At this point, I think it’s safe to say the Canucks season is going better than many expected. They’ve won four in a row now, and have looked like a strong team in the process. Obviously, a lot factors have contributed to the team’s success so far, from goaltending, to special teams, to the play of the team’s new additions. So this week, I’m asking our panel of experts a simple question: what has been the biggest surprise of the Canucks’ season so far?
Everyone has expected Pettersson to be the star or for the PP1 to get all the love but I’m shocked the defense has been as good as it’s been.
Edler hasn’t dropped in minutes, in fact he’s right on where he’s played but players like Chris Tanev have been given a power boost with Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers hasn’t been awful.
They’ve also scored goals via the floater so it seems anything is possible. I still haven’t won the lottery, though.
The biggest surprise has been how well a couple of players I had mentally written off are performing – Brandon Sutter and Tim Schaller.
Sutter has four points in five games as of this writing, and that’s a surprise in and of itself – but his performance goes beyond his statline. Sutter has been crushing it on the penalty kill, carrying the puck with speed, and the play isn’t dying on his stick the way it has the last couple of seasons. Aside from that one memorable giveaway against Edmonton, Sutter has also largely avoided any major gaffes – demonstrating that he’s more “keyed in” this year than he has been in the past.
Schaller’s renaissance has been more subtle. He’s yet to notch a point on the season, but he’s been noticeable in each of the games thus far. Like Sutter, Schaller has played a big role in the Canucks’ dominant penalty kill – number one in the league as of this writing. He’s also playing with the sort of physicality and consistent energy that made him a fan favourite in Boston – something that was entirely absent from his game in 2018/19.
The biggest surprise early on this season has been the emergence of the new additions. Tyler Myers and Quinn Hughes have been able to transition the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone with ease. The two new defencemen have been able to revamp the defence corps that was so stale for so long. JT Miller immediately found success on this Canucks team and now that he has worked his way up to playing with Pettersson and Boeser it will hopefully bring on even more offensive outbursts like we saw on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Jacob Markstrom has continued his brilliance from last season and looks to be the number one goalie for the Canucks this season but with Demko off to a winning start it will be an interesting story line to follow as the season progresses.
5 games in and Vancouver’s new look blueline has been a revelation. Keep in mind, the Calgary Flames are the only opponent Vancouver has faced that made the playoffs last year but Tyler Myers has been a welcome surprise as a minute munching, top-pairing defender. He leads the Canucks in 5-on-5 ice time and is in the black for goal share with a 53.18 xGF% and has controlled 55.49% of the shot attempts. So far so good for Benning’s latest free-agent signing. Quinn Hughes has shown the traits that made him a top prospect in his draft year are translatable to the NHL level. His poise under pressure with the puck along with his shiftiness and decision making allows for Hughes to move the puck up ice swiftly and efficiently. At 5-on-5, he is 14th in the league out of all defenders with a 62.54 xGF% and 1st in xGA/60. Quinn is less of a surprise for me but the performance of Vancouver’s blueline as a whole in comparison to last season has been startling.
There are plenty of surprises to choose from, but the PK success really stands out to me, especially considering it hasn’t been a real strength of the team in recent years. They’ve shown great structure and anticipation on their kills leading to a league-leading rate of 93.8% as I write this. Goaltending has been exceptional shorthanded, stopping all 11 high-danger shot attempts against and putting up a 95.83 SV%, which is much higher than their even-strength mark of 91.87%. It will be fascinating to see if they can continue killing off penalties at this rate when they start to face some of the league’s better powerplays into November.
I’m surprised no one has said goaltending yet. Through six games, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko each have a save percentage north of .920, and have probably been the single biggest factor in the the team’s four-game winning streak. That’s no small feat when you consider that Markstrom is a notoriously slow starter and Demko has precious little experience at the NHL level. Goaltending is probably the biggest x-factor for the Canucks this season, and it could very well turn out to be what determines their playoff chances. If both tenders can keep up the play they’ve shown early on this season, the team could be well on their way to their first postseason berth in 5 seasons.