Canucks season preview: Holtby, Schmidt added to talented core

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin in on Jan 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Vancouver Canucks, who will play in the North Division.

Coach: Travis Green (fourth season) 

Last season: 36-27-6 (.565 points percentage); seventh place in Western Conference, lost to Vegas Golden Knights in Western Conference Second Round

 

3 KEYS

1. Holtby-Demko timeshare

Goalie Braden Holtby was signed to a two-year contract on Oct. 9. Holtby should be part of a timeshare with Thatcher Demko after Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver’s starter each of the past three seasons, signed a six-year contract with the Calgary Flames. The Canucks are counting on Holtby, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, and Demko, to support each other during the condensed season.

 

2. Elite production from Pettersson, Hughes

Vancouver has one of the NHL’s best young cores with 22-year-old center Elias Pettersson, who leads the team with 132 points (55 goals, 77 assists) in 139 games over the past two seasons, and 21-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes, who led all rookies in scoring (53 points in 68 games) last season and set NHL records for most assists (14) and points (16) by a rookie defenseman in a single postseason. If Pettersson, who was tied with left wing J.T. Miller for the Canucks postseason scoring lead (18 points in 17 games), and Hughes build on their success, the Canucks could make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: Top 10 Elias Pettersson plays from 2019-20

 

3. Overcoming offseason losses

Although they won multiple postseason rounds for the first time since 2011, the Canucks lost several key contributors this offseason. In addition to Markstrom, forward Tyler Toffoli (Montreal Canadiens) and defensemen Christopher Tanev (Flames) and Troy Stecher (Detroit Red Wings) signed elsewhere in free agency. The Canucks have multiple candidates to fill Toffoli’s right wing spot in the top six, including forwards Jake Virtanen, Loui Eriksson, Zack MacEwen, Justin Bailey and Jayce Hawryluk (signed one-year contract Oct. 19). They will rely heavily on defensemen Nate Schmidt (acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12), prospects Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone and/or Brogan Rafferty to help their transition on defense.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN 

Making the cut 

Juolevi, who has had knee, hip and back injuries since being selected with the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is likely to fill one spot on the third pair. He scored 25 points (two goals, 23 assists) in 45 games for Utica of the American Hockey League last season and made his NHL debut in the postseason for the Canucks against the Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

 

Most intriguing addition 

Acquiring Schmidt addressed a glaring need on defense, landing the Canucks a potential do-it-all player at the position. A left-handed shot, he is the leading candidate to play on the top pair with Hughes given his experience playing on his off side with the Golden Knights, and will be crucial to their even-strength defense and penalty kill. Schmidt, who has scored at least 30 points in three straight seasons and played in each of the past five postseasons (two with the Capitals, three with Golden Knights), reunites with Holtby; they were teammates with Washington from 2013-17.

Video: Nate Schmidt talks about being traded

 

Biggest potential surprise

Virtanen saw stretches in the top six last season but also spent plenty of time in the bottom six, especially after Toffoli was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 17. Virtanen had NHL career highs in goals (18), assists (18) and points (36) and could reach a higher gear if he earns a full-time role on the top line with Pettersson and Miller (led Canucks with 72 points last season) or second line with center Bo Horvat (led Vancouver with 10 goals last postseason).

 

Ready to break through 

Like Pettersson and Hughes, Demko is entering the final season of his entry-level contract. He was brilliant when Markstrom was unfit to play in the postseason, going 2-1 with a .985 save percentage, 0.64 goals against average and one shutout in four appearances, including three starts facing elimination against Vegas to help Vancouver nearly advance to the Western Conference Final after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. Demko, the backup to Markstrom the past two seasons, will likely split time with Holtby but could emerge as the starter by the end of this season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Schmidt (average draft position: 146.7) is worth prioritizing late in a standard draft with potential exposure to Hughes. Schmidt’s 0.53 points per game last season were the highest in his seven NHL seasons, and he ranked second on the Golden Knights in shots on goal (66 in 20 games) last postseason behind Shea Theodore (80). — Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

J.T. Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Jake Virtanen

Antoine RousselAdam GaudetteBrandon Sutter

Tyler MotteJay Beagle — Loui Eriksson

Quinn Hughes — Nate Schmidt

Alexander EdlerTyler Myers

Olli Juolevi — Brogan Rafferty

Braden Holtby

Thatcher Demko

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