Bring on the Youth Movement!

Last night the Vancouver Canucks dressed seven players who were 23 years of age or younger, and it’s exactly what Canucks fans have been asking for.

Even though the Canucks were led by Daniel Sedin, it was refreshing to watch with Bo Horvat, Sven Baerstchi, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, Ben Hutton, Emerson Etem and Mike Zalewski making up 35% of the dressed roster. There are many fans of the ‘Team Tank’ variety and dressing this many young players does lend credence to that movement, but there’s a silver lining all the same. If we add Linden Vey (24), Luca Sbisa (25) and Jacob Markstrom (25), the Canucks had 10 of their 20 dressed players that were 25 or under.

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Veterans like Chris Higgins and Brandon Prust have been largely ineffective this season and haven’t provided much excitement. Looking like they are just going through the routine of the season. Replacing these players with Virtanen and Baertschi gives the Canucks more speed, more offence and most importantly for their fans, something they want to watch. The last few weeks, Horvat and Baertschi have been a revelation to watch – they have chemistry, feed off each other and compete. This goal against the New York Rangers earlier this week is exactly what we want to see:

Horvat taking the puck around the net and perfectly passing onto the stick of Baertschi for the goal. Obviously there is some question of when this hot streak will end, but I’m hopeful they’ve plenty left in the tank.

In that game against the Rangers, Virtanen was supposed to play but was a late scratch after Prust ‘requested’ to play (to put it nicely). For as much as the selection of Virtanen at sixth overall has been maligned in this space, I’m all too happy to ponder a world where he proves us wrong and to do that he’ll need ice time. Virtanen adds a speed element that Prust cannot, and he has the offensive upside that can grow by playing more. So, the best approach is to play him!

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Where to even begin with Ben Hutton. It’s simple, Canucks fans want to see him play. He led all Canucks skaters in ice time against the Rangers on Tuesday. This is after his first NHL goal on Sunday against the Islanders.

Hutton’s happiness and excitement about the game are infectious among his teammates and fans. Every time we see Hutton with a big smile on his face, we can’t help but smile with him. He is living his dream of playing in the NHL and giving excitement to a fan base that is begging for something to be excited about. Thomas Drance did a fantastic job of breaking down Hutton’s importance to the organization earlier in the week.

With Henrik Sedin injured, McCann has been filling in on the top line and looked good. Obviously, it helps to play with a future hall of famer in Daniel Sedin and a very good NHL player in Jannik Hansen, but McCann hasn’t looked out of place in the slightest. McCann has always been that wildcard prospect, a player with a great skillset that if the stars aligned could be a future top 6 centre. He has looked every bit the part in the two separate occasions that he has filled in for the injured Canucks captain this season. You’ll sense the theme reoccurring here, but I want to watch McCann play that role.

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Emerson Etem was acquired a couple of weeks ago and has come into the Canucks lineup like a man on a mission. He understands this may be his last chance to stick in the NHL, and is doing everything he can to stay. He has mostly played with Alexandre Burrows and Linden Vey on the third line. Like all of the Canucks, they have been heavily outshot, so their Corsi and PDO is a bit of an eyesore, but compared to the rest of the team, not terrible. Etem made a great play to snap Burrows goal drought on Tuesday.

I still think the deal the Canucks made to acquire Etem was a great return on dwindling assets and worth the risk of Etem ‘putting it all together’.  Etem playing regularly is a good thing for himself personally to help regain confidence, and for the Canucks to see what they have in the former first round pick.

Linden Vey was a write-off to start the season after being waived and assigned to Utica. He was recalled when injuries were plaguing the Canucks and has looked great on this road trip. He is out there late in games, trying to protect leads and help in all zones of the ice. As we mentioned, he has been playing with Etem and Burrows recently and that line has been chipping in offensively. Many fans lamented trading a 2nd round pick for Vey, but if he continues to build on his recent success, that frustration will melt away.

