With the Vancouver Canucks now past the midway point of their preseason schedule, we thought we’d highlight three storylines worth following in the last week before the 2022-23 season begins!
How quickly can Andrey Kuzmenko adjust to the NHL?
Through 37 minutes of ice time, Andrey Kuzmenko has two goals and two assists on seven shots and leads the team with the highest individual expected goals
Before the hype train flies off the rails, we have to ask if Kuzmenko’s production is sustainable or if these early results are the product of facing an AHL-calibre lineup in his NHL preseason debut.
Kuzmenko was dynamic during the Canucks’ first period against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday, asserting himself as a tenacious forechecker at 5v5 and a perfect fit below the goal line on the first power play unit. While his aggressive forechecking and reckless stick usage brought on a penalty and the Kraken’s first goal on the powerplay, his pace appeared to not be of any issue.
Kuzmenko is currently second to Tanner Pearson with the second-highest individual shooting percentage at 28.57%. While that number is unlikely to remain that high over an 82-game season, Kuzmenko has shown enough high-quality offensive-zone awareness and vision that, in combination with Elias Pettersson as his center, he’s bound to find ways to produce for this club.
While the Canucks would love to have a goalscorer shooting 30% alongside Pettersson, as preseason winds down, teams will start rolling out rosters closer to NHL calibre. Inevitably, the pace of the game will rise considerably, and with it, we’ll have a much clearer picture of Kuzmenko’s true potential on this roster. Yes, the early results have been exciting. But, Rutherford and company are prepared for Kuzmenko to adjust slowly to NHL competition. But what if Kuzmenko adjusts quicker than we think?
Has Jack Rathbone shown enough at 5v5 to earn a spot in the starting six?
For the second year in a row, the Vancouver Canucks are taking a long look at Jack Rathbone as he looks to start every possible preseason game. Through three games, Rathbone has logged a decent chunk of time on ice (TOI) split between the second powerplay unit, penalty kill, and at 5v5 paired with either Kyle Burroughs or Luke Schenn. Together, the two have logged the third-most minutes while posting a positive share of shot attempts and scoring chances at 5v5.
Despite the ample opportunity across all situations, the 5v5 goalscoring drought continues to affect Rathbone’s NHL aspirations. Through nine regular season games in 2021-22, Rathbone finished with the lowest on-ice shooting percentage among skaters who amassed more than 100 minutes of TOI at 5v5. During the 2021-22 preseason, he produced zero points against seven shots, despite a team-leading 69-minutes of TOI at 5v5.
Through four preseason games, the Canucks have only registered two goals at 5v5. Rathbone happens to have not been on the ice for any of them.
Alongside his NHL calibre skating, Rathbone’s edgework and ability to find clean passing lanes for his forwards are an immediate plus to the team’s breakout structure. However, because of his lack of experience, Rathbone needs to prove he can consistently utilize his strengths to provide positive value for the team. With a surplus of experienced depth defencemen at Boudreau’s disposal in Schenn, Dermott, Burroughs, and Poolman, Rathbone needs to muster any form of production over these final three preseason games. Elsewise, he runs the risk of spending another season in the AHL.
Can the Canucks overcome their habit of poor starts?
Throughout their first twenty-six games, during which they posted a measly 9-15-2 record under coach Travis Green, the Vancouver Canucks scored the first goal only eight times.
Out of those eight, they won just four games. The “slow start” habits weren’t unexpected. During the 2021-22 preseason, the Canucks posted an alarm-bell ringing 2-5-0 record, where they opened the scoring three times, holding the lead to win just twice.
Most dismiss preseason results due to the radically different rosters featured in games. Teams typically avoid icing their full NHL complement to prevent injuries or to evaluate the fringe players competing to secure a spot on the opening night lineup.
However, the coach set the bar during the team’s training camp in Whistler, “Not making the playoffs would be a big disaster for us, as a team and individually,” said Bruce Boudreau. “I would be disappointed and consider it a failure if we don’t make playoffs.” The captain doubled down on the internal expectations, “We have to see ourselves as a playoff team, if we do anything less than that we failed,” said Bo Horvat.
Thus far, through four preseason games, the Vancouver Canucks have posted an 0-4-0 record, where they’ve scored first once, their 4-3 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken this past Thursday.
With public and internal expectations set, the team can’t afford to start their season asleep at the wheel during the first period. Those habits need fixing, starting with the Canucks’ final three preseason games, which begin Monday and Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers and end Friday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Can the Canucks finally figure out how to start strong? Or are the Canucks’ preseason results further evidence that not much has changed?
Bonus storyline: Will the Stanchies Gifs/60 crash CanucksArmy’s servers?
Super bonus storyline: Will Michael DiPietro feature in any preseason games?
Super omega triple bonus storyline: Will Canucks fans see Arturs Silovs moves once more?
Hopefully, for content’s sake.