Scout’s Analysis: How the Canucks should approach the trade deadline

Mike Halford and Jason Brough discuss the Vancouver Canucks batch of upcoming unrestricted free agents and debate over who the Canucks should prioritize keeping if they could only keep two.

Mid-season organizational meetings come in different strategies and moods at this time of year. Some teams are clearly in rebuild mode with an eye towards selling off assets at the trade deadline. Others are caught up in “the messy middle” of how to strategize — are they a playoff contending outfit or should they punt their aspirations down the road for one more year?

The mood around the Vancouver Canucks has to be one of excitement and anticipation. Simply put, the Canucks have the look of a group that could win multiple rounds in the playoffs this season. They’re one of the feel-good stories of 2023-24 so far.

Here’s a breakdown of the Canucks and the strategy they could implement at the trade deadline in March:

[brightcove videoID=6345278389112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]


Vancouver is dealing from a position of strength with some of their top prospects and the depth they have added through recent draft cycles. Director of amateur scouting Todd Harvey, and his staff, have done a fantastic job providing options for the Canucks. They have the flexibility to use one of their top prospects to acquire a player (or players) at the deadline without sacrificing their entire future.

Here are five of the Canucks’ top prospects and what they project to be at the NHL level:

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Forward

Lekkerimaki was named the MVP at the recently completed World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. His game is tracking towards a potential NHL debut as soon as next season, but he’s likely better off plying his trade for one year in the AHL to adjust to the North American game.

Lekkerimaki is a goal scorer. He rips pucks from the weak side flank on the power play and has proven he can score from range. His entire compete has gone to another level this season. He’s more engaged in the hard areas, allowing him to find more opportunities to do what he does best: produce offence.

Projection: Top six scoring forward/power play specialist

Tom Willander, Defenceman

Every NHL team covets a right shot defenceman who skates and moves pucks the way Willander does. He’s best described as a two-way defenceman, but I believe he has better than secondary scoring upside overall. Willander can match up against top forwards and contribute on the power play and penalty kill.

Projection: Top pairing is possible. Definitely second pairing. Can be used in all situations.

Elias Pettersson, Defenceman

This Elias Pettersson is completely opposite of the Elias Pettersson the Canucks have on their current roster. The defenceman is a big (6-foot-4, 209-pound), rangy, physical defender who has the skating ability and mindset to shut down scorers and play a key role on the penalty kill. He has some “old school” hockey in his blood. He’s hard to play against and borders on mean at times.

Projection: Second pairing NHL defenceman. Shut down/match-up/penalty kill/depth offence

Hunter Brzustewicz, Defenceman

There’s a theme developing within the Canucks’ prospect pool.

Brzustewicz is another right-shot defenceman prospect. To say he is having an elite offensive year in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers is a gross understatement (8 goals, 61 assists in 45 games played).

Brzustewicz isn’t a pure transitional defenceman. He lands somewhere between a two-way and transitional defender who is proving to be an elite playmaker on the power play. He gives the Canucks another long term option in their prospect pool who could land in their top four at the NHL level and quarterback a second unit.

Projection: Second pairing NHL defenceman. Second unit power play quarterback. Secondary offence.

Aatu Raty, Forward

Raty was acquired from the New York Islanders in the Bo Horvat trade last year. He’s a 6-foot-2, 187-pound forward who’s developing at the AHL level in Abbotsford with eight goals and 15 assists in 37 games.

Raty plays with pace. He’s a threat off the rush and has the puck skill and vision to make plays offensively. His all-round game has been a work in progress, but he’s definitely tracking in the right direction.

Projection: Top six NHL forward is possible. Third line/secondary scorer/second power play unit more likely.


The Canucks own their first-round picks in each of the next three drafts and overall their draft board is flush enough to provide options. Vancouver can be aggressive trading out a pick or two, knowing they already have some “Grade A” prospects in the pipeline.

via CapFriendly


Vancouver’s core group of players are having fantastic seasons. They lead by example in all three zones and are playing to their identity against playoff and non-playoff opponents.

Here’s a look at a recent fifteen game segment of results from their core:


The Canucks ice a mostly balance lineup throughout their forward group.

Outside of JT Miller, Pettersson and Brock Boeser, the rest of the forwards are contributing their share of secondary offence.

The Canucks, of course, would like even more scoring out of the rest of their forwards, but the group has scored a combined 70 goals and 79 assists.

Equally important is their contribution defensively. Every Canucks forward is a plus skater. When they aren’t scoring, they are making sure the puck stays out of their net with three-zone detail and checking back the entire 200 feet.

The one forward Vancouver clearly wishes they were getting more from is Andrei Kuzmenko. He’s only scored eight goals and 13 assists after getting 39 goals and 35 assists last season, and has been made a healthy scratch on a few occasions. I’ll address his situation in my conclusions below.


The Canucks defencemen are a group who plays to their strengths and recognize their limitations.

Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek are tasked with leading the group across the board and are being deployed in all situations.

Players like Tyler Myers, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy (now injured) and Nikita Zadorov are tasked with shutting down opponents. Their primary ice time comes at even strength and the penalty kill.

Like the forwards, you can see some fantastic defensive numbers from the defencemen when you notice that, as a group, they are a combined plus-108 so far this season.


Vancouver has to feel confident with their goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith. Demko has the skill to provide Vezina quality goaltending, while DeSmith has contributed with steady results as the Canucks’ backup goalie. Here’s what their overall stats look like to date:

[brightcove videoID=6345400300112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Other notable observations…

• Starting with the puck off faceoffs is important. On balance, the Canucks win enough draws, but they don’t have a forward who can be defined as elite in the role.

