Top 11 players of all time that you forgot were Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Vancouver Sun
By Michael Liu1 year ago
In the 52-year history of the Vancouver Canucks, 655 players have made appearances for the franchise at the NHL level. Some have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame while others had their cup of coffee at the NHL level and never returned. Regardless, they all share a common point of playing in Canucks colours, whatever they were at the time.
This article isn’t focusing on the most irrelevant Canucks of all time. Instead, we’re going to look at 11 great players who aren’t usually remembered as playing for Vancouver.
You may have even forgotten that they were ever Canucks in the first place.
With the U18 tournament bearing his name ongoing, Ivan Hlinka fittingly leads off this list. The Czechoslovakian forward is best known for his international play, claiming three IIHF World Championship titles in 1972, 1976, and 1977. Hlinka also lays claim to a bronze medal from the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo and silver from the 1976 Innsbruck Games.
North American hockey audiences were introduced to Hlinka at the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976. He would go toe to toe against the best the NHL had to offer and led his team to an appearance against Canada in the finals. Hlinka would finish his international career with 103 points in 107 games.
Hlinka spent the majority of his professional career playing in his native Czechoslovakian league. However, in 1981, he received permission from the Czech authorities to play in the NHL along with Jiří Bubla. It was a landmark moment, becoming the first Czechoslovakian players to legally play professional hockey in North America.
Joining the Canucks in 1981/82, Hlinka made an immediate impact. The 31-year-old rookie recorded 23 goals and 37 assists in 72 games, setting the franchise rookie record for points with 60 until Elias Pettersson came along. He became the first Czech player to compete in an NHL final, where Vancouver came up short against the New York Islanders.
After improving the next season to 63 points in 65 contests, Hlinka departed the Canucks to return home after suffering from a myriad of back injuries. He finished his tenure in Vancouver with 42 goals, 81 assists, and 123 points in 137 games. After retiring, Hlinka would go on to an illustrious coaching career, including an Olympic gold with the Czech team at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Tragically, Hlinka lost his life in a car accident on August 16, 2004 at the age of 54. His name is enshrined both by the U18 tournament and HC Litvínov’s home rink, where Hlinka played the majority of his career.
Félix “The Cat” Potvin is best known for his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Drafted 31st overall in the second round back in 1990, Potvin rapidly emerged as the goalie of the future for the Leafs. In his first professional season with the St. John’s Maple Leafs of the AHL, Potvin claimed rookie of the year, the Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy as the top goaltender, and was selected to the AHL First All-Star Team.
His debut in the NHL was no different. Potvin played so stellarly in his rookie year of 1992/93 that Toronto traded away Grant Fuhr to make room for him. He finished first in the NHL with a GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage of .910. Potvin backstopped the Leafs to the conference finals, where they lost against Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings. His play earned him a Calder trophy nomination, where he was a runner-up to Teemu Selanne.
Potvin continued his excellent play with Toronto even if the postseason success never materialized. The netminder was selected to two all-star teams and also set the season record in shots faced during the 1995/96 season with 2,438. This would later be broken by Roberto Luongo.
His spell with the Leafs came to an end in 1998/99, when he was dealt to the New York Islanders. After struggling for two seasons, Potvin was dealt to Vancouver in exchange for Kevin Weekes, Dave Scatchard, and Bill Muckalt.
The Canucks were well and truly a goalie graveyard at this point, and Potvin unfortunately did nothing to change that narrative. His time in Vancouver spanned parts of two seasons, where he compiled a very pedestrian 26-30-10 record in 69 games, along with a GAA of 2.80 and SV% of .897. Potvin was traded by the Canucks during the 2000/01 season to the Kings for future considerations.
Funnily enough, Potvin would experience a second wind while playing for LA, recording 13 wins and 5 losses on a 1.96 GAA and a .919 save percentage as the Kings charged to the 7th seed. Potvin went gently into the twilight of his career, retiring after the 2003/04 season where he backed up future Calder winner and Canucks goalie Andrew Raycroft.
Martin Ručinský is probably best recognized for being part of the infamous Patrick Roy trade that handed the Colorado Avalanche their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, in their first season in Denver. While the Canadiens definitely lost that trade, the Czech winger was probably the least of their problems as the team rebuilt.
Ručinský started his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, being selected in the first round, 20th overall in 1991. He was dealt during the 1992 trade deadline to the Nordiques, where he would emerge as a solid middle-6 option for the struggling Quebec franchise.
After being traded to the Canadiens, Ručinský became one of their most reliable offensive options. He never finished out of top 5 in team scoring during his tenure in Montreal, as well as leading the Habs in points during the 1999/00 campaign. Finishing his time with the Canadiens posting 297 points in 432 games, Ručinský would be dealt to the Stars early in the 2001/02 season, before finding his way to the New York Rangers a week before the trade deadline.
