Roster Down The Road: Defense Core Summary

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.


(Top 6)

Quinn Hughes – Jett Woo

Olli Juolevi – Nikita Tryamkin

Jack Rathbone – Jalen Chatfield


Toni Utunen – Matt Brassard


(Other notable prospects)

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Guillaume Brisebois

Ashton Sautner

Evan McEnemy


(Current roster players)

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Troy Stecher*

Derrick Pouliot

Ben Hutton

Erik Gudbranson

Michael Del Zotto

Alex Edler

Chris Tanev

Alex Biega


(Starting/Backup goaltenders)

Thatcher Demko

Michael DiPietro


(Other notable prospects)

Matthew Thiessen


(Current roster goalies)

Jacob Markstrom

Anders Nilsson

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.

Image: Canucks / Twitter


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.

  • Woodrow

    At this point, Sautner has got to be considered more likely than Rathbone and perfectly suited for the 3rd pairing w/ Chatfield. Sounds like a solid shutdown/PK duo. I was very impressed w/ Sautner’s poise, mobility + his physicality in his callup last year. He’s also demonstrated some offensive ability in the past and leadership. Not flashy but definitely underrated.

    • Puck Viking

      Ahhhh absolutely not.. I have no idea where you get your information from but there is a reason Pronman named Rathbone the most likely prospect in hockey to have a break out season.. no one is saying that about Sautner.

      • Woodrow

        Thats a stretch, I’m not down on Rathbone but he did look horrendous at rookie camp a year ago yet by all accounts improved this summer. I’m sure we’d all be thrilled if he had the “break out season” of all prospects. That’s quite the leap of faith, meanwhile Sautner is ready now and much better suited for a future 3rd pairing role.

        • Puck Viking

          Its not a stretch according to the guy who rates prospects for a living. Sautner tops out as a 3rd pairing penalty killer which are a dime a dozen. Rathbone has PP potential and can put up massive points. College hockey starts asap.. I suggest you follow him, I have a feeling you will be impressed.

          • Woodrow

            As I said, I’m not down on him and have been following him. Just because Pronman follows prospects for a living doesn’t mean he’s correct. Lots of actual NHL executives and pro scouts are wrong all the time. Actual effective shut down 5 & 6 Dmen are hardly a dime a dozen. I mentioned Sautner because he’s better suited to that role. This article is about an actual projected lineup not simply a who could top out higher list. All things turning out roses, would Rathbone project higher on the future depth chart than Sautner. Absolutely, but he also may never make the show. Sautner is already on the doorstep. Who would be better suited in 3rd pairing role? Sautner w/o a doubt.

            Also, as DF mentioned below, if Rathbone does exceed expectations he could possibly be trade fodder for a right side D (or whatever) if need be. He’ll be hard pressed ever making the Canucks if Hughes and Juolevi are in town, not to mention if BFG returns. However, he is a Brackett pick so that has my attention right there.

  • El Kabong

    I still think we need a top pairing right handed defenseman. If we get a top ten pick next year it will be hard to decide between a top centre or a RH top pairing D. I’d take the d-man if all else if even as far a BPA.

    • Puck Viking

      There are zero RHD in the next draft worth taking in the top 20 at this point. We will pick top 5 and I hope we go center so that we have insurance in case Petterson doesnt workout at center.

      But RHD is a massive weakness that needs to be filled immediately. I would suggest drafting several of them in the upcoming draft with 2nds and 3rds or maybe we can package Edler or Tanev for one.

      • speering major

        Yeah I felt like getting another 1st rounder last year could really accelerate the rebuild. Who knows what Benning was up against to make that happen but it would have been huge. For example NYI had two picks which means Benning should have realized that Bouchard or Dobson would be available once those centers were picked.

        I see the Canucks pursuing a top 4 D through FA or trade. Most likely FA. I think Benning is going to be in sell mode until next off season. The right piece will be available if they are patient. If they try to rush it or panic they will end up pulling a Chiarelli.

        • Puck Viking

          I agree with the NYIs Dobson pick. I would have been on the phone offering anything but our top guys and next years first as it will be top 5. But after Tavares leaving I think it made them think towards the future and not the now. But if NYI would have taken something like tanev, sven and a 2nd I would have pulled the trigger.

          We need a top pair righty and the chances of finding one anywhere but in the top of the draft are slim to none.

          I would hold off on a trade unless its a package of veterans in which case I would be all over that. The problem is looking around the league, who has a righty with top pairing potential that is young and would be available?

          Would tampa move foote? I for one am not sold on his top pairing potential due to his skating.
          Could we some how grab dobson now? If so make it happen but again I think NYI are in more of a build for the future mode.
          Would Nashville move fabro or allard? Not sure either has top pairing potential.

          If no righty is available through trade I would trade the remaining vets for whatever picks you can get. With our top pick go center(at this stage anyway) hopefully acquire 2 or 3 more picks in the 2nd or 3rd and use at least 50% of the picks in next years draft.. maybe you hit a home run like the canes did with slavin or pesce or like dallas did with klinberg in the 5th. but the best way to get lucky is to use the volume approach.

  • canuckfan

    Tryamkin is not the great defenceman that a lot of people think he is, sure he has size but that is it. But he has been named the captain of his team in KHL so what that is the KHL he is not coming back. He bailed on his team so should be treated as such no one can depend on someone who only thinks for himself. There is a reason Willy didn’t give him the ice time because he wasn’t in shape and just wasn’t good enough. No one is asking about obtaining his rights because he isn’t considered to be a asset other teams want, plus his comments about North America, and Vancouver in particular have not been of someone who is planning to come back. Another 5 years he will be 5 years older unless he comes back this season he will be behind on so many fronts of what it takes to play in the NHL. He is Russian and loves his heritage and culture and wants to raise his family in Russia where he has the family network to support him and his wife so it isn’t just hockey reasons why he is not coming back. But one thing for sure he isn’t going to get any shorter.

  • Canuck4Life20

    I’ve always thought that people were writing of Juolevi too quickly, but hearing JD Burke on the radio declaring him a surefire top 4 stud defenseman has given me some doubts.

    • canuckfan

      I laughed after reading your comment, but think Juolevi will be just fine and will be the asset he was projected to be feeding the forwards with the perfect play ended up in the back of the other teams net. Don’t let your opinion on JD Burke doubt your original assessment of Juolevi.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Ok, since you’re actually writing for the site, you should know that it’s “defence corps” not “defence core”. It’s an easy mistake to make but I’m surprised the managing editor didn’t change it.

  • Defenceman Factory

    I really hope Rathbone does well and starts to generate some real hype in the NCAA. Assuming Hughes and Juolevi develop as expected Rathbone could be a very valuable trade chip. Canucks have reasonable depth on the left side so having Rathbone isn’t critical. If he could be swapped for a right side prospect that could turn out well.

    Of all the NCAA prospects he’s the only one that worries me that he may not want to come out to Vancouver. He may strongly prefer to play closer to home.