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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: The best replacement for Ian Clark and the Canucks’ biggest offseason need

Another week, another mailbag. I’m back at the helm for the first mailbag of the offseason. Let’s see what you wonderful people asked this week!

Ian Clark hasn’t left town yet, but his deadline is rumoured to have passed and the only way the Canucks are likely keeping him now is if they offer him a long-term deal, which they likely don’t want to do with a coach who isn’t the head coach of the hockey club.

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If and when Clark leaves, the Canucks will need to find a replacement, and that replacement will have big shoes to fill. Thankfully, the Canucks have a candidate in-house already who is an absolute no-brainer to take over the role should Clark leave: current Utica Comets goaltending coach, Curtis Sanford.

Sanford spent time being coached by Clark when the two were in both Vancouver and Columbus. Like most goaltenders who’ve worked with Clark, Sanford had nothing but good things to say about him:

“Ian was probably the most influential goalie coach that I had in my career,” Sanford told CanucksArmy back in March. “I had him in Vancouver, and I didn’t play a whole lot but the time I spent with Ian that year and a half in Vancouver I started to understand how to play the position a lot better. And then I was able to kind of take that onward with me and then we kind of reunited there in Columbus… He is extremely influential and I think he’s one of the best there is in the game. I’ve got a great deal of respect for him.”

Not only has Sanford played for Clark, he’s worked extremely close with him to develop the goaltenders in Utica, and — as Jake Kielly put it — is an extension of Clark because he doesn’t change symbols, philosophies, or say different things than Clark would.

“I think it goes back to those playing days,” added Sanford. “Just having an understanding of what Ian’s expectations are for goalies, what his expectations were for me, and then just kind of remembering what it felt like as a player. I have to kind of step back and put myself in these goalies’ shoes at times and remember how I was feeling, how I was trying to adapt, and then make it as simplistic as possible for these players to understand. All our goalies are extremely competitive, have extremely good work ethics and are extremely coachable, so I think all those things kind of go hand in hand.”

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Under Clark, the greatest component of the Canucks’ goaltending department — aside from the on-ice results of course — has been the communication from the top down to every prospect in the system.

This is something Sanford understands and presumably would carry on, should he be promoted to the top.

“Communication is massive. It doesn’t even matter what position we’re talking about. Forwards, defence, and goaltending, I think it’s always important to have really good communication from the coaches down to the development coaches and to the players.”

“It has to really be open, and I think once we leave training camps and development camps, we have a pretty good idea of a pathway for these players from the start of the season, to the end of the season. It’s just kind of continually monitoring, evaluating, and communicating what those expectations are going to be and how we’re going to achieve them.”

My understanding is Sanford will need to be re-signed this offseason, but he will come in at a much lower price than Clark, and is a solid option to replace the Canucks’ well-regarded goalie coach, should he leave.

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So as not to steal his thunder, I’m going to direct everyone to Stephan Roget’s author profile. He’s been on an absolute tear since this season ended and is currently working on a series about potential trade targets for the Canucks, and will soon have an article about third line center targets for the Canucks.

What I will say is this: the Canucks need to focus less on upgrading their “bottom six” and focus more on bolstering their top nine forward group. They need legitimate depth who can score while not being a tire fire defensively.

They need a centre not on one of the first two lines who can play matchup minutes and shut down opposing team’s top lines.

They need to build around the current forward group of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Nils Höglander, Bo Horvat, Vasily Podkolzin, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Motte.

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They’re missing a centre there and will need to find one quickly. Miller is a candidate to slot into that spot, but then you’re splitting up the lotto line, which is one of the few competitive advantages the Canucks had over opposing teams the past two seasons.

Whoever it is remains to be seen, but finding a true third-line centre should be at the top of the club’s priority list in an offseason which they’ve stated they will be “aggressive” in.

Picking a centre is certainly not a bad idea for the Canucks. Personally, I’m firmly in the camp of drafting the best player available, rather than drafting for positional need.

With that in mind, if the Canucks are selecting at ninth overall and Fabian Lysell is still available, I like that pick. He’s a solid winger, and teams may be turned off by his 5’10 height. If he’s available at nine or later, the Canucks should strongly consider him.

The idea of drafting Brandt Clarke or Owen Power is likely wishful thinking unless the Canucks win the draft lottery, so more realistically, they’d be looking at drafting a guy like Kent Johnson, who I got to see play during his time in the BCHL with the Trail Smoke Eaters.

He’s a centre with a ton of speed and real scoring ability. He may be gone by the time the Canucks draft, but it’s hard to know if the teams ahead of them will go a different route.

Nobody thought Quinn Hughes would be available to the Canucks at the seventh spot back in 2018, but here we are.

That’s all for this week folks! Thanks to everybody who asked a question. To ask a question in a future mailbag, follow me on Twitter @QuadreIli and keep an eye out for the weekly call for questions!