• Miller has taken the most faceoffs and boasts a 54.2 winning percentage. Pettersson has won 48.8 per cent, Teddy Blueger 50.8 per cent, and Pius Suter 49 per cent.

• The most physical forward on the Canucks roster is Dakota Joshua, who has been credited with 141 hits.

• In the hit category the defence group are led by Nikita Zadorov who has a combined 80 hits between his time in Calgary and Vancouver.

• Ian Cole has been credited with 93 blocked shots. Tyler Myers is close behind with 89.


• It’s incredible how quickly the Canucks have transformed themselves into a legit contending team. It’s difficult to pinpoint any significant holes in their roster. The group could roll into the playoffs with the roster in its current form and, potentially, go on a deep run.

• One area the team could look to upgrade is the second-line centre position. They have room to further insulate their top nine forwards by adding another player who can be used in a variety of roles, provide secondary scoring, and win key face-offs.

• The coaching staff in Vancouver has worked to instill an understanding of how they want their group to play every night and the team has rewarded them with consistent results. If and when the Canucks add to their group, they don’t necessarily have to go after big names. It’s more important to acquire players who fit the description of what this version of the Vancouver Canucks identify as. A player with the same approach as Sam Lafferty, for example, but with more offensive potential.

• This is a team that can contend now. The Canucks are dealing from a position of strength with some of their high-end prospects. They also have enough draft capital to spend wisely. It’s not often a team has the statistical profile and consistent results Vancouver has been enjoying.

• I wouldn’t be shy about adding to this group and absorbing the cost. It could be worth it.

Elephant in the room…

There is clearly a disconnect between the Canucks’ coaching staff and Kuzmenko. I’m torn about moving him in a trade, though. I believe he’s capable of scoring 25-plus goals in the NHL and upgrading a team’s power play.

To me, Kuzmenko’s worth the risk for a team that’s looking to make a deal with Vancouver, provided the Canucks retain some of his $5.5 million AAV (say, $900,00 of it) that runs through next season.


Keeping with my thought that Vancouver should add a middle-six forward, here are some potential targets and what would be involved in acquiring the player in trade:

Adam Henrique, F, Anaheim Ducks

Henrique is a veteran forward who can provide better than secondary scoring and be deployed in all situations. He can play both centre and the wing.

Henrique wins over 54 per cent of his draws, is averaging 17 minutes of ice time for the Ducks and has produced 14 goals and 14 assists in 45 games. Henrique would add depth to the Canucks’ second power play unit, where he’s contributed four goals and four assists for Anaheim this season. He’s also the kind of player a coach can trust. Henrique’s even plus-minus rating on a rebuilding team is, all things considered, very solid.

A trade to acquire Henrique might look something like this:

To Vancouver: Adam Henrique (expiring contract paying $5.85M AAV)

To Anaheim: Andrei Kuzmenko and one of Vancouver’s fourth-round picks in 2024

*Note: Vancouver also retains $800,000 of Kuzmenko’s cap.

Other factors to consider in this potential trade is that Kuzmenko has a 12-team no-trade list in his contract, while Henrique has a 10-team no-trade list.

Sean Monahan, C, Montreal Canadiens

Monahan is averaging 18 minutes of ice time in Montreal and is also being used in all situations. Monahan could provide the Canucks with a second layer of scoring that is greater than some of their current forwards. An added bonus is he wins over 57 per cent of his draws, meaning he could slot in as a face-off specialist in key situations.

Monahan doesn’t play with the same pace as Henrique. He manages his shift length in relation to his fatigue threshold and certainly cannot be described as a transition threat. His best work comes from the hash marks down and around the crease hunting tips and rebounds.

Monahan is affordable, too, with an expiring contract that pays only $1.985 million.

A trade for Monahan could look like this:

To Vancouver: Sean Monahan

To Montreal: Aatu Raty, a fourth-round pick in 2024 (via New Jersey) and Vancouver’s sixth-round pick in 2024

*Note: Montreal retains $900,000 of Monahan’s cap hit

Jake Guentzel, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins

Guentzel skates on the same line as Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and there’s no doubt he can create offence when aligned with top players. Guentzel’s produced 20 goals and 27 assists this season. All of his ice time comes at even strength and the power play and he averages nearly 21 minutes a game. He would definitely provide added scoring balance to the top of the Canucks lineup.

A deal involving Guentzel is predicated on the Penguins being out of the playoffs at the trade deadline. He’s a pending UFA who is counting for $6 million against the cap, so it won’t be easy for the Canucks to fit that number in. Guentzel also has a 12-team no-trade list included in his contract.

The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a hockey operations department that knows Guentzel the way the Canucks do. With Jim Rutherford and Patrik Alvin’s history in Pittsburgh Guentzel seems like a natural fit to add to their wishlist.

A Guentzel trade won’t be cheap. It could break down as follows:

To Vancouver: Jake Guentzel

To Pittsburgh: Andrei Kuzmenko, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2024 and second-round pick in 2026

*Note: Vancouver retains $500,000 of Kuzmenko’s cap hit

Considering where the Penguins are, don’t be surprised if they ask for one of the Canucks’ top prospects instead of the late first-round pick. It’s possible they will value Lekkerimaki or Willander more than the draft pick, and would shop around for a prospect like those two before taking the pick.

I wouldn’t be excited about moving Lekkerimaki if I were the Canucks, but would move Willander in this deal, due to the fact Vancouver also has Elias Pettersson (the defence prospect) waiting in the wings.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.