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Last, but not least, is Mike Zalewski.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent out of college by former GM Mike Gillis, Zalewski had a sub-par season last year in Utica which resulted in the Canucks not qualifying him. They did sign him to an AHL contract, and he took it from there. Through various injuries and other callups, Zalewski has been one of the best and most consistent Comets. Working night in and night out to grow his offensive game. It earned the upgrade to an NHL contract and recall to the Canucks. With Adam Cracknell filling the fourth line centre role, there was always a chance that the Canucks may want to take a look at another player in that role and it looks like Zalewski is getting that chance.

I want to see Zalewski play, he’s earned this opportunity and will battle to keep it.

Earlier this week, Trevor Linden was on TSN 1040 and suggested that the Canucks will see how things go over the next month and then make some decisions about their roster. Reading between the lines, and based on the current roster deployment, it looks like Canucks management is secretly hoping that the kids seize this opportunity and run with it. Obviously, this team is still run by the Sedin’s but having youth fill out the rest of the roster is great for the long-term development of the organization.

I have been a huge advocate of trading away as many of the pending unrestricted free agents for picks and prospects as you can, without cleaning house, and just let the kids play. Trading a player like Vrbata is a prudent way to maximize your current position with hopes of attaining more futures, for as early as next season. This isn’t a full ‘Team Tank’ thought process, it’s more along the lines of ‘I want to see the kids play, and let the chips fall as they may’.

If Thursdays’ lineup is any indication of things to come, then the kids will be alright.



  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    On Huttons first NHL goal…. Only a Sedin could make that pass, what a beauty! How that setup and goal didn’t make the honor roll is beyond me.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    Agree wholeheartedly. Vrbata, Prust, and to a lesser extent (a lot lesser, now that he’s scoring again) Burrows, have really appeared to be holding the young guys back, rather than helping them forward. Vrbata in particular is annoying, because I can see the argument for a seasoned hand to help cover the mistakes made by the young-uns, but Vrbata seems to always be the one making the costly giveaways, giving up both shots against and offensive opportunities. Occasionally he’ll still make a great play, but IMO they’re outweighed by the bad this season (and his +- shows it!).

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    Love the upbeat, positive article. Keep up the good work. Needless to say our PDO & Corsi #’s are going to be not so good for a while, until this team grows & learns to play the game at this level.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    Don’t forget that when Benning took the job, he stated right away that he was targeting 3-4 years before he’d have a contender. It’s only year 2 and there’s still a lot of player development to go with the current roster of young players, more acquisitions to make and more veterans to trade / lose through UFA attrition before we can really judge Benning. Next year should still be rough but I would expect a much more entertaining and winning team.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    Our young players are a good news story, no doubt.

    Our recent success 6-2-2 makes it difficult for Jim Benning. Tough decisions have to be made. I would look for picks or prospects in a Vrbata and Prust trade. I would hang on to Hammer if he agrees to a role as mentor at a reduced salary. Don’t think he would, but we should ask. If not trade him. Look at making the most of our assets for the future.

    If we make the post season let our remaining vets and kids roll with it. Good or bad.

    • Ca-nuckle head

      I have been thinking the exact same thing. If you can keep Hammer for your third pairing and as a mentor at a reduced rate it would be worth while in my mind; But don’t wait until the off season to find out. Get this sorted out before the deadline and get him moved if he isn’t interested.

      Definitely be nice to see some of the likes of Vrbata, Prust, Weber, Bartowski, and Higgins turned into prospects or picks before the deadline.

    • pheenster

      I actually don’t think it’s that difficult. Canucks aren’t winning because of those two but in spite of them. Not like the 6-2-2 mark has had a whole lot to do with Vrbata apart from one shootout goal.

      Downside is this will undoubtedly impact Vrby’s value. Would have been worth a first rounder for sure last year. Doubtful this year. Hamhuis would love to resign and I think would do so for less but I don’t think he’ll take less than Sbisa is making.

