Many pundits feel the Vancouver Canucks are a team lacking direction. On the one hand, they introduced some much-needed youth to their aging core last season with young forwards Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann given their first extended NHL looks and joining second-year pro Bo Horvat as possible future building blocks. On the other hand, Vancouver failed to advance their rebuild by dealing expiring assets at the trade deadline for draft picks and/or prospects. Trading Dan Hamhuis and/or Radim Vrbata would have netted the Canucks multiple futures to further the team’s roster reconstruction.
Instead, the Canucks surprised many this spring by parting with the aforementioned McCann as part of a package to acquire veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson in what was clearly a move designed to help the team win now. The free agent addition of winger Loui Eriksson also signals that Vancouver is not committed to a rebuild and will rather try to slowly integrate younger players onto the roster while at the same time attempting to remain in the mix for a playoff spot.
It’s with this mentality that GM Jim Benning continues his search for an impact offensive LW, as Ben Kuzma of The Province writes. Daniel Sedin remains the team’s top port side winger and the team expects young Sven Baertschi – currently listed as the team’s #2 LW – to improve upon his 15-goal output in 2015-16. Beyond those two the Canucks have a few wingers who can line up on either side of center – including Eriksson – but don’t have enough depth to switch a player to the left without creating another hole on the right side.
Kuzma lists several candidates who could fill the role of impact LW, both internal and external. The most interesting might be Anton Rodin, the team’s second-round pick in 2009 and whom the Canucks signed to a one-year deal worth just $950K. Rodin enjoyed an excellent 2015-16 campaign, netting 16 goals and 37 points in 33 contests with Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League while capturing the league’s MVP award.
As for possibilities currently outside the Canucks organization, Kuzma lists Evander Kane as a potential trade option – a notion we’ve reported on in the past – though he also brings up the off-ice issues surrounding Buffalo’s talented winger and suggests that might limit Vancouver’s interest. Kuzma also opines that the cost to acquire an established player like Kane would likely start with one of Chris Tanev or Horvat, and that’s simply a price the Canucks are unwilling to pay.
Surprisingly, Kuzma writes that the Canucks didn’t view Jiri Hudler as a short-term answer even though the Czech winger is just two seasons removed from a 76-point campaign and ultimately signed a one-year pact with Dallas worth $2MM. Hudler would have been a perfectly reasonable buy-low add for the Canucks. He’s capable of producing at a rate more than acceptable for a top-six forward and would have been a potentially valuable asset to possess at the 2017 deadline with contending teams always looking to augment their scoring depth.
Elsewhere in the NHL on this Labor Day:
- At his introductory news conference last week, new Colorado head coach Jared Bednar confirmed he would be keeping all three assistant coaches – Tim Army, Dave Farrish and Nolan Pratt – from the previous regime, according to Terry Frei of the Denver Post. It’s not much of a surprise given the late hiring of Bednar meant that many coaches he may have considered for positions were already committed elsewhere. Additionally, Pratt worked under Bednar as an assistant with Lake Erie in 2015-16 so there was already a comfort level between the two coaches. After talking with each of his assistants, Bednar is satisfied he has the right mix of experience and knowledge among his staff.
- An unheralded free agent signing by the Sharks in May of 2015, Joonas Donskoi would end up playing a key role for the Western Conference champions in 2015-16, scoring 11 goals and 36 points in 76 regular season games. He would ramp up his performance in the playoffs tallying six goals and 12 points in 24 contests. Now that Donskoi has established himself as an NHL regular, the expectations have been raised going into year two of his career, as Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes. After establishing solid chemistry with C Logan Couture, both down the stretch of the regular campaign and in the postseason, Donskoi is again likely to slot in on the right side of the skilled pivot. If he takes advantage of his opportunity to play with Couture, it’s conceivable Donskoi could approach 50 points in a full season.
- After losing superstar center Pavel Datsyuk, who chose to return home to Russia to be closer to his family, the Detroit Red Wings were left with a gaping hole down the middle of their lineup. They attempted to address that loss in part by signing solid two-way pivot Frans Nielsen to a lucrative six-year, $31.5MM free agent deal this summer. While he won’t be expected to replace Datsyuk’s offense, he will be counted on to play a responsible game and appear in all situations for the Wings, says Ansar Khan of MLive.com. Nielsen has only ever tallied 20 goals or 50 points on two occasions but is known as an excellent playmaker and someone who should help improve both the Wings PP and PK units. He is also an elite shootout performer who might be worth an extra few standings points a year to Detroit in that area alone.