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Moves Canucks Need to Make to Contend in 2021-22 NHL Season

The Vancouver Canucks had a great 2019-20 season, but fell short in 2021. Here’s what they must do to bounce back in 2021-22.

After a disappointing season for the Vancouver Canucks, fans are left wondering what it will take for the team to get back into contention. The Canucks, as usual, spent half the season with a star player on the injured reserve — this year it was center Elias Pettersson. In almost every game they didn’t score the first goal, they lost. They also had nearly a month where they didn’t play a single game, due to a COVID-19 outbreak. They ended up in last place in the North Division. So, what will it take for the Canucks to make it back to the playoffs in 2021-22?

Related: Landeskog Trending Toward Free Agency, Millions Apart from Avs Offer

Canucks Need to Stay Healthy

First-off, the impossible needs to happen: The Canucks need to stay healthy. Year after year, it seems like the Canucks Injured Reserve list is longer than the actual roster, causing them to rely on AHL players to fill spots. We saw far too many games this year with the likes of Marc Michaelis, Jayce Hawyrluk, Tyler Graovac, Jalen Chatfield, and more. If you’ve never heard most of these names before it’s okay, neither had most Canucks fans until they skated out in blue and green.

The addition of the Seattle Kraken could play an important role in the Canucks staying healthy. It’s long been thought that exhaustion from travel impacts a team’s ability to stay fresh. The Canucks are always among the most-travelled teams in the league, so finally having a team nearby will certainly help to reduce those miles.

Canucks Need to Sign Their Free Agents

Both Pettersson and star Defenseman Quinn Hughes are Restricted Free Agents this year. Pettersson won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the year in 2019, and Hughes was the runner-up for the same trophy in 2020. They are seen as the future of the organization, and they’re going to require big contracts.

Elias Pettersson Quinn Hughes Canucks
Elias Pettersson Quinn Hughes Canucks

General Manager Jim Benning is heavily criticized for his negotiation skills (or lack thereof), especially with the extensions he gave to Tanner Pearson and Thatcher Demko this year. Fans are left wondering how much it will take to lock up Pettersson and Hughes, and how much cap space will be left over for everyone else.

Defensemen Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic, as well as center Brandon Sutter are also up for contracts this year. Edler and Sutter will almost certainly receive pay decreases this time around, which should allow Benning a bit of room to sign the big guys.

** Update: Edler is rumored to be looking into free agency and a multi-year deal with another club, if he can get it.

Canucks Off-Season Acquisitions

While the Canucks could certainly use an experienced NHL defenseman, it’s unlikely that they’ll have the cap space unless they send a contract the other way in a deal. Stories have surfaced about Nate Schmidt wanting out, and Arizona Coyotes Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson wanting in. We don’t know if the Canucks and Coyotes have specifically talked about a deal involving those two, but it would make sense.

Jim Benning seems to always be in the market for a “Top-6 Forward”. But is that really what the Canucks need? The answer is yes, but it needs to be more than that. The team was heavily criticized last season for being “too easy to play against”, meaning that they didn’t have enough guys who could play a tough, physical game. Whether a power forward comes from a trade, a free agent signing, or development from within, they desperately need one.

Canucks Development Plans: Vasily Podkolzin

There are several guys on the free agent market that would classify as power forwards, but most of them don’t typically play in the top six. There could be a few guys teams are willing to trade, but players like that don’t come cheap. The best way for the Canucks to fill that role is to develop someone in their system to play that type of game.

The organization has always hoped that Jake Virtanen would develop and assume that role, but it hasn’t worked out so far. Zack MacEwen plays the physical type of game that would be perfect for the role, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be a regular top-six guy. The best player in the Canucks organization to fill that spot would be Vasily Podkolzin.

Podkolzin, Vancouver’s first-round selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, played last season in the KHL with St. Petersburg. His five goals and 11 points in 35 games don’t immediately stand out as the numbers of a future star in the NHL, but the KHL works a little differently: in Russia, the young guns don’t get ice time. Just a few years ago, when Minnesota Wild Rookie of the Year Kirill Kaprizov was about the same age as Podkolzin is now, he had four goals and eight points in 31 games in the KHL.

That being said, Podkolzin had six goals and 11 points in 16 playoff games this year, good enough to lead his team in scoring. He’s known for his play on both sides of the ice, and specifically for how he uses his size to his advantage. Translation: He’s hard to play against.

Podkolzin is eligible to come over to North America this year, and he’s already signed his entry-level contract. Look for him to make an immediate impact on the team; just as Nils Hoglander did last year, Quinn Hughes did the previous year, Elias Pettersson did the year before that, and Brock Boeser before that.

The Canucks still have almost all the pieces that got them a game away from the Conference Final in 2020. If they can make just a few tweaks this summer, they could have a bounce-back season. They go back into the Pacific Division this year, where only two of the teams made the playoffs in 2021, and one of them got swept in the first round. Spots should be open for the taking in the Pacific Division this year.

Next: 3 Teams Already Make Solid Offers For Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman



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