Ručinský would find himself as the centerpiece in yet another controversial trade, albeit at a much smaller scale than the previous one. After 2001 first-round selection R.J. Umberger refused to ink a deal with the Canucks and sat out the 2003/04 season, Ručinský would be traded to Vancouver in exchange for him and Martin Grenier.
Unfortunately for both parties involved, the tenure was short-lived and very unfruitful. Ručinský never settled into the Canucks lineup as he went on to post 1 goals and 2 assists in 13 regular season games. During the 2004 playoffs, he would chip in 1 goal and 1 assist as Vancouver fell in heartbreaking fashion against the Flames in the first round.
Ručinský returned to the Rangers the very next season, inking a deal to bring him back to the Big Apple as a free agent. He then returned home to the Czech Republic after two more seasons with the St. Louis Blues before retiring in 2015.
A third-round pick back in the 1987 draft, Mathieu Schneider carved out an impressive NHL career spanning 1289 games. The gifted offensive defenceman became a solid top-4 option throughout his entire playing career, earning two all-star appearances.
Schneider started his career with the Habs, cementing himself into a full-time role during the 1990/91 season, and saw early team success as the Canadiens claimed the Cup in 1993. Schneider would have his own personal breakout season the very next year, posting 52 points to lead all Canadiens defencemen.
Though looking to be the Habs’ solution to their top pairing, Schneider was dealt the very next year to the Islanders, before bouncing to the Leafs at the trade deadline the following season. Funnily enough, the pick that was sent to New York in the trade turned out to be Roberto Luongo.
After struggling with injuries in Toronto, Schneider would head to the Rangers in free agency. He was left unprotected during the 2000 NHL expansion draft, where the Blue Jackets took him. However, instead of signing with the fledgling expansion team, Schneider would ink a contract with the Kings, where he saw his career resurge. He went on to post 124 points in 193 games, including a 51-point season during 2000/01.
Schneider was traded to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2002/03 deadline, where he would have his most productive spell since Montreal. While the Wings fell short of the Cup throughout his 4 seasons, Schneider finished his 231 games in Detroit with 164 points. He bounced between Anaheim, Atlanta, and Montreal again before signing as a free agent with the Canucks in 2009.
Though originally penciled in as a bottom-pairing option, Schneider returned from a 10-game absence to start the year and was deployed as a depth defenceman, something that he took issue with. The defenceman would spend 11 games out of 28 as a healthy scratch, with plenty of conflict behind the scenes. In total, Schneider would make 17 appearances with Vancouver, recording 2 goals and 3 assists.
Schneider was waived in December and sent down to the Manitoba Moose before being dealt to the Coyotes in March. The 40-year-old would hang up the skates after the 2010 season came to an end.
Before there was the Cam Neely trade, there was the Rick Vaive trade. After making his electric debut in the WHA, Vaive would be selected by the Canucks in the 1979 draft with the 5th overall selection. In one of the rare drafting successes of that time period, Vaive started off a solid rookie campaign, putting up 21 points in 47 games with Vancouver.
What came next was probably the worst deal in franchise history at that point in time. Vancouver gave up Vaive after only 5 months, sending him and 1978 4th overall pick Bill Derlago to the Leafs in exchange for Dave “Tiger” Williams and Jerry Butler. While the Canucks got the stick riding celebration, Toronto got their first 50-goal scorer in franchise history. Three times consecutively, in fact.
Vaive would click on a line with Derlago and Pat Hickey, blossoming into a sniper that the Leafs never had before seen. He never missed the 30-goal plateau while playing in Toronto, and also set their single-season goal record with 54 tallies, later broken by Auston Matthews. Vaive went on to serve as the captain of the Maple Leafs from 1982-1985, finishing his time in Toronto with 299 goals, 238 assists, and 537 points in 534 games.
He was then dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 1987 season, scoring 43 times in his first year with his new team. However, Vaive never quite reached the heights of his time with Toronto, scoring no more than 31 goals in one season for the rest of his career.
After one and a bit seasons with the Hawks, Vaive was shipped off to the Buffalo Sabres in 1988/99, spending four seasons in which he recorded 136 points in 189 games. Vaive retired as a member of the AHL Hamilton Canucks after the 1992/93 season.
“Bobby Orr … behind the net to Sanderson to ORR! BOBBY ORR!” The other half to the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal made his name as a penalty-killing force with the Boston Bruins. Derek Sanderson earned the Calder Memorial Trophy in his rookie season after a solid 49 points in 71 games.
