25 questions facing 25 Canucks players ahead of 2022 training camp
Photo credit:© Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
The following article was written in collaboration with Chris Faber, Cody Severtson, and Wyatt Arndt.
Today marks the first day of Vancouver Canucks training camp in beautiful Whistler, and we’ve got questions! In fact, we’ve narrowed it down to one question about 25 different Canucks heading into this season. Buckle up folks, because this is going to be a long one!
Bo Horvat: When will this contract get done?
Nobody thought we’d get here, but here we are. It’s the first day of training camp and the Canucks’ captain is without a contract. He was peppered with questions about it once again yesterday at the first media availability of the new season, but neither he nor GM Patrik Allvin have had much to say.
When will this contract get done, and more importantly, how much longer will Horvat be a Canuck?
J.T. Miller: Can he match his offensive output from last season?
Make no mistake about it, J.T. Miller’s emergence as a near-100-point player played the biggest role in him earning a seven-year contract worth $56 million from the Canucks this offseason.
He’s still got one season remaining before his extension kicks in, and he’s certainly going to regress offensively at some point. The question that has some Canucks fans who were critical of the deal is: when will that regression start?
Brock Boeser: Able to focus on hockey, will Brock bounce back?
It’s difficult to put into words or pretend like you know what it was like for Brock Boeser to try to play hockey games last season. With his father’s condition at home in Minnesota worsening, Boeser had to try to focus on scoring in a contract year while simultaneously carrying the burden of not being able to be at home with his family.
Ask any of his teammates, and the common word for what they think Brock was going through last year is simply “unimaginable”.
Boeser still managed to pot 23 goals last season, and everybody on the Canucks, including Brock himself, seems confident that Boeser will be almost an entirely different — and far more consistent — player heading into this season.
Elias Pettersson: Can Pettersson find consistency?
Elias Pettersson has gone through just about as many on-ice ups and downs as a player can go through early in their career.
But he had the aura of someone who didn’t want to hear any excuses being made for him when he spoke to media a few weeks ago.
“I mean, we can be honest, my start last season wasn’t the way I wanted to start,” Pettersson told reporters. “And I was just — I’ve grown from that and learned like why it happened, and then why I had the second half of the season, why I played like that.
“It was basically two different me’s out there and I was just playing with a lot more confidence in the second half. So I’m somewhat happy I went through it, because I know how I got out of it, if that makes sense.”
Pettersson is confident he can be that number one centre this team and much of the fanbase believes he can be, but he knows that it’s now time for him to go out and show it.
Can Elias Pettersson find the consistency in his game that separates the truly great players from the good ones?
Quinn Hughes: Can he switch to the right side successfully?
By all accounts, the Canucks are going to be using Quinn Hughes on the right side a lot throughout the preseason.
You’ve already heard us talk about how huge it would be for the Canucks if their best defenceman can successfully switch to the right side, but the big question will be can he do it and maintain his high level of play?
This is, at its core, a true training camp/preseason question.
Thatcher Demko: Can the Canucks clean it up in front of Demko?
The Canucks, overall were pretty good at keeping the puck out of their net last year! And hey, that’s important for sure.
Canucks fans will be able to tell you, however, that the biggest reason for that was the otherworldly play of Thatcher Demko. That, in reality, the Canucks had to rely on Demko a bit too much last season, and would be wise to clean it up in front of him.
There’s been talk from management about the defencemen cleaning up their breakout passes and relying less on their star goaltender.
Demko wants to take the next step and prove he belongs in the conversation among the league’s top starters. To do that, however, the Canucks will have to clean it up in front of him. But can they?
The Supporting Cast
Tyler Myers: Can he control the chaos?
Alternate title: How tall is too tall?
Big player, bigger contract. Like it or not, the salary cap will always be taken into account when analyzing an NHL players results, and the Chaos Giraffe is always a mixed bag. From a hockey entertainment standpoint, Myers is an absolute delight; Good or bad, things always seem to happen when he’s on the ice. One minute he’s skating end to end and going bar down like Cody Hodgson in his prime, the next minute he’s throwing a hit on his reflection on the glass behind the opposition goalie, leading to an odd-man rush against.
