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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Predicting and projecting the Vancouver Canucks’ top nine forwards’ 2021-22 point totals

Welcome to the first installment of a three-part series where I will project point totals for every Canucks player who makes the opening night roster. Today, I will focus on the nine forwards that most people expect to make the team. We will be listing players by their overall point total from highest to lowest.

Part two will then feature the locks on the blueline and in goal, while the final article will be on the remaining depth players after the roster has been finalized at the conclusion of training camp.

At the end of the season, we can return to these articles and marvel at how accurate I was. Or, more realistically, laugh at how foolish my predictions were.

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Let’s get started.

Forwards

Elias Pettersson

2020-21 stats: 26 games played, 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points.

2021-22 prediction: 76 games played, 36 goals, 48 assists, 84 points.

Like many fans, I fully expected Pettersson to have an offensive breakout last season, but a slow start to the campaign and a nagging wrist injury put those hopes to bed.

However, I don’t think he had as bad a season as many might think; following his bizarre first eight games, Pettersson produced better than a point per game and showcased the two-way dominance that we’re all used to seeing. It might be hard to remember now, but Connor McDavid was the only player to outproduce the young Swede in their first two NHL seasons on a point per game basis over the past five years. That includes Auston Matthews, older rookies like Artemi Panarin, and everyone else.

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After a long off-season listening to all the skeptics, Pettersson will light up the league and produce at a 90 point pace while establishing himself as a full-fledged superstar in the NHL.

Brock Boeser

2020-21 stats: 56 games played, 23 goals, 26 assists, 49 points.

2021-22 prediction: 77 games played, 34 goals, 36 assists, 70 points

After a few “down” years, Boeser bounced back by having the best season of his career even without Pettersson for much of the time. The 23-year-old has established himself as a bonafide star winger who flirts with point per game production while being reliable defensively.

Projecting him to score at roughly the same pace as last season might seem a bit harsh, but Boeser’s production did drop off slightly as the year went on. With the additions of Vasili Podkolzin, Jason Dickinson, and Conor Garland, it’s also likely that Travis Green will tinker more with his lineups. This might result in the Lotto Line playing more infrequently than fans expect, and Garland could see spot duty on PP1 too, which would occasionally bump Boeser down to the second unit.

J.T. Miller

2020-21 stats: 53 games played, 15 goals, 31 assists, 46 points.

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2021-22 prediction: 75 games played, 26 goals, 42 assists, 68 points.

Like Boeser, it might seem a bit strange to project Miller to produce at a similar pace to last season since Pettersson will presumably be healthy. However, Miller’s shooting percentage both at all strengths and five on five returned to his career averages last year after being unsustainably high during his first season as a Canuck.

Even with the addition of Dickinson, Miller will still spend plenty of time at centre as well, which is going to eat into his point totals given that the Lotto Line won’t be intact. With that said, the biggest question facing the 28-year-old this season is how reliable his defence will be. Miller was a genuine two-way force during his inaugural year in Vancouver but was below average in 2020-21, so it remains to be seen how much his play can rebound away from the puck.

Bo Horvat

2020-21 stats: 56 games played, 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points.

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2021-22 prediction: 79 games played, 27 goals, 39 assists, 66 points.

“This season, Bo Horvat will finally have competent wingers to play with.”

How many times have we heard that before?

Fortunately, with the Canucks assembling the deepest forward group in a decade, that statement will actually ring true. At this juncture, it seems like Garland will get the first shot at riding shotgun alongside the captain, which could allow Horvat to flirt with producing at a 70 point pace.

It’s still unlikely that he actually hits that threshold though; Horvat had a down season statistically in 2021-22, but there aren’t any immediate red flags in his counting stats that suggest he’s in line for a huge bounceback. In fact, his shooting percentage was actually slightly higher than his career average, and his individual points percentage (IPP) at five on five wasn’t low either.

Even so, it’s reasonable to expect Horvat to produce at the best points pace of his career this season. As long as he plays with good linemates, of course.

