For this edition of the Canadian Division Preview Q+A, we’re joined by Kent Basky, the Site Manager for Nucks Misconduct. You can follow Kent on Twitter @KentGBasky and be sure to check out our friends at Nucks Misconduct for lots of good Vancouver Canucks content.
1. There’s been a fair bit of turnover on the Vancouver roster since last season. How do you think the changes have impacted the team? Are they going to be better or worse than last year when the dust settles?
As much as I would like to answer confidently here, so much of what the Canucks have changed falls into the ‘wait and see’ category. They lost Jacob Markstrom and Christopher Tanev, but added Braden Holtby and Nate Schmidt. That could end up being a lateral move in goal, but Schmidt is definitely an improvement on the back end. The question is: will he make a not so great defensive squad that much better? They’re also getting a look at Travis Hamonic, who could end up being a solid depth piece for them (editor’s note: this answer was submitted before Hamonic signed a contract with Vancouver) .
One of the biggest changes came when the team put Loui Eriksson on waivers. While he likely will go to the taxi squad, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that they send him to Utica to ensure he gets actual playing time. Overall, with the additions and subtractions they’ve made, I feel like they’re about the same as last year: a bubble team that got some phenomenal goaltending in the playoffs. With a couple new faces, and if they can stay healthy maybe they can hold their own, but this division is gonna be an absolute dogfight to the finish.
One player to watch for could be Nils Hoglander, who’s given Canucks fans hope the team could have a Calder trophy contender for the 4th consecutive season.
2. In net, the Canucks will feature a tandem of Thatcher Demko and Brayden Holtby. How do you expect the games to be divided? Will Holtby shoulder the majority of the workload or is it likely to be more of an even split?
The thinking is that it’s going to be a fairly even split. There was some chatter when they signed him that Holtby’s best days have already passed him by, but being reunited with goaltending coach Ian Clark could be just what he needs to rekindle some of the magic he showed with the Capitals. And after what seemed like a painstakingly slow process, Thatcher Demko showed that he’s ready to take that next step with his performance in last summer’s playoffs, stepping in when Markstrom was injured. The key is ensuring that the team in front of them does enough defensively to give them the opportunities to win.
3. Who’s someone on the Canucks that might be a bit, or a lot, better than Sens fans are expecting?
I think there’s a few guys on this team who weren’t happy with how the playoff run came to an end, and you’re going to see Elias Pettersson and in particular Quinn Hughes take a big step forward this year, but someone to keep an eye on is Zack MacEwan. The kid from PEI has earned his spot through tireless effort, plays a solid two way game that brings a level of physicality the Canucks need to hang in this division. He was one of the most popular players in Utica because of his work ethic and a decent scoring touch to go along with the rest of it. Travis Green likes him a lot, and he’s going to be a key depth piece moving forward.
4. What has to go right for the Canucks to have a successful season?
Staying healthy is a huge factor for this team. Over the past few years, they have consistently been near the top for the most games lost to injury. Combine that with a better effort defensively, far more offensive production from the bottom six forwards, and a nice one-two punch in goal, and maybe this whole thing works.
5. Lastly, prediction time: where do the Canucks finish in the division, and can they win a play-off round or two?
The Canucks were the poster kids for the whole “Anything can happen when you make the playoffs” theory last summer. There were few who had them being able to take down the Minnesota Wild in the play in round, but after an opening night loss they won that series in three straight, which they followed up by dispatching the defending Stanley Cup Champion St Louis Blues. They ran into a wall against the Vegas Golden Knights, but for a team that was loaded with young players who had no playoff experience, this was huge to see not just what the playoffs are all about, but where the bar to become a Stanley Cup contender. If all of the things in Question 4 pan out, this team makes the playoffs, but it could just as easily be Edmonton or Winnipeg in that slot. Once they get in though, this is a team that is getting close to contending status, and with a couple tweaks down the road, could be ready to compete for the Cup. It’s not gonna be this season, but like last season, they’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
A big thank you again to Kent for answering these questions. Let us know what you think about the Canucks in the comments below!