We’re nearly two months away from the Vancouver Canucks training camp in Whistler, but the mostly static state of the NHL right now suggests this roster isn’t likely to change much between now and then. So with that in mind, we should have a look at what to expect between September 22nd to 26th.
Though the Canucks training camp and pre-season have, for the most part, been an exercise in conventional roster construction, last year’s emergence of Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann suggest this time of year could hold more intrigue than ever. The Canucks have done a good job of filling the cupboards with as deep a set of prospects as they’ve boasted in ages. Another surprise might be on the horizon.
Knowing what we do now about Vancouver’s team, let’s take a look at their depth chart and where competition will be fiercest therein.
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Daniel Sedin||Henrik Sedin||Loui Eriksson|
|Sven Baertschi||Brandon Sutter||Jannik Hansen|
|Emerson Etem||Bo Horvat||Anton Rodin|
|Markus Granlund||Derek Dorsett|
There’s been a fair amount of debate regarding the position of some of these players. Anton Rodin especially is the topic of much debate. Sure, he was drafted as left wing and spent much of his time in North America previously as a left winger, but he played the right wing in Sweden. It probably serves the Canucks best to play him on the left wing, but given that he’s listed as a right winger on most websites, I acquiesced to their wisdom.
On the lower end of that scale, there’s some amount of debate over where to plug in Emerson Etem and Derek Dorsett. Really, I could slot these two players in any combination of places, and it wouldn’t make that large a difference. In that case, I deferred to where the need was most pressing. With Rodin as a right winger, that meant playing Etem on the third line at left wing.
I would expect that the battle between Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter for second line supremacy will be one of the close ones to watch, not only in training camp but as the season wanes, too. The slight edge goes to Sutter going into camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if continued development from Horvat forces him back onto the second line.
|Left Side Defencemen||Right Side Defencemen|
|Alexander Edler||Christopher Tanev|
|Ben Hutton||Erik Gudbranson|
The top two pairings on the Canucks’ blue line appear set. Barring something unforeseen, like the reemergence of Luca Sbisa in the top four, this quartet is likely an accurate representation of what the Canucks will boast on their opening night lineup.
Willie Desjardins yesterday said Brandon Sutter is the Canucks #2 centre and Sbisa might play 2nd pair minutes with Gudbranson. Yikes.
— Corduroy Orbison (@_Proto) July 6, 2016
Jake Virtanen vs. Alexandre Burrows
Assuming the Canucks go into next season with 13 forwards, that all but secures Brendan Gaunce’s role therein. His positional versatility and ability to play centre when called upon give him priority. That leaves two forwards from last year’s roster duking it out for the last wing on the Canucks fourth line.
The two players, Burrows and Jake Virtanen, couldn’t find themselves further apart on their respective career arcs. Whereas Burrows is entering the twilight of his career, Virtanen has yet even to scratch the surface on his peak physical years.
I’d think Burrows has the early edge, if for no other reason than the $4.5-million cap figure attached to his contract. Even if they were to exercize the Chris Higgins/Brandon Prust option with Burrows, they’d only save $950,000 against the cap next season. You’d also like to think that the Canucks haven’t much appetite for going that route, based on the veteran leadership Burrows can provide next season and all he’s done for the franchise and the city in year’s past.
Still, if the goal of the Canucks is to compete for the playoffs next season, it’s hard to argue against Virtanen. He brings size and speed otherwise absent from the Canucks lineup and checks out as one of their strongest possession forwards in the neutral zone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever develop into a first line talent, but at this stage, he’s undoubtedly a strong two-way force that helps drive favourable shot and goal differentials.
The Thirteenth Forward
If Virtanen beats Burrows out for the final forward spot on the Canucks fourth line, I doubt they send Burrows to the minors to accommodate it. That would all but render this point moot. Assuming Burrows is the victor, though, the Canucks are going to want to put Virtanen in a situation that benefits his development, and I don’t know if playing as a thirteenth forward accomplishes that. Teams generally prefer a centre as their thirteenth forward too, which doesn’t help Virtanen’s NHL cause.
The Canucks invested heavily in their AHL franchise this summer, but at no one position did they pool as many resources as they did at centre. Jayson Megna and Michal Chaput (two such signings) are likely going to the AHL, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the two gives Brendan Gaunce a run for his money as the Canucks’ thirteenth forward. We saw something similar happen last season with Adam Cracknell.
The Third Pairing
This is where things are going to get interesting. I could see the Canucks’ third pairing going any number of ways. The main combatants here are Philip Larsen, Nikita Tryamkin and Luca Sbisa. What makes this picture especially interesting is the caveat that Sbisa can play either the left or right side with a certain amount of competency, whereas Larsen (right side) and Tryamkin (left side) offer no such dexterity.
Based on some of the comments Jim Benning has made about Larsen manning the Canucks power play, I’d expect him to figure as their primary right side defender on the third pairing. I’d also like to think that the Canucks dogged efforts to trade Sbisa indicate they’re either moving on, or close to moving on from their expensive project defenceman. The Canucks are likely keener on giving Tryamkin a chance to develop then Sbisa, which likely gives him the edge on the left side of their third pairing.
That would leave Sbisa as the Canucks seventh defencemen, which, frankly, probably best aligns with where he’s at as a defenceman.
Andrey Pedan vs. Alex Biega
This battle will indicate whether the Canucks have learned anything from their previous waiver blunders. Though they’ve signed Alex Biega to a two-year, one-way deal, they’ve invested resources into developing Andrey Pedan and risk losing him to waivers if they can’t find a spot for him in the Canucks lineup.
I can’t say with any degree of certainty whether Pedan is a better defenceman than Biega at this stage in their respective careers. That said, the potential for Pedan to develop into something better than a third pairing defenceman makes him a better asset in the grand scheme of the Canucks plans. He also brings an element of size at 6’5 that Biega plainly doesn’t.
A Way Too Early Lineup Prediction
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Loui Eriksson
Emerson Etem – Brandon Sutter – Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Anton Rodin
Derek Dorsett – Markus Granlund – Alexandre Burrows
Extra Forward: Brendan Gaunce
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Ben Hutton – Erik Gudbranson
Nikita Tryamkin – Philip Larsen
Extra Defencemen: Luca Sbisa, Andrey Pedan
Jacob Markstrom/Ryan Miller
The Canucks have an interesting assortment of veterans and young players on the upswing of their careers. The hope is that they’ve found just the right mix, but for all the resources they’ve invested in peace of mind going into next season, there’s at least another question waiting in the wings, hanging over everything they hope to accomplish.
Does Ryan Miller have another season of above average goaltending left in him? Can Jacob Markstrom build a strong first full season in the NHL? Is Anton Rodin ready to become a full-time contributor in the NHL? Can this roster stay healthy enough to remain competitive? Will their young blue line hold up over a full 82 game season? And so it goes on, and on.
This team will need a lot to go right for them to get back to the playoffs, but they’re in a much better position for that now then they were at the end of last season. That’s about all you can ask for.