Pacific Division Preview 2014-15: Vancouver Canucks
COACH: Willie Desjardins
2013-14 RECORD: 36-35-11, 83 points (fifth in Pacific, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.33 goals-for per game (28th); 2.63 goals-against per game (T-14th); 15.2 power play pct. (26th); 83.2 penalty kill pct. (9th); shootout record: 5-7 (20th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Radim Vrbata
Alex Burrows — Nick Bonino — Zack Kassian
Shawn Matthias — Linden Vey -- Jannik Hansen
Chris Higgins — Brad Richardson — Derek Dorsett
Dan Hamhuis — Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler — Chris Tanev
Luca Sbisa — Ryan Stanton
OUTLOOK: With a new GM (Jim Benning), head coach (Willie Desjardins), goaltender (Ryan Miller) and a roster overhaul, Vancouver is now a team in full transition. Desjardins surprised the hockey world when he turned down the Penguins gig to take the reins of the Canucks, who floundered under the demanding John Tortorella last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The team made a major move by unloading disgruntled center Ryan Kesler to the Ducks in a trade that netted promising pivot Nick Bonino, a talented defenseman in Luca Sbisa, and a first round selection in the 2014 draft (center Jared McCann at No. 24). With Roberto Luongo off to Florida at the trade deadline, the Canucks decided to entrust their net to free agent Miller, who will try to re-establish himself as an elite goalie after a disappointing stint in St. Louis. The defense shed power play specialist Jason Garrison (trade to Tampa Bay) and will count on a bounce-back season from Alex Edler, who had a horrendous 2013-14 campaign. It will be up to Desjardins to get all the new parts to mesh in his up-tempo system and restore a sense of optimism. The Canucks still have the superb Sedin twins to anchor their top line and should get a scoring boost from the dependable Radim Vrbata, who was brought in via free agency. One of the most exciting (or nerve-wracking) questions surrounding this team will be its second line. If Bonino adjusts properly and Zack Kassian plays up to his perceived ceiling, then the second unit could thrive. But there's also the matter of how much the veteran core has left and if Vancouver's notoriously fallow farm system will be able to provide enough young talent to rejuvenate this proud franchise's fortunes.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Zack Kassian
Kassian is a throwback forward: mean, aggressive and big (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) with an underrated scoring touch to complement his intimidating presence. Cast out of Buffalo just after his 21st birthday, Kassian, now 23, certainly has the frame and snarly disposition to be a threat, but the hope is that the revamped offense will unleash his offensive upside and enable him to top his career highs of 14 goals and 29 points that he reached last season.
PREDICTION: 94 points (fourth in Pacific)