A brand new NHL season is drawing very near so to get you prepared, we’re previewing what’s ahead for each of the 30 NHL teams. Here’s a look at the Vancouver Canucks.
MAIN SUMMER HEADLINES
• Eriksson signed to six-year, $36 million contract
• Tuomo Ruutu, two others, signed to PTOs
• Manny Malhotra named development coach
• Canucks draft Juolevi with fifth overall pick
• Canucks’ 2016-17 broadcast schedule
Head coach: Willie Desjardins
GM: Jim Benning
Team payroll: $69.5 million ($73 million salary cap)
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Rookies To Watch: With a strong camp, Brendan Gaunce has made his case for the team. The 26th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Gaunce scored 38 points in 46 AHL games last season and also got 20 games with the Canucks. He only managed one goal in those games, but Gaunce brings size at six foot two, 210 pounds and saw time at centre in the pre-season, a position the Canucks need to beef up on.
A surprising development in camp is the play of college free agent signing Troy Stecher, who head coach Willie Desjardins said “threw a wrench” into the Canucks’ plans. The team wasn’t expecting Stecher to push for a spot, but he certainly did and, at 22, he’s another promising young defenceman to watch now and in the future in Vancouver.
Vancouver will have a successful season if…
Great goaltending would go a long way for the Canucks. Whether it’s Ryan Miller or Jacob Markstrom taking the reins, or a tandem effort: if the Canucks can get improvement here, they’ll naturally become a better, tougher team to beat. But also worth watching are the forward units, specifically the top line. Assuming newly acquired Eriksson plays with countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the top line should be an offensive force. If they can find secondary scoring with, say, an improved Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen, the Canucks could move up — although their ceiling is limited.
Vancouver will have an unsuccessful season if…
Markstrom was the goalie of the future in Florida for years, but at 26 he’s still struggling to take over for 36-year-old Ryan Miller. If he fails to progress this season — and Miller continues his decline — the Canucks will be in trouble. The defence is also a concern here. Although Erik Gudbranson brings a welcome physical component to compete in the West, his lack of foot speed can be taken advantage of. On his own, that’s not the end of the world. But Vancouver’s entire defence lacks explosiveness. Chris Tanev is the best defender left, but the loss of Dan Hamhuis will sting: he was the only Canucks blue liner with a CF% better than 50. Depth remains a concern everywhere.