The 2021-22 NHL season begins on October 12. With training camps open, NHL.com takes a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions and the expected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today the Vancouver Canucks.
Trainer: Travis Green (fifth season)
Last season: 23-29-4; seventh in Scotia North Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs
1. Getting Pettersson, Hughes ready for the season
Elias Pettersson, their No. 1 center, and Quinn Hughes, their best defender, hadn’t been to camp, each as an unsigned restricted free agent, but reportedly could be arriving soon.
Pettersson scored 153 points (65 goals, 88 assists) in 165 games and Hughes scored 97 points (11 goals, 86 assists) in 129 games, each in three seasons. Although the season opener won’t be with the Edmonton Oilers until October 13, coach Travis Green lamented the time lost to adapt to new teammates and system changes, especially in how the Canucks want to defend. For a team that blamed last season for a lack of practice time and preseason games for a 7-11-0 start, not having its two best players from the start of the camp is a concern, especially because Pettersson missed the last 30 games with a wrist. injury and Hughes struggled defensively.
2. Better defend
defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on July 23, said he hopes a change of scenery and a fresh start will help turn things around after an admitted decline over the past few seasons. The Canucks are counting on it happening on a top pair with Tucker Poolman, who signed a four-year deal on July 28. They also need to improve their defense after giving up the third most shots per game (33.4) and sixth most goals per game (3.34) last season. The hope is that system tweaks and renewed emphasis under new assistant Brad Shaw, who has been with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the past five seasons, will be enough to reduce the number of high-quality chances they give up.
3. Demko builds up as No. 1 goalkeeper
After a brilliant performance of three matches to relieve Jacob Markstrom during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (0.984 save percentage, one shutout), Thatcher Demko established himself as a starting goalkeeper last season by taking over what started as a job at Braden Holtby. Demko was 16-18-1 with an average of 2.85 goals and a save rate of 0.915, and with a new five-year deal, Holtby bought it out, and Jaroslav Halak signed as a backup, it’s up to Demko to continue his rise as the No. 1 goalkeeper in the NHL.
Video: Vancouver Canucks 2021-22 Season Preview
Keeping Illness and Injury Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte from training camp and can create openings at the bottom of the front group for one or two of Phillip Di Giuseppe, Matthew Highmore, William Lockwood or Justin Dowling. Among the defenders, the absence of Travis Hamonic (personal) can open a spot for Luke Schenn on the right, and Brad Hunt, who has played 191 games over eight NHL seasons, and prospect Jack Rathbone took the early lead for a third pair spot ahead Olli Juolevic5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Most intriguing addition
Ekman-Larsson made headlines trading with the Coyotes, but ahead Conor Garland makes for a necessary upgrade in the top six. Garland scored 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 49 games for Arizona last season and scored 96 points (47 goals, 49 assists) in 164 games in his first three NHL seasons. Originally projected to line up with Bo Horvat, Garland started on the left wing with JT Miller in the middle and rookie Vasili Podkolzin on the right, but could fit into a variety of roles and could have chances at the highest power play.
Biggest potential surprise
Rathbone, selected in the fourth round (No. 95) of the 2017 NHL Draft, has made a good impression in the preseason and has a lot of offensive advantage. After scoring 53 points (14 goals, 39 assists) in 61 games at Harvard, the 22-year-old scored three points (one goal, two assists) in eight NHL games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in eight. games with Utica in the American Hockey League last season.
Ready to break through
Podkolzin played a limited role in his last two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League after Vancouver selected the No. 10 forward in the 2019 NHL Draft, but last season scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 KHL playoff games and it seems poised for more opportunities as an NHL rookie. Coaches and teammates have praised the 20-year-old for his maturity and NHL willingness, and a spot alongside Miller and Garland should give him a chance to take offense.
Podkolzin (fantasy average draft: 163.5) is expected to compete with wings Garland, Nils Hoglander and Tanner Pearson for a top-six role and exposure to the valuable center of Pettersson or Horvat, Podkolzin could make a dark-horse Calder Trophy candidate. – Pete Jensen
Nils Hoglander – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser
Conor Garland — JT Miller — Vasily Podkolzin
Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Jason Dickinson
Phillip Di Giuseppe – Brandon Sutter – Tyler Motte
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tucker Poolman
Quinn Hughes — Travis Hamonic
Jack Rathbone — Tyler Myers