      • pheenster

        Agree with you on the possible downgrading of Vrbata’s worth, but I am still hoping that some type of package deal involving Vrbata for a young Defenseman (instead of draft choice).

        A win now team like ie: Minnesota may be willing to part ways with a player like Dumba if they can’t find another scorer soon. They are struggling right now and seem to have pressure on to make a run for it this year.

      • Ragnarok Ouroboros

        Can’t see Vrbata getting traded by Benning at this point. The Canucks have a 35% chance of getting into the playoffs and no young player has been scoring with enough consistency to make him expendable. Baertschi / Horvat haven’t proved that they can keep up the pace (especially once the opposition starts targetting them with defensive efforts) and having Vrbata on that line is only now starting to show results. If traded, I could see him going for a second rounder at the most or a young underachieving player like Devante Smith-Pelly and late round pick.

  • andyg

    Jake Virtanen has a skill set that is hard to find. The fans and media in Boston understand what the writers on this site don’t. They gave him the second star last night. Why?
    He didn’t score a goal or get any points last night. I will guarantee you that if he was to be offered on the trade market teams like Boston would line up and pay through the nose to get him. The fans in Boston would love this kid.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    Team Tank? Are you kidding? This is clearly “Team Rebuild-on-the-Fly”. The Canucks management plainly thinks that they’ve already got their next “core” (of forwards at least) largely in the system and that now it’s just a matter of bolstering and nurturing it into place. Think about it positionally (not including the Sedin-Hansen line, which is basically the current forward core:

    Centers: McCann is holding the fort as a teenager on an NHL top line. Horvat is only a year older and playing Toews/Bergeron level tough minutes, and still pitching in offensively. Sutter is a bit older but an above average bottom 6 center. Vey is still a bit of an enigma but is a changed man after a few months with Utica and is no longer hurting the team and now seems well suited to a bottom 6 center role, with some offensive ability to boot. Zalewski is exactly the type of guy you should want for your 4th line: cheap, young, boisterous and decent on fundamentals.

    Wingers: Baertschi and Virtanen are already capable of contributing in the NHL and both look primed to improve. Etem looks to have rekindled chemistry with Vey and has some still untapped potential to boot. Shinkaruk will make the jump next year, likely so will Gaunce, and Boeser is definitely a quality prospect a few years further down the road.

    That’s 12 forwards, most of whom are already NHL players and the others almost certain to make it in some capacity, without even mentioning the current first line or any longer shot prospects (eg: Cassels, Zhukenov, Grenier). Assuming all pending UFAs are either traded or not re-signed, that leaves only Burrows and Dorsett as older guys who remain to be dealt with. That’s the definition of a rebuild right there. Not sure how good they’ll all ultimately turn out to be, but it’s clear Benning intends to find out.

    • Ragnarok Ouroboros

      I (mostly) agree with you about the forward group.

      But what about the defence? They don’t have anyone in their system who projects to be a top defenseman in the mould of a Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. They have a general shortage of defensive prospects overall.

      As strong as their young centers are, I’m not sure there is a clear #1 there. It could be that Horvat and McCann fill the 2 and 3 spots, though #1 is a possibility for either one.

  • pheenster

    Why does everyone think dealing vets = tanking? It’s getting tiring. How about those of us on team rebuild?!? Are people that stupid where they can’t see there are many angles to this process?!

    I’d like to see them deal the vets on expiring contracts. Prust, Weber, Bartkowski, Vrbata and Hamhuis. Losing these guys will not devastate the team. Get some assets for guys who are not in the long term plan. The only exception might be Hamhuis (I’d be OK with re-signing him to a 2 year deal for $4 or so).

    The returns on those vets will vary but that’s OK. The return will be better than nothing which is what we get when they leave after the season.

    I don’t care where we draft (it’d be great to be top 3) but that alone will not be enough. We need to get as many assets as we can to expedite the rebuild. Hey, maybe the Sedins will be around for one more kick at the can, aka Cup run, if we cab rebuild fast enough.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    Half the team is under 25 years of age and yet Benning has a record of 68-46-16.