Conor Garland

2020-21 stats (with the Coyotes): 49 games played, 12 goals, 27 assists, 39 points.

2021-22 prediction: 72 games played, 21 goals, 39 assists, 60 points.

Arguably the Canucks’ biggest offseason addition, Garland’s production could be closely tied to Horvat’s if the two develop chemistry on the second line. The winger was one of the only sources of consistent offence when he played in Arizona, and many fans expect him to break out on a more dynamic team like the Canucks.

However, much of his production was tied to the power play, and it’s likely that he won’t see much time on PP1 this season. That’ll undoubtedly eat into his point totals, and so will his injury history; Garland has never played more than 68 games in a season before. Moreover, he had an absurd 79% IPP last year, which is a figure normally reserved for superstars. Having that number drop down to a more sustainable percentage in the 60s will also limit his numbers, but playing on the best offensive team of his career will still allow Garland to produce at roughly a 70 point pace.

Nils Höglander

2020-21 stats: 56 games played, 13 goals, 14 assists, 27 points.

2021-22 prediction: 80 games played, 20 goals, 26 assists, 46 points.

Predicting the point totals for the remaining players on the list, including Höglander, is going to be a tougher task given that their roles are more volatile. Most people believe that the young Swede will slot in on the second line beside Horvat and Garland, but it’s possible he plays beside Pettersson if Miller moves to centre or even on the third line to give the bottom six more scoring.

However, I’m going to assume that he’ll play alongside Horvat for most of the season, which could result in a modest increase in production. All of Höglander’s underlying numbers seem sustainable moving forward, but he’s played too few games for us to accurately deem what should be expected of him moving forward, so I’m going to conservatively guess that he produces at a 45-50 point pace.

Tanner Pearson

2020-21 stats: 51 games played, 10 goals, 8 assists, 18 points.

2021-22 prediction: 75 games played, 18 goals, 16 assists, 34 points.

After a resurgent 2019-20 season, Pearson took a huge step back last year and scored the fewest points of his career since his sophomore season in the league. Moving forward, it’s reasonable to say that his value likely falls somewhere in the middle, but probably more towards the lower end of that scale considering his advancing age.

I’m predicting Pearson to have a slight bounceback considering that his IPP will increase from the low 50% he registered last year along with a below-average shooting percentage (9.1%) relative to his career. Unfortunately, Pearson’s days of producing half a point per game or higher are likely over, especially if he plays on the third line for most of the season.

Vasily Podkolzin

2020-21 KHL stats: 35 games played, 5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points.

2021-22 prediction: 75 games played, 14 goals, 17 assists, 31 points.

Podkolzin’s counting stats in the KHL don’t jump off the page, but his limited ice time in the Russian league is well-documented. On a positive note, the 20-year-old did have an outstanding playoff run and has been a standout so far in camp.

Podkolzin’s motor, forechecking and playmaking ability should all translate well, so producing at a 30-35 point pace should be a reasonable prediction.

Jason Dickinson

2020-21 stats (with the Stars): 51 games played, 7 goals, 8 assists, 15 points.

2021-22 prediction: 70 games played, 13 goals, 17 assists, 30 points.

Dickinson is a prototypical shutdown centre without much offensive bite to his game, but all signs point to him experiencing a mini breakout this coming season. For starters, he only logged 8 minutes of power-play time in Dallas last year, and the Canucks will likely rely on him being the centre on the team’s PP2.

An increased amount of time on the man advantage will naturally help improve his point total, but another factor could be him potentially playing top-six minutes on the wing. If Miller does play some centre, then Dickinson could ride shotgun alongside Horvat or even Pettersson on the top line, and it’ll be intriguing to see that could unlock some more offence in his game. Outside of his deployment, another question mark surrounding Dickinson is his health; the 26-year-old has never played more than 67 games in a season before, but hopefully this will be the season he surpasses that mark.

All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and HockeyViz.