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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

3 under-the-radar potential breakout candidates for the Canucks in 2020-21

Nobody really knows what the 2020-21 NHL season is going to look like.

What we do know, is the Vancouver Cancuks are going to have some young, still unproven faces in their lineup, and a few names who could be primed for breakout seasons. Here are three players who could have big years, that you maybe hadn’t really thought about just yet.

Adam Gaudette

Fresh off a new one-year contract and a 33 point campaign in a sheltered third-line role, Adam Gaudette could provide a ton of value for the Canucks, and if he’s put in the right position, he could have a massive year.

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Daniel Wagner of Vancouver is Awesome beat me to the punch when he outlined why Gaudette could be a dark horse candidate to fill the vacant spot on the first line at the right wing position. He was absolutely bang on though, and Gaudette could have a real shot at being utilized as a winger.

Putting Gaudette in this position could result in a massive increase in offensive output, and since his defensive game is what’s holding him back from being a legitimate third-line center, it makes sense to put him in an offence-first role.

Gaudette’s exceptional work and impact on the second powerplay is well documented, and he could be a candidate to fill Tyler Toffoli’s old spot on the first powerplay unit. After all, Gaudette does his best work on the power play:

Even if he is still deployed as a third line center, Gaudette could still produce at 5 on 5, albeit to a lesser extent than he likely would flanking Elias Pettersson. And if they choose to use him on the first powerplay unit? The sky could be the limit for Gaudette.

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The only issue is he needs a new contract after this season…

Thatcher Demko

If Thatcher Demko can play even half as well as he did during his three performances against the Vegas Golden Knights in the playoffs, the Canucks won’t be upset.

Demko was so good that the Knights couldn’t stop talking about him, even after they had already eliminated the Canucks. Demko’s new teammate, Nate Schmidt, who was acquired from Vegas, admitted that Demko “really put a hurt on our mojo” going into the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars.

Now thrust into a position where he’ll be battling with a veteran goaltender in Braden Holtby for the starter position, Demko could prove that his playoff performances were just a sign of what’s to come.

Demko greatly benefited from how the Canucks defended in that series against Vegas, disrupting east-west movement as much as possible. They didn’t have to worry about that as much when Jacob Markstrom was behind them, but with Demko, that’s the style they’ll need to play each and every night.

Demko faced a plethora of shots, but the Canucks were able to keep Vegas to the outside for the most part. That’s not to take anything away from Demko — goodness knows he bailed them out more than once — but it’s important to note that Demko played well in that defensive environment.

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Here’s a heatmap from Natural Stat Trick that shows the Golden Knights’ chances during Demko’s first start of the series in game five:

Now compare that with the heatmap from game two when Markstrom was in net:

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The Canucks did a much better job of keeping chances to the outside and keeping all puck movement to the perimeter. For Demko to have a breakout year, they will need to do this for longer than a three-game stretch.

Braden Holtby is there to help if it doesn’t work out just yet, but look for Thatcher Demko to do everything he can to show the Canucks they made the right decision in walking away from Markstrom.

Jack Rathbone

A bit of a wild card heading into training camp, Jack Rathbone is a smooth-skating defenceman who is widely agreed upon to be the organization’s top defensive prospect.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Rathbone went to Harvard University where he was the defence partner of Adam Fox, who was a Calder Trophy candidate this season.

Rathbone carries the puck up the ice with confidence and has a booming slap shot from the point. He has legitimate top-four potential and will be battling with Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty at training camp for a spot on the third defence pairing playing alongside Jordie Benn.

This one is a longshot no doubt, as it’s far from guaranteed that he can make the Canucks out of camp. They may very well choose to let him start the year in Utica and get his feet wet at the pro level before putting him in the lineup, but there are people who are very high on this kid and his ability to help the Canucks right now.

Travis Green has shown he’s not afraid to give young players prominent roles if they’re up for it, and Rathbone may very well be up for it.

If you’re trying to find the name flying lowest beneath the radar as somebody who could burst onto the scene, it’s certainly Rathbone.