goldobin buy into a program and use his big skill from within? Or is he Vancouver’s Nail Yakupov? Virtanen had a brutal year in Utica last year. Is he an NHL player, and if so, how good of one?

WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE

This team isn’t going to make the playoffs, so success will be defined by how many young players develop positively.

If half the question marks in the section above turn into positive arrows, this team will be on its way to a successful, timely rebuild. It’s vital that this initial crop of young prospects provide some leaders, and with Horvat, Stecher, Ben Hutton and Boeser, it looks like the Canucks are off to a nice start.

Outside of development will be an ability to compete. Losing to Anaheim and Edmonton 2-1 while leaving a few marks on the opponent will be the types of moral victories Canucks fans will have to satiate themselves on most nights. Maybe take a few points at home, but not much more.

But too many five-point nights for Connor McDavid or Johnny Gaudreau won’t help anyone here. It’s about belief in the program in Vancouver, and these kids need to start believing now.

BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION

Goaltending.

Vancouver signed Jacob Markstrom to a three-year, $11 million deal that begins this season. That’s low-end No. 1 money for a goalie who has not proven he is a low-end No. 1 goalie. It’s a leap of faith that will make GM Jim Benning look genius if Markstrom stops pucks. But he’s a career .906 goalie playing in what could be a shooting gallery on many nights. Anders Nilsson is a nice backup. The problem is, Markstrom might be just that as well.