    It should be mentioned that the top-4 scorers on the team are:

    1.35

    2.35

    3.30 (47 days shy of)

    4.34

    It should also be argued that some vocal proponents of TEAM TANK wanted Eddie Lack to lead the team in net over the hated 36 y.o. Ryan Miller.

    Many devotees of TEAM TANK also called for Bennings head when he chose Markstrom over Lack while shoring up the future D corps with Brisebois. Meanwhile, Old Man Miller is 40-27-8 for TEAM TANK.

    It is becoming evident that TEAM TANK NATION may be experiencing difficulties with math and especially recognising the ages of those that are holding this franchise up and together.

    52 year old Benning brought in 25 y.o. Sutter,25 y.o. Sbisa,23 y.o.Baertschi,23 y.o. Etem,24 y.o. Vey,19 y.o. Virtanen,19 y.o.McCann and chose 25 y.o. Markstrom (over Lack).

    Yet Benning has chosen to keep vital,aging veterans that are leading this teams young guns to success. It is time for TEAM TANK devotees to realise their notion of success has been usurped by the talent and grace of veteran leadership – on and off the ice.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    The General Fanager in me wishes that the kids were sent back to Junior and down to the AHL and replaced with free agent vets to trade at the deadline, while all of our other UFAs and overpaid players were traded (granted most of them are untradeable at this juncture).

    The Fan in me, however, is happy to watch the kids develop as it is more enjoyable than just waiting for the trade deadline and draft and hoping to see growth in the future.

    Objectively, I think the former is a more certain path to a contending team in the future (granted that is debatable and clearly many disagree), but the Canucks are an entertainment product at the end of the day and the latter path is a lot more interesting.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    The Canucks have scored 117 goals this season.

    The Canucks accounting for the youth movement aged 25 and younger (including Sutter as he scored his goals while still 25) account for 34 goals scored or 29%.

    The Canucks youth movement members have scored six of the sixteen or 37% of the game winning goals.

    The youth movement accounts for 23% or six of twenty-six PP goals scored this year.

    Half of the team that was dressed for the last game were 25 years or younger but the Canucks veterans account for 71% of all goals scored this season.

    • Ragnarok Ouroboros

      The youth movement plays 20% of pp time scoring 23% of pp goals.

      The youth movement played 25% of available ice time in the 1st 20 games of season.

      Of the 4 goals scored against Boston the youth movement was involved in either scoring the goal or having the primary assist on at least 75% of those goals.

      In a recent BC survey of hockey fans 74% of fans were pleasantly surprised at the results of the Canucks so far.

      A full 89% in this survey supported the direction the team is heading in.

      • Ragnarok Ouroboros

        Of the 4 goals scored against Boston the youth movement was involved in either scoring the goal or having the primary assist on at least 75% of those goals. Edaceel

        Baertschi scored one and 34-35 year old vets had the other three.

        Eight assists were tallied with five of eight going to veterans.

        The goal production of the latest game was representative of the entire season with the vets carrying 70%+ of team scoring.

    • Andy

      If you have a Lego structure and you break up everything, or most of the peripheral parts, you still call it rebuilding.

      If we compare Benning’s pre-draft roster to now, we’re definitely rebuilding. It’s not down to rue bare pieces, but there is significant change.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    The Canucks should just part ways with Prust and Cracknell. Waivers, trade, whatever. Just off the roster. The team that played vs Boston doesn’t need them. But Sutter and Sedin need 2 open spots and if it isn’t Prust and Cracknell, it’s gotta be Vey and Zalewski. I’d rather keep Vey and Zalewski. Play Sutter with the twins, Hansen with Bo, and Vrbata has just been replaced. Trade him. The bottom 6 stays the same as vs Boston. McCann as the extra to cycle in with Vey and Zalewski every couple games.