Though drafted as a prolific scorer in the junior ranks, thanks to the talented Boston lineup Sanderson found himself buried as the third-line centre. It helped him evolve his game, becoming a defensively responsible pivot that pioneered an offensive role on the PK. At the time he retired, Sanderson set the record for most short-handed goals scored. There’s a very good chance that he would’ve laid claim to some Selkie Trophies had it existed at the time.
However, this promising start became derailed thanks to many off-ice issues. After 294 points in 389 games with the Bruins, Sanderson would bounce around the league, never sticking for more than two seasons. Alcoholism and substance abuse sent his hockey career into a downwards spiral that he couldn’t escape from.
It was during that steep decline that he joined the Canucks, a first-round pick going to the Blues in exchange. Immediately, Sanderson left a bad impression on the Canucks front office after getting into a brawl at a local nightclub. He also tested positive for a variety of drugs when the scuffle sent him to the hospital. In 16 games for Vancouver, Sanderson scored 7 times and dished out 9 assists. However, the Canucks eventually sent him down to the AHL for disciplinary reasons, before cutting their losses and releasing him in the offseason.
After retirement, Sanderson found himself in dire straits. A series of bad business investments and continued alcoholism and drug addiction issues rendered him broke and living on the streets. Years after he set up Bobby Orr, his hall-of-fame teammate would be the one to check him into a hospital and kickstart his rehab process. Sanderson eventually beat his demons, going on to a career in sportscasting and financial advice for athletes.
If Paul Reinhart was around for the advent of fantasy hockey, he’d probably be one of the only ones to have a centre/defence flex. He was drafted 12th overall in the 1979 NHL draft by the Atlanta Flames and went on to finish second in rookie defence scoring to some guy named Ray Bourque.
Reinhart followed the Flames to Calgary where he cemented himself as one of the premier offensive defencemen in the NHL. His sophomore season saw him put up 67 points in 74 games, continuing to improve on an already impressive start. Reinhart scored his career high of 75 points in 78 games during the 1982/83 season. During this time, it would be customary for him to play over 30 minutes a game, taking shifts at centre as well as defence.
However, Reinhart would become bogged down by injury problems. While his 1984 playoffs saw him lead the way for the Flames offensively, Reinhart missed 51 games in the regular season thanks to a herniated disc. The defenceman’s back problems worse as the decade progressed, though he never lost his scoring touch.
Coming off a 1987/88 season that only saw him play 14 games, Reinhart was dealt to the Canucks for a 3rd round selection. He immediately established himself as an offensive leader, earning an all-star appearance and tacking on 114 points in 131 games. Reinhart won the Babe Pratt Trophy as Vancouver’s top defenceman twice.
Unfortunately, his back injuries proved too much to overcome. Reinhart retired after the 1990 season at the age of 30, having only played two seasons with the Canucks. In his retirement, Reinhart settled down in Vancouver, involved with the Vancouver Ravens lacrosse team as well as raising his three children into NHL players themselves.
Maniago was a victim of team success in front of him early in his career. Buried in the Toronto, then Montreal goaltending pipelines of the 1960’s. After being traded to the New York Rangers, it looked like Managio would be destined for a pedestrian career. The netminder was left exposed in the expansion draft of 1967 with two lacklustre seasons under his belt with the Rangers.
However, expansion was probably the best thing to happen for Maniago. The Minnesota North Stars scooped him up to fill their starter role, one he locked down for the next 9 seasons. In his first 6 years with the team, Maniago helped backstop the fledgling franchise to the playoffs in 5 of them.
Maniago was often overworked, lacking a suitable backup to share the burden. What that also meant was that the goalie held numerous North Stars franchise records. His 145 wins and 26 shutouts were never surpassed after his franchise-leading 420 appearances.
Minnesota saw its fortunes dip as Maniago slowly began to decline. After finishing 4th in the Smythe Division, the Stars jettisoned him to the Canucks in 1976, where he finished off his career with 2 subpar seasons. At this point, Maniago was 38 years old and broken down by years of wear and tear. He posted 27 wins, 45 losses, and 17 ties on a 3.69 GAA and .883 SV%.
Maniago stuck around after his retirement to be the Canucks’ goalie coach for the next couple of seasons. He’s remembered as one of the new wave of goaltending stars, though most would remember him being in the green and gold of Minnesota.
It’s not often that a hall-of-famer ends up on waivers. Though, that was exactly the case with one Igor Larionov. The Russian centre was a key figure in forcing the Soviet Union’s hand in allowing players over in the NHL. Larionov was in the midst of a prolific career with CSKA Moscow, centering the famed KLM line between Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. Internationally, he claimed two Olympic golds, four World Championship titles, and a 1981 Canada Cup victory for the USSR.
