Do you remember that feeling?
The one that gives you goosebumps every time you see Alex Burrows jump up and snag that puck out of the air. The feeling you get when you hear Jim Robson say “He will play. You know he’ll play. He’ll play on crutches!”
I got goosebumps just reading it.
Those are the moments that this team is trying to create. It started last season when John Shorthouse said “Enjoy the future folks. It’s here”. Shorty was talking about Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. The core that will get this team back to the playoffs, the core that will make this team get that feeling back. This year we are starting to see this core have success.
I don’t know if the Canucks or Zack MacEwen has had more ups and downs this season. They currently sit atop the pacific division and nobody predicted that at the 50 game mark. Not even the most Benning of Bros. This team has depth scoring, has one of the top lines in the NHL, and the emergence of Quinn Hughes has significantly improved the team’s defence corps.
I can’t remember this team being healthier off the top of my head. Chris Tanev hasn’t missed a game for Pete’s sake.
This team’s core is learning how to win games at the NHL level and though the JT Miller trade has been (and still is) the subject of much debate, Miller has been better than even Jim Benning could have predicted.
“J.T. Miller is going to be a good fit for us. He should play with either Bo or Petey. He’s a good skater, good hands, smart; he’s a top-6 player who will help the development of others”, said Benning on day two of the 2019 draft, and with Miller putting up 48 points in 50 games, that’s looking like a strong assessment. Like a lot of you, I wasn’t a fan of the trade at the time. The spot that both teams were in didn’t make sense for the Canucks to give up a first and third round pick. But here we are, 50 games into the season and leading the division. You can’t argue with success. Well you could, but that’s for twitter.
The Canucks now lead the pacific division and though they are only a couple bad weeks away from being out of the playoffs. They are continuing to play great hockey over the past six weeks or so. This team has worked its way into their current positioning and recently I was on TSN1040 with Harman Dayal, Andrew Wadden and Rick Dhaliwal. Harm and I were asked who would win the Pacific division.
My answer was “Why Not Us?”
The Core has Grown
First it was Bo Horvat, then Brock Boeser, the Elias Pettersson and now Quinn Hughes. This team has drafted it’s core and each player has learned more and more about the NHL over their careers.
Horvat was given the captaincy early this season and he has proven that decision was a correct one. Horvat has always been a playoff performer. In his rookie season he averaged 0.40 points per game. In the playoffs that year he had four points in six games that’s 0.66 points per game. Horvat was very impressive in his junior career, stepping up when his team needed him most and scoring the biggest goal of that run by the London Knights.
— Chris Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) January 29, 2020
With the “C” on his chest we have seen more media going to Horvat. He has been there for both the winning and losing streaks. His calm demeanor is exactly what this young team needs. Playoff Bo will be a different animal and Canucks fans will expect him to take his game to the next level once the Canucks get there.
I’d bet that Captain Bo can’t wait.
Pettersson and Hughes have been a couple of the most talented young players in the NHL this season. Both have not seen the NHL playoffs but I’m not worried about that. Yes, games are more physical in the playoffs. We saw what a team like the St.Louis Blues were able to do last season. They would grind a team down and have enough skill to score more goals than their beaten down opponents.
Pettersson and Hughes are the ultimate gamers, these two are the future of the NHL. The game is moving towards speed and skill and you need to be a leader to be a winner in this league. The NHL is so often called a “copycat” league. To a certain degree it is, general managers all want winners on their team. It’s why free agents who just won the cup get extra money and longer deals. (Just look at Jay Beagle.)
The Canucks have back filled this lineup to have veterans who can lead the team off the ice while the young players lead on the ice. Depth players need to have a role with a successful team and the Canucks bottom six players are proving to be contributors on both special team units and off the ice with their veteran leadership. Hughes and Pettersson can play their game and not worry because for the most part, the vets have been pulling their weight this season.
I’m not worried about Hughes and Pettersson in the playoffs. They are elite players and elite players take their games to the next level when their team needs them most. We’ve seen Quinn Hughes have five games this season where he has played over 25 minutes. This is probably close to where he will have to consistently play in a playoff game. The fact that he has done it in 10% of the Canucks games this season is a great sign.
That brings me to the defence corps as a whole. Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are the only remaining players from the 2010-11 team that was so close to raising the Stanley Cup. These two have been Canucks for a long time. They see how this team has developed into a contender and would love for nothing more than this city to get back into that playoff feel.
Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg are new to the city. They came here because of the promise that the young players showed and they have been amazed with this team when they are running hot. Myers may have had some tough stretches this season and he will likely have more. Myers has also played the most minutes out of any Canucks player and averages just under 23 minutes a game of ice time.
The Canucks will need to be tougher in the playoffs, Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn will have to be a leading force in that aspect of the game. Jordie Benn may not be playing a lot of games now but every player talks about how an injury or a few bounces can change everything in the playoffs.
If an injury occurs to the defence group we will see Benn, Fantenberg or even Brogan Rafferty hop into the lineup. These types of replacement players can bring something to the game, and though Rafferty isn’t proven at the NHL level, he is intriguing to see and could be a surprise to Canucks fans if injuries force him into the playoff lineup.
I just recently spoke with Brent Sopel about his time with the West Coast Express and he mentioned that they had so much talent on those teams but they were unlucky on a handful of nights and he got lucky on a handful of nights with the Chicago Blackhawks. That is why he is a Stanley Cup Champion, a handful of nights.
Do it for Vancouver
Chris Tanev and Alex Edler may have been the only ones who were playing for the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. There were a few local kids that were watching it closely though. Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher are local kids. Troy from Richmond and Jake from Abbotsford. These two have been Canucks fans their entire lives and neither of them have tasted playoff hockey in their NHL careers.
Troy Stecher is the ultimate gamer, he has defied odds just by reaching the NHL. Troy from Richmond would be the type of guy I would want on my team in a battle. He can play tough if asked to (He was the first player to drop the gloves last year) and is a puck moving depth defencemen that teams will crave as the NHL evolves.
We have seen Virtanen begin to turn the corner this season. Like a Fast & Furious movie, he would fly around that corner if given a playoff opportunity. We have seen what Virtanen can do when he is confident and has the city behind him. Since the #ShotgunJake movement Jake has been able to score 5-on-5 goals at a top six pace.
The Canucks have needed a third line that can score and now with Antoine Roussel and Adam Gaudette the team can get more scoring from their bottom six. Teams need big goals in the playoffs and those big goals often come from emotional leaders. Roussel is the type of guy that we hear about every year in the playoffs. A guy that plays in a bottom six role but go on a run in the playoffs because they are allowed to get more emotionally involved in a game compared to regular season hockey.
And how about Adam Gaudette’s playoff goal celebrations. He would blow the roof off of Rogers Arena.
Why Not Us?
Seriously, why not us? That’s what the entire pacific division is thinking about right now. The Canucks have two goalies who are looking to take a jump to the next level. The goaltenders have won the Canucks a ton of games this year. Thatcher Demko wants to prove that he can be a starter and Jacob Markstrom wants to be talked about as a top five goaltender in the league. Both of these things are not true, but they have the capability to make it true this season. So far, they both have shown very well.
The Canucks currently have the best odds of making the playoffs out of the Pacific division. This was laughable at the 20 game mark but we are now more than halfway through the season and the Canucks have proven that they can compete with any team in this league.
Percentages from Hockey-Reference.com
The playoffs put a premium on special teams as well. Right now the Canucks have drawn the most penalties in the NHL (184) and have scored on 23.4% of those power plays. They have been shorthanded 163 times this season and have killed off 81% of those. With special teams being so important the Canucks will have to continue at this rate to get into the playoffs and maybe step it up even more once they get there to have success.
This team brought in veteran leaders over the past few years and they have not had this type of depth in years. Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle may be overpaid but they are here and they can be impact players for this team in the playoffs. The young players will have to lead this team but the veterans will have to lead the young players as they embark on their first of many playoff runs.
Similar to Jake Virtanen, this team is turning the corner and though it’s been a bumpy road to get here, this team has set themselves up to fight for the playoffs and bring that feeling back to Vancouver.
The Canucks have as good of a shot as any in the pacific to make it into the playoffs and who says they can’t knock off an Edmonton, Calgary, Arizona or Dallas in a seven game series. If the team can stay healthy they have all the right pieces to make some more memories for Canucks fans. With some top prospects coming this team is set to improve over the next few years. For now, they should be asking themselves, “why not us?”.
In a year or two, the Canucks could be saying “it should be us”.