The problem is, you’re paying an awful lot of money for a very unpredictable experience.
To his credit, Bruce Boudreau seemed to rein in some of the peaks and valleys of the Tyler Myers Experience last season, but the question is, will that continue going forward? Follow up question, will that make the contract worth it?
Luke Schenn: How much Schenn is too much Schenn?
Alternate title: How many hits are too many? (The answer is none)
Luke Schenn’s resurgence as a cult hero in Vancouver has been nothing short of inspiring. Going from the “Human Eraser”, to fighting to keep his NHL career alive, to winning two Cups with Tampa Bay, to returning to the market that loves him best, Luke Schenn has already had a whirlwind NHL experience.
Is it absolutely delightful that Luke Schenn is the dad of the team who is always top 5 in the league in hits per game? Of course it is.
Should the team aim for a world in which they have enough defensive talent to place Luke Schenn on the third pairing away from Quinn Hughes? Of course they should.
But until the Canucks fix their defence, Luke Schenn will continue to do what he does best: Fight people who dare to look at his son Quinn Hughes.
Conor Garland: Can he be reliable?
Alternate title: Will the real Conor Garland please stand up? All you other Conor Garland’s are just imitating.
The question surrounding Conor Garland this season will be who is the real Conor? The player who burst onto the scene and spun his way into the hearts of Canucks fans, and was noticeable almost every game under Travis Green? Or will it be the Conor Garland who ended the season waiting sadly in the rain for the 99, wondering what happened, lost in the shuffle of another losing season.
By his own words, Garland admitted to The Athletic’s Harman Dayal that he didn’t feel like himself last season. With a season of playing in Vancouver under his belt, the pressure is now on Garland to produce consistently and be a reliable top six player for the Canucks.
Nils Höglander: Can he provide more?
Nils Höglander didn’t exactly burst onto the scene in his rookie season, but it was still a very impressive 27 point effort from the Canucks second rounder from 2019. His display of hard work and slick stick handling skills put together a season that left fans excited for the sequel in his second season.
What followed was a year in which he only hit 18 points, but worse than that, he didn’t display the same level of confidence we saw in his rookie year. Those noticeable shifts where he would relentlessly hound the puck, the kind of shift that makes you punch your buddy on the shoulder and go “See? Cam Robinson was wrong about him!” were in short supply.
Again, switching coaches might play a part in this. Where Travis Green was willing to give Nils a longer leash, it felt like Boudreau wasn’t as willing.
From exciting rookie in season one, to being used as a bartering chip in fan trade speculation in season two, season three feels like a make-or-break season of sorts for Höglander.
Curtis Lazar: Can he make fans forget about the Motte line?
Yes, that is a sentence you just read. We live in a world in which last season Tyler Motte, along with Juho Lammikko and Matty Highmore, provided the Canucks with one of their most effective fourth lines in years.
Like, there were games where they were the best line on the night. In five years you will be in a bar with friends and one of you is going to say “Ah man, remember Lammikko?” and everyone will smile and nod vigorously at each other.
Enter Curtis Lazar.
Billed as a heavier, grittier player, Lazar is going to try and bring that $2 steak toughness to a team that appears to be actively shopping for it. With 186 hits last season, that would have ranked him second on the team behind Luke Schenn.
Lazar won’t have the speed of Tyler Motte, but if he can come in and make life miserable for the opposition with his physical play, he will be warmly embraced by the locals.
Fun fact, Jason Dickinson had 101 hits last season. Actual NHL hits. 101 of them. Somehow.
Tanner Pearson: What is his role on this team?
Let’s get this out of the way: Tanner Pearson is an absolute delight. He feels like the kind of guy who owns a truck and wouldn’t mind if you asked him to help you move. In fact, he bought that truck hoping he could help his friends move. In fact, he actively calls his friends up each month making sure they don’t need the services of his truck.
He’s just a jam up guy, you know?
The problem is, he lives firmly in that Chris Higgins mold: Yes, he can pull off playing in your top six, but realistically, you’d prefer he shore up your third line. Yet he’s been one of the few Bo Horvat mainstays over the last several seasons.
