The Canucks have reached the midway point of their season, taking on the Flames in Game 41 of the season tonight in Vancouver. The Canucks have actually performed better than must expected, compared to those who pegged them as a last-place team by a lot. However, stellar goaltending, great performances from Horvat, Baertschi and Granlund to mention a few, as well as some surprises on the back-end have kept the Canucks in more games than they expected. With that in mind, I asked our writers what their biggest take away from the season thus far was. Here are their answers.
Biggest takeaway: This isn’t necessarily a Canucks related observation in and of itself, but I think I underestimated the extent to which a decaying Western Conference would keep them competitive well longer than I’d initially expected. The Canucks are right in the thick of the playoff chase, and we’re into January. Whether that’s in the club’s long-term interests or not (it isn’t) that’s kind of caught me off guard.
Biggest surprise: Has to be Markus Granlund. I was skeptical of Granlund as even an NHL player, but here he is playing on the Canucks’ nominal second line and looking one of its better parts. He’s proven me wrong so far.
Biggest disappointment: Probably Erik Gudbranson. I wasn’t fond of the trade that brought him here. I thought that, at the very least, he’d improve the Canucks in-zone coverage. He looked just _terrible_ before he left the club with a wrist injury and his underlying data backs that up.
I will be honest and say that I did not see Bo Horvat taking over for the Sedins, at least offensively, this soon in his career. Sure, Henrik and Daniel playing with Sutter and Megna has not helped their even strength point totals, and they still face the toughest matchups, but watching Horvat take the next step in his development (and have Sven Baertschi alongside him) has been the most pleasant surprise, in my opinion, for the Canucks to date.
For my self, Troy Stecher. Where are the Canucks without this kid? He is already a triple A staple on the blue line and as much as we all love Ben Hutton, Stecher is getting it done just as much. His booming slap shot will eventually start felling opposing teams defenders and it’s only a matter of time before GOAL, STECHER! becomes a regular thing. Disappointment for me comes in the form of poor line management. How Loui Eriksson hasn’t been put on a proper line yet is beyond me. I hope they figure that out soon.
The play of Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi has been a pleasant surprise. Obviously I was expecting them to improve off of last season, but their work ethic is so evident and it that’s translating on the ice. I had a feeling the Sedins were going to begin their decline this year, so that’s not much of a surprise to be honest. The strides that Bo & Baertschi have made lead me to be cautiously optimistic about the future. Sure they’re not bonafied superstars or 1st-line players yet, but at least we have an idea of who will be replacing the Daniel & Henrik when they retire. Stecher and Tryamkin have also played well, and that’s refreshing because our lack of defense prospects was honestly laughable. Alex Burrows has also surprised me because I thought his play and production would plummet from last season. It looks like Bo & Baertschi have given an extra jump in his step.
As for disappointments, Loui Eriksson is the clear winner for obvious reasons. Erik Gudbranson also hasn’t lived up to expectations, but I still believe that he can improve with time.
I don’t know if it’s the biggest takeaway, but the prospect cupboard is looking pretty bare. The good news is a big part of that is due to young players like Gaunce, Tryamkin, and Stecher making the jump to the big leagues. The bad news is that those players were all around the age you’d expect a prospect to be ready to take the leap, and they have virtually no one in the 18-20 age group that can step in when the veterans retire or get traded. Juolevi, Boeser, and Demko will all make the show, but after that it gets dicey. Adam Gaudette is looking pretty good, but the team appears ready to cut ties with Pedan and Subban, so after that it’s pretty much a barren wasteland. You want to have an abundance o good young talent because some prospects will inevitably surprise you, while others will disappoint. The Canucks are counting on each one of their prospects to hit their ceilings if they want to be competitive in 3-4 years. If that doesn’t happen they’ll be forcing kids to play out of their depth or overspending on free agents to fill that talent gap.
This season’s biggest surprise for me has been the emergence of Bo Horvat as a strong offensive player, I definitely didn’t expect him to take over as the offensive power on the team. The defense is also a surprise so far, as Tryamkin and Stecher have outperformed expectations. I’m not a huge fan of how Willie has utilized players to this point, as I’d like to see younger guys getting a better shot, but I am surprised by where the team is at so far.