NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Vancouver Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks, who blossomed in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, have one of the best young cores in the NHL and appear poised to contend for a championship this season.
Centers Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, defenseman Quinn Hughes, right wing Brock Boeser and goalie Thatcher Demko lead a talented group of returning 25-or-younger players, each with not only a taste of NHL postseason experience but some success to build upon as well.
“For our young players and their growth, playing playoff hockey, where you don’t have a lot of time and space with the puck, you have to be on your toes and thinking fast, I just thought it was wonderful for them to experience that, play through that, to understand and learn what it takes to win in the playoffs,” general manager Jim Benning said. “I just think it will make them all better players moving forward.”
The Canucks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round, nearly advancing to the conference final because of a surprising breakout from Demko after Vancouver fell behind 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. The Canucks defeated the Minnesota Wild in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers before upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round.
It was the first time the Canucks won multiple series in the postseason since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Point-per-game performances from Pettersson (18 points in 17 postseason games) and linemate J.T. Miller (18 points in 17 games), and a record-setting playoff by Hughes (most assists, 14, and points, 16, by a rookie defenseman in a single NHL postseason) put the Canucks on the map as one of the rapidly rising teams in the Western Conference.
“We have a talent level around here that, when we’re playing our game and playing with speed and skill, that we can play with any team in the League,” Benning said. “Over the course of last year, at some point, we beat almost all the best teams in the League, and that gave us confidence. … Our group’s going to be a little bit different this year, but our main core guys are all going to be back, so our goal is to ultimately win the Stanley Cup.”
Although the Canucks lost No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom (Calgary Flames), right wing Tyler Toffoli (Montreal Canadiens) and defensemen Christopher Tanev (Flames) and Troy Stecher (Detroit Red Wings) in free agency this offseason, they made two significant additions, signing goalie Braden Holtby to a two-year contract Oct. 9 and acquiring defenseman Nate Schmidt in a trade from the Golden Knights on Oct. 12. Each brings plenty of playoff experience.
“In getting Schmidt, we’ve acquired a guy that can play minutes in all situations, in a matchup role against the other team’s best players,” Benning said. “And then to acquire somebody of Braden’s experience in goal — the thing that sticks out to me is that, [in] the playoffs, he plays his best hockey. He’s the type of guy, in the big moments of the game, [who] makes the big save to make the difference between winning and losing playoff games and playoff series. We’re excited to acquire both of those guys, and I think it just makes us a better overall team.”
Vancouver is also expected to integrate one or more of its top prospects this season. There’s a chance that touted forward prospect Vasily Podkolzin could join the Canucks once his Kontinental Hockey League contract expires April 30, 2021.
Pettersson, Hughes and Demko each is entering the final season of his entry-level contract. Those core players and their new teammates are poised to go on an even deeper run this season and potentially help Vancouver win its first title in the near future.
“They’re real important players for our franchise,” Benning said. “We can figure out a way that makes sense for those guys and for the organization to get them signed, and that’s going to be our intention. They’re going to be part of our core group, we think, for when we do win the Cup. We’re excited to have them.”