Vancouver Canucks 2015-16 preview
COACH: Willie Desjardins
2014-15 RECORD: 48-29-5, 101 points (second in Pacific, lost to Flames, 4-2, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.88 goals-for per game (8th); 2.68 goals-against per game (19th); 19.3 power play pct. (9th); 85.7 penalty kill pct (2nd); PDO: 100.7 (8th); Corsi For pct.: 49.1 (21st); Fenwick For pct.: 49.9 (19th); face-off pct.: 46.7 (29th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: F Brandon Sutter, F Brandon Prust, D Matt Bartkowski
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Kevin Bieksa, G Eddie Lack, F Zach Kassian, F Nick Bonino, D Adam Clendening, F Shawn Matthias, F Brad Richardson
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Brandon Sutter
Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Radim Vrbata
Alex Burrows – Jared McCann – Jannik Hansen
Brandon Prust – Adam Cracknell – Derek Dorsett
Jake Virtanen/Chris Higgins (injured)
Alexander Edler — Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis — Matt Bartkowski
Ben Hutton — Luca Sbisa
OUTLOOK: A team in transition, the Canucks are trying to make sure that last season’s 101-point, second place finish in the Pacific won’t be their last hurrah for a while. With a core group of aging veterans—Daniel and Henrik Sedin (still productive but they’re 35), Ryan Miller (35), Radim Vrbata (34), Alex Burrows (34), Dan Hamhuis (32) and Brandon Prust (31)—Hockey Operations President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning are hoping that an infusion of youth will help the Canucks remain a playoff team in the highly competitive Western Conference. Three prospects—forwards Jared McCann, 19, and Jake Virtanen, 19, and defenseman Ben Hutton, 22—were rewarded with roster spots out of training camp and will be given a chance to show they belong in the NHL.
Coach Willie Desjardins, who did an impressive job during his first season after replacing John Tortorella, will be seeking the most productive combinations while he nurtures the kids. Bo Horvat, 20, who has a two-way upside, is being counted on to build off his strong first-round playoff series against Calgary (four points in six games) after struggling during the regular season. Horvat had an impressive camp, bumped newly acquired Brandon Sutter out of the second line center spot, and showed flashes of chemistry with wingers Virtanen and Sven Baertschi, 23, who needs to consistently show the offensive skills that made him a first round pick by Calgary in 2011.
On the back line, the edgy Kevin Bieksa, 34, departed for division-rival Anaheim and former Bruin Matt Bartkowski, who is younger (27) and more mobile, was signed as a free agent. As a group, the defense corps looks fairly solid but there are real question marks in net. Is Ryan Miller in irreversible decline? Can backup Jacob Markstrom replace the traded Eddie Lack as reliable a turn-to stopper if Miller falters? Once a highly regarded prospect, Markstrom, 25, has had sucess in the AHL but has yet to fully prove himself at the NHL level.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ryan Miller
The heat is on Miller after Benning’s decision to trade Lack, who led all Canucks goalies with a .921 save percentage in 41 games last season, to Carolina for two draft picks. In addition to the questions about his age and health, Miller had his lowest save percentage (.911) since 2006-07 last season. If the Sedins continue their usual scoring, Vrbata has another 30-goal season, and a couple of the kids come through, the difference in the Canucks making or missing the playoffs will likely rest on Miller’s shoulders.
PREDICTION: 90 points, fourth in Pacific