However, always a rebel, Larionov constantly expressed his desire to play in the NHL. The Canucks had drafted him back in 1985, and the Russian was clear that he wanted to head to North America. After a series of revolts against the Soviet authorities, he was finally given permission to join Vancouver in the 1989/90 season thanks to the struggling Soviet sport system.
His first season was anything but easy sailing. After dominating the KHL, Larionov put up 44 points in 74 games as a 29-year-old rookie. However, he soon acclimatized to the North American game, beginning to find his stride. During the 1991/92 season, Larionov centered Vancouver’s top line, in between Greg Adams and fellow Russian Pavel Bure. Larionov would score 21 goals and add 44 assists for 65 points in 72 games.
While Larionov looked set to become a Canucks great, the Russian found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Soviet officials had negotiated a royalty agreement into his contract with Vancouver, one that would funnel funds away from him and to their coffers. Refusing to sign another contract with the Canucks until they could remove the clause, Larionov would play a year in Switzerland as the stalemate continued. Unfortunately, the Canucks were forced to put him on waivers, and Larionov was snagged up by San Jose.
He had an immediate impact as well. With the fledgling Sharks, Larionov was a key piece in helping upset the mighty Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. So deep was that memory that Larionov was eventually acquired by the Wings and became part of their famed Russian Five, along with Slava Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, and Vladimir Konstantinov.
Larionov would go on to win three cups with the Red Wings organization, back to back in 1997 and 1998, as well as another in 2002 after a brief sojourn with the Panthers. In total, Larionov would score 397 points in 539 games with Detroit, and finished his career with 644 points in 921 games.
Currently, Larionov serves as the head coach of Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the KHL, as well as a player agent.
Tom Kurvers was yet another Hobey Baker winner to play for the Vancouver Canucks. Starring for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, Kurvers was drafted by the Canadiens 145th overall in 1981. Making his NHL debut in 1984, he would go on to win a Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1986.
A gifted offensive defenceman, Kurvers would really make a name for himself with the New Jersey Devils after being traded there in 1987. He would put up a career-high of 66 points in the Garden state, all the while leading the Devils to some of their best postseasons in franchise history. In 1989, New Jersey then traded him to the Leafs in exchange for the first-round pick that would become Scott Niedermayer.
The puck-moving defenceman would have a good first year in Toronto, racking up 52 points. However, he spluttered out in the 1990/91 season, with a midseason trade sending him to Vancouver. Kurvers got back on track somewhat, putting up 27 points in 32 appearances with the Canucks to finish off the year.
Kurvers would be traded that very offseason in exchange for future franchise star Dave Babych. He would bounce around from the North Stars to the Islanders to the Mighty Ducks, before one final stop with the Seibu Prince Rabbits in Japan. Kurvers would retire after the 1996 season.
Ultimately, Kurvers finished his NHL career with 421 points in 659 games, a good clip for a player that never stuck around with a single franchise. He served as the assistant GM of the Minnesota Wild, before passing away from lung cancer in 2021.
Hodge began his career at a time when most teams only dressed one goaltender. For him, that meant playing emergency backup to some guy named Jacques Plante. After toiling away in the AHL for the majority of his 20s, Hodge finally got his opportunity with the Habs in 1963.
It was one that he took and ran with it. Hodge would become the Canadiens’ starting goalie for the next four seasons, claiming two Vezina trophies during that span. His name actually appears six times on the Stanley Cup, all with the storied franchise. In 237 games with the Habs, Hodge claimed 119 wins with a 2.46 GAA and .912 SV%
Instead of a happy ending though, Hodge found himself supplanted during the 1967 season, as a young Rogie Vachon would play superbly to win out the Habs starting job. That meant Hodge was left unprotected during the expansion draft, with the hapless Oakland Golden Seals picking him up.
Hodge saw a harsh decline behind a struggling team. After 13 wins in 58 starts in his first season, the two-time Vezina winner would find himself demoted to the WHL, playing with the Vancouver Canucks and bouncing up and down between the leagues. It was the Canucks that scooped him up during their 1970 expansion draft, reuniting him with the NHL edition of the team.
At the age of 37, Hodge would spend the final year of his career with Vancouver, splitting starting duties with George Gardner and Dunc Wilson and posting a 15-13-5 record. He would retire during that offseason after being unable to come to terms with GM Bud Poile.
Geoff Sanderson had a lengthy NHL career, playing 1104 games and tallying 700 points doing so. He’s probably most known for his time with the Hartford Whalers through the 90’s and Columbus Blue Jackets in the early 2000s. The Hurricanes, after moving from Hartford, would deal Sanderson to the Canucks during the 1997/98 season. He would appear in 9 games, putting up 3 assists before being dealt to the Sabres for Brad May and a 3rd round pick. Sanderson would go on to appear in a Cup Final with Buffalo in 1999.
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