As the holiday season approaches, PHR will look at what teams are thankful for as the season nears the quarter point of completion. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We take a look at what’s gone well in the first month and what could improve as the season rolls on. So far we’ve covered ANA, ARZ, BUF, CGY, CAR, CBJ, COL, DET, LAK, NSH, NJD, NYI, STL, TOR, WSH, and VGK.
What are the Vancouver Canucks most thankful for?
A weak Pacific Division.
Heading into the season, the Pacific Division was expected to be a meat grinder. With the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks all considered legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup, teams like Vancouver and Vegas were just hoping to stay competitive. Those predictions have been turned on their heads, as the Los Angeles Kings pace the division through the first third of the season while the aforementioned “contenders” are struggling to stay above (or even get to) .500.
Vancouver, led by some young stars and a brand new head coach find themselves in third place in the division and currently holding a playoff spot in the Western Conference. For a team expecting to take a hard look at a real rebuild, early success may have changed their minds.
When Boeser suited up for the University of North Dakota on March 24th, 2017 he was preparing to play Boston University in a do-or-die matchup in the NCAA tournament. Little did he know that he’d be scoring the game-winning goal for the Vancouver Canucks a little over 24 hours later. The game against BU went to double overtime before Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy hooked up to end UND’s tournament, but Boeser wouldn’t have time to mope. He immediately signed with the Canucks and was in the lineup the next night, scoring his first on a rebound goal after Bo Horvat was stopped on a breakaway.
Boeser hasn’t slowed down since, and now has 17 goals and 30 points in 34 career games. He leads the Canucks in scoring this year—trailed closely by Horvat—and will likely be in the Calder Trophy conversation right until the end. The 20-year old has made such an immediate impact on the team, that they may believe their competitive window has been slid open just a bit more.
What would the Canucks be even more thankful for?
An appearance from Markus Granlund.
Last season, before there was the late-season appearance from Boeser, three other intriguing young forwards were making their mark: Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Granlund. The first two are back doing the things they showed last year, with 20 and 17 points respectively this season. The latter though, Granlund, has been nothing close to the 19-goal man he was a year ago.
The 24-year old Granlund had 32 points in 69 games last season, easily a career high and a sign that his future with the team was bright. After all, 16 of his 19 goals came at even strength (tied with Baertschi for the team lead) and he graded out as arguably the best possession player on the team.
That hasn’t been the case this time around, as Granlund has just five points on the season and has seen those strong possession numbers plummet. He’s been one of the most disappointing pieces on the roster under new coach Travis Green, and it’s no longer clear where exactly he fits long-term. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, and may end up being overlooked as a key piece for the Canucks going forward.
What should be on the Canucks’ Holiday Wish List?
More draft picks and prospects.
Despite their early success, this team is primed to sell at the deadline. We examined their collection of trade deadline assets recently, and the plan shouldn’t be deviated from. There is another wave of talent coming for the Canucks, as shown by the group of six Vancouver prospects that could suit up for their respective countries at this year’s World Junior Championship, but it isn’t enough.
Boeser, Horvat and others are already making an impact at the NHL level but the team still lacks the depth to really compete for the Stanley Cup. Using some expiring (or soon expiring) assets to add to the prospect cupboards could help them get there quicker than many would have believed in the middle of last season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images