Based on the composition of their roster it would seem the Vancouver Canucks are approaching a transition year. Many of the players they will rely on for production – specifically Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Alexandre Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Alexander Edler and Ryan Miller are in or nearing the twilight of their careers. Others, such as Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hutton have either little experience or have yet to reach their potential in the NHL. With so few players comfortably in their respective primes the Canucks will need a few of their younger players to take the next step in their development if they want to push for a playoff spot.
One who will be given an opportunity to take that next step is Horvat, who, as Jason Botchford writes, is slated to center the top line in the Canucks opening exhibition game tonight against San Jose and whom head coach Willie Desjardins expects to spark the offense. Brandon Sutter is currently listed as the team’s second-line pivot, but he tallied just nine points in an injury-shortened first campaign in Vancouver and has only reached the 40-point plateau once in his eight-year NHL career. Horvat scored 40 points in his second season in the league last year and at 21 should be capable of more.
Henrik Sedin just turned 36 and his days as a #1 center are likely numbered. In fact, it would behoove the Canucks to try to keep Sedin away from the opposition’s top defensive players night-in-and-night-out in order to maximize his effectiveness. Sutter has yet to demonstrate he can consistently produce in a top-six role but perhaps Horvat can, if allowed the opportunity. Chances are he’ll get his chance this season.
On to other Canucks notes:
- Within the same piece, Botchford mentions Brendan Gaunce, who the Canucks drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, as another young player who could grow into an important role this season. Scouts originally were skeptical of Gaunce’s quickness and foot speed but as Botchford notes, the young winger has made great strides in those areas since coming to the Canucks organization. Surprisingly, Gaunce believes what hindered his skating had more to do with his brain rather than his legs. “I was never slow, I just tried to read the game too much. You don’t really have time to read NHL defencemen. It was in my head. It was not necessarily changing my footspeed, it was being more instinctual. Before I would try to read the play before it happened and now, it’s move the feet first and then react.” Gaunce made his NHL debut in 2015-16 but scored only a single goal in 20 appearances. His performance with Utica, the Canucks AHL affiliate, was strong as the 22-year-old winger netted 17 goals and 38 points in 46 games for the Comets.
- Although noted more for being a strong, stay-at-home defenseman, Erik Gudbranson bested every other Canucks blue liner in a skating drill conducted during a recent four-day camp, writes Iain MacIntyre of The Province. Gudbranson’s speed caught teammate and potential defense partner Ben Hutton off guard. Hutton was beaten by Gudbranson three times and afterwards said: “I saw that. Three times. One time I had a little bit of a stumble, but the other two I was thinking he must have been cheating or something. He was bugging me about that. Honestly, I think he’s a great skater for a guy that size.” Gudbranson is expected to fill a spot in the team’s top-four and with the league becoming more of a speed and quickness game, it bodes well for the Canucks that the 6-foot-5, 216 pound blue liner is showing he can more than keep up.