The good news for the Canucks is they have a lot of moving parts at forward. Their top six is far from set in stone, and it feels like they’ll be able to mix and match if the team is struggling. What that means for Tanner’s role on the team is very much up in the air.
Vasily Podkolzin: How big will his next step be?
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in or around the Canucks’ locker room that doesn’t think Vasily Podkolzin is going to have a breakout year this season.
Everyone loves to speak about Podkolzin’s work ethic, and his willingness to play the game “the right way”, which fans can see each and every night.
The growth Podkolzin showed from game one to the final horn of his rookie campaign was simply undeniable, and he’s almost certainly going to take a step forward in his sophomore season.
The big question is, how big will that step be?
Will Podkolzin reach the 20-goal mark? Higher? Will he become a penalty-killing staple for this team while also helping to provide offensive firepower on the power play?
As J.T. Miller said, the sky seems to be the limit for Podkolzin, and we’ve got a feeling that his sophomore season is about to kick off with a bang.
The New Guys
Andrey Kuzmenko: Can he be a serviceable NHL-caliber forward?
First, positivity: The Vancouver Canucks landing the top KHL free agent was a fantastic coup by the organization. For too long, the organization struggled to mine the Euro-leagues or the KHL for free talent. Signing Kuzmenko to a league minimum deal is a great process for a team trying to improve on the cheap!
However, the fanbase needs to pump the brakes on the comparisons of Kuzmenko to Kirill Kaprizov or Artemi Panarin. Kuzmenko is a solid pickup, no doubt. But his KHL track record indicates that he’ll have to prove he can be a serviceable forward first before comparisons to the elite playmaking forwards of the NHL.
After all, there are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and hockey players having career years on an expiring deal ahead of free agency. Kuzmenko’s only appearance in the top ten of KHL scoring came during the final year of his SKA St. Petersburg contract.
- Nikita Gusev: fringe point-per-game from 24 to 26 years old
- Kirill Kaprizov: fringe point-per-game from 19 to 21 years old, point-per-game at 22 years old
- Artemi Panarin: fringe point-per-game at 22 years old, above a point-per-game production at 23 years old
- Andrey Kuzmenko: above a point-per-game at 25 years old
Fortunately, the organization intends to provide him with every opportunity in the top six and on the powerplay to thrive as a goalscoring winger. Whether or not he can seize the opportunity remains to be seen!
Ilya Mikheyev: Can he repeat as a 5v5 and dual special teams scoring threat?
Let’s be clear, despite the glowing shorthanded analytics profile, the Canucks did not sign Ilya Mikheyev just to be a penalty killer. On free agency day, GM Patrik Allvin spoke to the media and identified Mikheyev’s speed and size as “a really good fit” for the team’s middle-six or top-six forward group. The organization bet with their wallet on Mikheyev’s untapped potential. If the bet pays off, it could result in a complete shift in the team’s forward dynamic.
Last season, Mikheyev earned reps on both the powerplay and the penalty kill, producing four goals for each unit. The Canucks have a clear need for shorthanded scoring threats outside of JT Miller and Elias Pettersson. The question is whether Mikheyev can repeat his breakout season as a dual special teams goalscoring threat, away from the league’s eighth-best PK and league-leading powerplay.
Fortunately for Canucks fans, Mikheyev’s 5v5 stats are all encouraging. While his shot volume dramatically increased last season, his shooting percentage blossomed only 2% higher than his career average! So, while the 5v5 stats don’t indicate that Mikheyev benefitted from a shooting-percentage bender, there is nonetheless a risk of production dropoff on special teams.
Allvin signed Mikheyev with the expectation that he still has room to elevate his game. Elevating one’s game in the NHL is already a tall task. Replicating special teams’ production while joining a Canucks squad whose penalty kill finished third-worst and whose powerplay finished ninth overall just last season may be a taller task than expected.
Dakota Joshua: Are his underlying metrics legit?
Dakota Joshua is a fascinating story. Drafted in 2014 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Joshua went on to do four years at Ohio State University before signing as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues. During his first year as a pro, h,e spent twenty games in the ECHL where he barely cracked half a point per game.
During the pandemic-shortened split-squad season with Vancouver’s Utica Comets organization, Joshua impressed with his speed, tenacity, and aggression on the penalty kill. The Blues called him up, and he spent all of last season up and down between the Blues and Springfield Thunderbirds.
