We’re now less than a week out from the opening of Vancouver Canucks training camp, and tantalizingly close to teams actually taking to the ice for the first regular season games since mid-March. The NHL will officially return to play on January 13, 2021, with a 56-game schedule consisting entirely of inter-divisional play.
That means that the Canucks will have to exclusively deal with a mostly new set of divisional opponents, and that’s not the only different set of circumstances to come from an offseason defined by change. Vancouver has also experienced a number of key departures and only a few notable acquisitions have been brought in as replacements. Beyond Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby, Jayce Hawryluk is the only other new arrival to the organization worth talking about, and that’s why he’s next on the list for our CanucksArmy 2021 player previews.
Jayce Hawryluk Now
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Hawryluk will turn 25 on New Year’s Day, approximately 48 hours before training camp opens. That puts him into the lower half of the Canucks’ forward corps age-wise, but Hawryluk also comes into camp with some of the lowest career totals of anyone competing for a job, a result of having played four full seasons in the WHL before turning pro. In other words, Hawryluk might be too old to be a prospect, but he’s still very much an unknown quantity.
Entering his fifth professional season, Hawryluk has yet to earn a full-time NHL gig, but he’s managed to post some intriguing underlying numbers across several short sample sizes. In 2019/20, Hawryluk notched a 2.15 points-per-60 rate between Florida and Ottawa, which would have been good enough for sixth place on the Canucks. Obviously, it’s far from guaranteed that such a stat would extrapolate over time, but it’s at least an indication that Hawryluk could theoretically put up some big numbers if his minutes were increased.
Actually getting more ice-time amongst a crowded Canucks bottom-six, however, is another matter entirely.
The Best of 2021 Hawryluk
Right off the bat, Hawryluk will be competing for a bottom-six job with all of Adam Gaudette, Tyler Motte, Antoine Roussel, Brandon Sutter, Zack MacEwen, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, and a whole host of others like Justin Bailey and Kole Lind. He’ll have to beat out at least three established NHLers to even make it on the opening night roster, unless preseason injuries are a factor, which is far less likely in a year with no exhibition games. Chances are very good that Hawryluk starts 2021 as a healthy scratch or on the taxi squad, but those injuries will arrive eventually, and he’ll get his shot at some point.
From there, it’s up to Hawryluk to make himself invaluable enough to stay in the lineup. That will include even more timely and efficient scoring, some success on the penalty kill — an area where Hawryluk doesn’t have a ton of experience — and plenty of his trademark pestering. In a division containing multiple Tkachuks, it’s easy to imagine a consistent annoyance like Hawryluk proving quite useful as a countermeasure, but he’ll have to do more than piss off opponents to keep himself ahead of others on the depth chart.
A long-term audition in the bottom-six could then very well earn Hawryluk a chance in the top-six, where Jake Virtanen currently has a shaky hold on the 2RW spot, and that’s when Hawryluk could easily get into career season territory. A .40 PPG from an NHL tweener might sound like a longshot, but it’s only a handful of percentage points above his career average, and significantly less than the rate at which he scored across 11 games with the Senators last year. There’s definitely a path toward Hawryluk having his best year ever in his Vancouver debut, but he’s going to have to fight for it.
The Worst of 2021 Hawryluk
Simply put, an unsuccessful season for Hawryluk is one in which he plays only a dozen games, or fewer, and spends the majority of the season in the pressbox, either as a scratch or a member of the taxi squad. All that would require is for those already pencilled into the bottom-six to keep their jobs, or for an unexpectedly good training camp by a youngster like Nils Hoglander or Lind, both of which could easily happen.
A season spent entirely in an all-Canadian division, expected to be ultra-physical, means that injuries are inevitable, and that Hawryluk will make it into the lineup at some point. But if that’s the only opportunity he gets, he’ll be hard-pressed to make an impression. Single-digit totals across the board are entirely within the realm of possibilities for Hawryluk in 2021, and much of that may be completely out of his hands.
What else does a successful 2021 for Hawryluk look like?
With a player like Hawryluk, much of his value is derived from those so-called “intangibles,” so let’s try to make some of those a little more tangible.
Living in opponents’ heads rent-free: Hawryluk arrives in Vancouver with a reputation for troublemaking, always a welcome attribute on the west coast. Given that the Canucks will be facing the likes of both Tkachuks, Zack Kassian, Corey Perry, and Cedric Paquette on a nightly basis, some fire-with-which-to-fight-fire will be appreciated. If Hawryluk can keep the attention of the more rambunctious divisional rivals on him, and off Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, he’ll be a treasured asset.
PK prowess: Hawryluk hasn’t been called on to kill many penalties in his professional career thus far, but his skillset suggests it might be something he can add to his game. The Canucks are on the lookout for new PKers, so any sort of success in this area would instantly up Hawryluk’s chances of becoming a regular fixture.
Continued Corsi competence: Thus far in his career, Hawryluk has posted positive possession numbers, despite playing on some questionable rosters. If he can maintain that in Vancouver, he’ll be a rarity in the Canucks’ bottom-six, and far more likely to stay in it.
A top-six stint or two: Any minutes spent alongside Bo Horvat or Pettersson are obviously going to work in Hawryluk’s favour. To wit, his career PPG rate isn’t far off what Tanner Pearson’s was before arriving in Vancouver, and it’s currently exactly the same as Virtanen’s, so Hawryluk enjoying some success in the top-six wouldn’t be all that shocking of a development.
A contract extension: The truest barometer of Hawryluk’s success with the Canucks in 2021 will be whether or not he earns a new contract with them. He went unqualified by Ottawa this offseason, and will be an RFA again at the end of the year — so it’s the Canucks’ call.
What might get in the way?
When you’re in the position Hawryluk finds himself in entering 2021, there are always more potential roadblocks than shortcuts ahead.
Travis Green’s reliance on old reliables: Green has a reputation for sticking with what works and leaning perhaps a little too heavily on his known quantities, which doesn’t bode well for Hawryluk. Green’s bottom-six returns mostly intact, and it got him to the Western Conference Semi-Finals last year, so Hawryluk is going to have to really impress if he’s going to unseat anyone.
Failure to kill penalties: If Hawryluk proves unable to kill penalties, it’ll be all that much easier to put him back in the pressbox. Developing this skill is an absolute must for him in 2021.
Shrinking under increased physicality: Facing off with face-punchers like Milan Lucic, Michael Haley, and Zack Kassian every night can have an interesting effect on a pest. Some, like Roussel, thrive under the pressure and refuse to back down. Others shrink under the increased physical toll. Hawryluk needs to be in the former camp to succeed in the North Division.
Any sort of slow start: Hawryluk should be listening to “Lose Yourself” on a loop heading into training camp. He’s not going to get much more than one shot to make an impact on the Canucks’ lineup, so he cannot afford any sort of slow start. As soon as he hits the ice, he needs to impress the coaching staff — because if he can’t, there are plenty of others waiting for their own chance.
What sort of season are you expecting from Jayce Hawryluk? Sound off in the comments below, and stay tuned for the rest of our player preview series.