Well, everyone, we’ve hit the halfway point of the Roster Down The Road series. The Young Stars showcase is right around the corner, and after that is the preseason. We’ve been looking at the current group of future prospects and young players in the Canucks system for a few weeks now! For this exercise, we’ve only been using players already in their system, and we haven’t contemplated any new young players the Canucks could potentially draft (Sorry Jack Hughes). Finally, we’ve focused on the Sporting News prospect ranking the most, as CanucksArmy hasn’t released their pre-season prospect list quite yet. So before we get into all the forwards, I decided I’d touch on the defensive core and goaltenders as a whole, and discuss some of YOUR concerns and ideas that I’ve seen in the comments so far. Here are the defense core and goaltending roster as noted throughout the series, along with other notable prospects in the system who have been brought up by the readers.
Quinn Hughes – Jett Woo
Olli Juolevi – Nikita Tryamkin
Jack Rathbone – Jalen Chatfield
Toni Utunen – Matt Brassard
(Other notable prospects)
(Current roster players)
Michael Del Zotto
(Other notable prospects)
(Current roster goalies)
So, we’ll begin with what I’m hoping to see as a unit in 2022-2023. Each one of the pairs listed above has one defenseman who can move the puck extremely well, while someone on the other side provides bite or physicality. On the top pair, we’ve got Quinn Hughes with Jett Woo, where Hughes is a transition machine and Woo would use his short yet stocky frame to body opposing forwards off the puck in the corners and clear the front of the net. 2nd pair it’s Juolevi moving the puck up ice and Tryamkin using his body. The 3rd pair is Rathbone carrying the transition game and Chatfield going to work in the trenches. While Woo, Tryamkin, and Chatfield all have the ability to make strong passes, the better options all reside on the left side of the ice.
Zone starts for each of the 3 pairs are pretty standard. I would give Rathbone and Chatfield most of the offensive zone starts, Hughes and Woo the neutral zone, and Juolevi and Tryamkin the defensive zone starts. While I believe Hughes is going to be the best offensively, his toolkit is so vast that he’ll be able to carry it into the offensive zone more often than Rathbone. Rathbone being relatively young, and likely not on a pair with Hughes would have me hope the Canucks try to shelter his minutes more so than other defensemen on that defense.
Moving now to the special team units. You’ll see the way I utilize the forwards more as the series goes on, but on the first powerplay unit, it’ll be quarterbacked by Quinn Hughes. Pretty self-explanatory, Hughes’ offensive abilities are next level special. On the 2nd power play unit, it would be Jack Rathbone. I like Rathbone’s willingness to unload his shot on goal and see that as a boon to the 2nd unit, and he’s got above-average offensive instincts.
For the penalty kill, your top pairing defense pair would be Nikita Tryamkin and Jett Woo. This is where Tryamkin being able to play his off-side really help the Canucks blue line, as you’d be able to put the big Russian back on the left side of the ice while Jett Woo mans the right. Juolevi and Chatfield would man the 2nd penalty kill defense pair, again giving the Canucks another excellent pair on the back end while a man down. Both these penalty kill pairs would give me confidence.
Now, for some of the bigger questions, the CanucksArmy readers have asked over the past couple of weeks, and we’ll start with one of the bigger ones.
Why didn’t I include Troy Stecher in my roster? Well, because Stecher’s job I thought would be done better than the other puck moving defenseman on the roster I’ve constructed. I feel that Jack Rathbone, Quinn Hughes, and Olli Juolevi will transition the puck up the ice better than Troy Stecher come 2022-2023. So, to partner up with those left side defenseman, I’d want Troy to play a strong defensive game. My PERSONAL opinion on Chatfield is that he will be as good as Stecher, and have a little more size and physicality to help Rathbone along. The real spot I would see Stecher is with Olli Juolevi, and Olli Juolevi’s partner is Nikita Tryamkin. So to answer the reader’s question, if Tryamkin comes back, I think Stecher will be traded before 2022-2023. If Tryamkin doesn’t come back, Stecher will take the 2nd pair spot voided by Tryamkin, and provide his skating, hard work, and controlled zone exits and entries with Juolevi’s transition game.
What happens to the other defensemen, not on the roster? Most of the current defense core isn’t at a level where they extract much value from other teams. I think that both Tanev and Edler are the exceptions, and frankly should be traded at this year’s deadline if they’re playing well and healthy. Reason being I’d like to see Juolevi and Chatfield make their NHL debut this season. Brisebois is another prospect who I expect will make the Canucks NHL roster in the near future, however, I don’t believe he’ll be around for too long. Brisebois could be a prospect moved for immediate help for a playoff push in the latter years leading up to 2022-2023. Although I was pleased with what Ashton Sautner brought in his short cup of coffee last season, and Evan McEnemy has been a solid prospect in the Canucks system for the past few years; I don’t think either of them are going to be on the team for any extended period of time. With Hughes, Juolevi, on the depth chart ahead of them, the ceiling of Brisebois and Rathbone being higher, and a glut of left shot defenseman currently on the roster it creates an untimely log jam for these two.
There weren’t many questions about goaltenders, so we’ll just touch on them really quickly for readers who didn’t catch the start of the series. Thatcher Demko will be the starter for the 2022-2023 Canucks roster, with DiPietro backing him up. Factors that helped me come to this decision include the fact Demko will already have 3+ years of NHL experience under his belt, with a majority of those being seasons as the starter. DiPietro would just be cracking the NHL as a backup goaltender, finishing is minor league development path. They’re both top end goalie prospects, this really comes down to age. I wouldn’t be surprised if Markstrom rides out his contract with the Canucks helping Demko along, with Demko taking the reigns as early as 2019-2020.
Lastly, as we look at what is constructed with players already in the current system; I was reading all the comments and seeing what you guys thought we still needed. As it currently stands, the left side of our defense pool is pretty strong, and I’m happy with the way it currently looks. It’s glaringly obvious the Canucks need to upgrade the right side pool. I love Jett Woo, I think he’ll do some good things, but he’s not a true top pairing defenseman. Whether that’s through the draft or through a trade, it’s an area that needs to be addressed. For goaltenders, well we’re probably in a better state than a majority of the NHL. Both Demko and DiPietro are top quality goaltending prospects, and Thiessen is sitting in the wings and could develop into something as well. Lots to like for the Canucks, thanks to all of you for reading the first half of the Roster Down The Road series, and look forward to continuing the series with the forwards in the coming weeks.