Reasons To Get Excited (Part I of II)

Is Alex Burrows poised for a career year?

I’d like to extend my thanks to Thom for the invite to the CanucksArmy writing team. I have been writing and managing the DobberHockey website for the past few years. My writing over there tends to focus more on the numbers and statistics. That isn’t to say that my writing here will ignore those things, but I will cover a much broader spectrum of hockey-related subjects – all pertaining to the Vancouver Canucks, of course.

This off-season has been one unlike any experienced in Vancouver in a long, long time. The team played well into June, and several key players are still recovering from a grueling postseason run. The team lost its highest scoring defenseman, and the heart and soul of the team is likely to miss the first month of the season. However, there are still many reasons why the Canucks should once again be an elite NHL club in 2011-12. I’ll speak on 10 of them.

1. A healthy Alex Burrows. After missing out on a typical offseason training schedule last summer, Burrows was slow out of the gate upon his return to the lineup in November. He scored only once in the first 10 games of the season, but still managed to finish the season with 26 goals in 72 games. Doing some simple math, that means he scored 25 goals in the final 62 games he suited up for (a 33-goal pace, only two off of his career mark from 2009-10).

Burrows is in his prime playing with the two reigning Art Ross Trophy winners. He’s 100% healthy and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him set new career highs in goals and points (especially with Kesler missing about a month, as Burrows will likely slide in on the first power play unit).

2. Chris Tanev’s progression into a mainstay top four defenseman hasn’t happened just yet, but it is only a matter of time. He looked fantastic last season as an unproven and unknown rookie, with his weaknesses being related to size, strength, and shooting power. The first two have been improved upon noticeably (thanks to a summer of training with Gary Roberts), while the improved shot may get a chance to be shown off on the power play. Tanev has that “it” factor that is impossible to teach. People use words like hockey IQ, poise, and puck smarts to explain “it.” Some prospects have it, and some don’t. It is pretty hard (I would say impossible) to develop. His offensive ceiling is a bit of an unknown, but anything above 20-30 points this season would be gravy for one of the best kept secrets in the entire league.

3. Cody Hodgson’s newfound love for kale and quinoa received a lot of media attention in Vancouver this summer. Who doesn’t love a good Hodgson debate? It’s better late than never for the former junior star, as he finally reported to camp strong healthy. His chronic back issues are a thing of the past, and he put in some serious training time this summer (the first summer since 2008 in which Hodgson has been able to train without hesitation). Sensing an opportunity to grab the second line center gig for the first month of the season, he has shown flashes of why he was picked 10th overall back in 2008 throughout the preseason.

He’ll never beat defensemen one-on-one with his speed, but he’s crafty with the puck, much like the Sedin twins. He looks much stronger in puck battles than he did last season, and he is much improved in the faceoff circle as well. Hodgson may not have a regular roster spot once Kesler returns, but the Canucks will be forced to find one for him if he stands out as the temporary second line center.

4. A legitimate fourth line center is something the Canucks have lacked since Artem Chubarov left for Russia back in 2004. Since then, the fourth line has featured the likes of Alex Bolduc and his non-bionic shoulders, Ryan Johnson and his lack of ability to play hockey, the very forgettable Josh Green, and Byron “power play quarterback” Ritchie, among others. Lapierre is a significant upgrade on all of them, obviously. Having a strong two-way center makes the jobs of the wingers much easier (considering the season kicks off in a week and we have no idea who the two wingers will be, this is definitely a plus). Lapierre showed in the playoffs that he is a menace on the forecheck and a better hockey player than many were expecting when he came over from Anaheim.

5. Internal competition. The downside to having a number of borderline second line wingers is that the second line may not have as much pure talent on it. The upside is that on any given night the line may feature a different combination of players, based on who is performing better. Expect to see the likes of Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm, Cody Hodgson, and even Jordan Schroeder compete for the same offensive ice time. Don’t forget the Canucks have some cap space to play with – I’d expect the team to add a quality veteran winger at some point before the trade deadline in 2012.

Stay tuned for the other five reasons next week…