The Vancouver Canucks’ 2021-22 season is less than a week away from kicking off!
With tonight being the last game of the preseason, we thought it’d be fitting to give our bold predictions for this year.
Here’s a bold prediction: both Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have point-per-game seasons in 2021/22.
For Pettersson, it would take just a little step-up from his career average of 0.93 PPG, and that seems very feasible with him returning from injury and motivated to start earning that next contract. Boeser’s career PPG is a tenth lower at 0.83, but he posted 0.88 in 2021 and was just seven points off of point-per-game status, playing for a COVID- and injury-ravaged Canucks team.
With the squad fully healthy and Pettersson back on his line, there’s definitely another step there waiting for him to take it. Together, Pettersson and Boeser will be recognized as one of the best duos in the NHL, on par with at least Barkov and Huberdeau in Florida.
JT Miller, meanwhile, will spend time at center on a different line, and as such will fall a little short of a PPG. Conor Garland, Nils Höglander, and Vasily Podkolzin will all cycle through his spot.
My prediction: the Canucks will miss the playoffs.
At this moment, only the Ducks, Sharks, and Coyotes are firmly out of the postseason picture. Vegas and Colorado will be the two top teams in their respective divisions and the Central seems poised to send five teams to the playoffs.
Winnipeg is improved due to their revamped blueline, and both St. Louis and Dallas could bounce back from seasons that were riddled by injuries and underperforming stars. And while Minnesota overachieved last season, their defensive system and young forward core will still allow them to make it.
In the Pacific, Edmonton should be favoured as the number two seed. Their defence might be even worse than Vancouver’s, but that’s offset by a lethal attack that improved in the offseason. That’ll leave the Canucks to fight with the Flames and Kraken for the last spot in the Pacific.
Going into Darryl Sutter’s first full season in Calgary, I’m willing to bet on them grabbing that third seed. Ultimately, there are just too many question marks surrounding the Canucks, which will result in them falling behind teams that are more proven and safer bets to make the playoffs.
Vasily Podkolzin will be one of Vancouver’s top 6 most commonly used forwards on the penalty kill by season end.
The Canucks have been spoiled with rookie talent stepping in and making an impact over the last 4 seasons and are hoping Podkolzin can continue the trend. While I don’t expect the Russian winger to have the offensive impact of a rookie Brock Boeser or even what Nils Höglander accomplished last season, I think what he offers defensively could bolster the team’s forward depth.
As it stands, Vancouver’s penalty kill is ripe for opportunity with the departures of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel — the 1st and 4th most frequently used forwards. The only locks up front this season are Brandon Sutter, Jason Dickinson, and Tyler Motte with Tanner Pearson and Phil Di Giuseppe likely having the inside track on filling out the depth. Justin Dowling and his utility is probably right there too should he make the team.
JT Miller and Bo Horvat are other options but from the sounds of it, they will be used as last resorts. So, when I look at Vancouver’s PK options, I can’t help but think why not Podkolzin? He has the work rate, attention to detail, defensive awareness, and heart (read: intangibles) to eventually carve out a role on a contending team’s penalty kill.
According to InStat, Podkolzin was SKA’s 7th most used forward on the PK in the playoffs last season so he already has pro experience as a teenager. Why not give him some reps and see if he can forge a PK identity early on in his career. Yes, rookies aren’t usually expected nor trusted for PK duty but his game is uniquely tailored for this kind of role.
I’m excited to see if he earns the coaching staff’s trust to be tasked with these kinds of assignments.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. I think Michael DiPietro is not only going to be the best goaltender in the AHL by a pretty sizeable margin this season, I think he will prove to be a better option than Jaroslav Halak to start games in the NHL if Thatcher Demko were to go down with an injury at any point this season (knock on wood, of course).
My bold prediction is that Nils Höglander will be one of the Canucks’ most valuable wingers by the end of the season.
As it currently stands, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Connor Garland are poised to be the team’s three best wingers in some order and they make up the top tier. Next is the sophomore Höglander, a comfortable distance away from the top tier, alongside Tanner Pearson.
Höglander just wrapped up a sensational rookie season and if he continues on an upwards trajectory, he will leave Pearson behind and firmly entrench himself in that top tier alongside those big names. Last season was one like we’ve never seen before and the COVID regulations made for a tough transition to NHL life, especially for a teenager from Sweden who just moved halfway across the globe.
Despite that, Höglander made the transition look easy as he scored 13 goals and recorded 14 assists for a total of 27 points in 56 games. He also led the team with 12 of his 13 goals coming at 5-on-5. It’s tough for any player to put up eye-popping numbers without a few powerplay points and Höglander should be a huge beneficiary of the much-improved second unit.
The additions of Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson mean that the Canucks will be able to walk out a second unit that does have multiple scoring threats and a capable powerplay quarterback. All in all, the increased powerplay opportunities alongside his own personal development and growth means that Höglander could be in for a huge year and take that leap to the top tier of Canucks’ wingers.
Conor Garland will be a top three point producer for the Canucks this season.
Honestly, I think that with all the OEL hype and discussion people have overlooked the acquisition of Garland. He put up 39 points in Arizona and spent most of last season playing on a line with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, who aren’t bad at all and can definitely drive play, but they aren’t the same level of linemates I expect Garland to have in Vancouver.
I think there’s a good chance Garland sees extended time on the wing of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, freeing up JT Miller to play center on another line. Obviously that may not happen right away and we all know Travis Green likes to shuffle his lines often, but Garland can thrive when given offensive opportunities.
His playstyle would compliment Pettersson and Boeser as well. Garland is good along the boards (especially for his size), has decent vision, has scored 20 goals in a season, and overall just compliments them really well on the ice. I mean he probably compliments them well off the ice too — he seems nice enough.
Combine consistent top six time with potential PP1 minutes (or at least a more potent PP2) and you’ve got a ~70 point stew going, putting him behind Pettersson and Boeser.
What are your bold predictions for the season? Sound off in the comments below.