While inallJoshua spent almost the entirety of his time at 5v5, stapled alongside Logan Brown, Nathan Walker, James Neal, or Klim Kostin. Joshua finished the season leading in many categories at 5v5
- Third-best corsi-for percentage: 52.65%
- Third-best shots-for percentage: 57.26%
- Second-best goals-for percentage: 63.50%
- Second-best expected goals-for percentage: 59.94%
- Third-best scoring chances-for percentage: 56.09%
- Team-leading high-danger corsi-for percentage: 58.51%
These results are either due to an incredible performance by a player on a completely non-linear development path or the result of incredibly favourable matchups and coaching decisions. Unlike Travis Green, Bruce Boudreau isn’t known for being a matchup or details-oriented coach. After losing Tyler Motte in a trade to the New York Rangers, the Canucks fourth line could certainly use a player of Joshua’s calibre replicating the underlying success he had on his previous team. However, Motte left some big shoes to fill, and Joshua does not have the track record yet to indicate he’s up for the task.
The Guys with Something to Prove
Kyle Burroughs: Can he become an everyday 3rd pairing defenceman?
It seems like a bizarre question to ask of the hometown kid who seemingly graduated out of the NHL to provide forty games for Vancouver last season. No defenceman seized their opportunity better than Burroughs after Travis Hamonic missed training camp and the first month of the season. Establishing himself as a reliable hard-nosed defenceman, producing five points over forty games.
Despite endearing himself with the fanbase and the coaching staff, Burroughs will be in tough to carve out a regular roster spot. With the organization openly discussing Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s potential shift to the right side, there is no guarantee that the team will roll with three right-shot defencemen. He outproduced his fellow 3rd pair competition Tucker Poolman but got crushed in the underlying metrics while playing mainly with Brad Hunt or Poolman.
Jim Rutherford identified a need for sandpaper within the Canucks lineup, and Burroughs brings that in spades. Will it be enough to secure an everyday role over the veteran Luke Schenn or the well-paid Poolman?
Tucker Poolman: Is there anything in the tank (offensively)?
Through forty games in his Canucks’ debut, Tucker Poolman scored one goal and two assists. Two of those points came in the same game, a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
With two years left on his contract (after this upcoming season) at $2.5 million, Poolman has to do a lot this year to salvage any value from that deal. A tough ask, given how unflattering the analytics are toward his ability to contribute meaningful offence.
While Patrik Allvin stated he was “happy” with the current state of the Canucks defence when healthy, he still dropped that the team was looking at all their options. Under President of Hockey Operations and Interim GM Jim Rutherford, Poolman played fourteen games for 239 minutes and fifty seconds. Under GM Patrik Allvin, Poolman played just two games for thirteen minutes and nineteen seconds. During those near-254 minutes of ice-time, Poolman provided zero goals and zero assists.
Poolman’s body of work is working against him as Allvin evaluates ways to improve the defence. For Poolman to secure his spot in the rotation, he needs to prove he can do more than simply play minutes.
Jack Rathbone: Will he stick in the NHL full-time?
Rathbone’s NHL stint to start last season couldn’t have gone worse. After five solid performances during the pre-season alongside several player absences, Rathbone cemented himself a roster spot on opening night. Unfortunately, the Canucks put up a dismal 3-5-1 record in the eight games he played.
After a brief two-game stint in Abbotsford, Rathbone returned to Vancouver’s lineup, contributing sixteen minutes of ice-time in a 7-1 mauling by the Colorado Avalanche. It wasn’t the best run of games for Rathbone, as he managed just ten shots on goal, zero points, and the second-lowest 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage at 1.75%. Through 115 minutes at 5v5, the Vancouver Canucks managed one goal-for and six against with Rathbone on the ice. It wasn’t good.
Granted, the Canucks as a whole were not good. So on a Bruce Boudreau-led Vancouver Canucks, can Jack Rathbone stick in the NHL?
Management and coaching have made it clear they will give Rathbone every opportunity to start the season in the NHL. Theoretically, Rathbone fits the player mould that thrives under Bruce Boudreau: an excellent skater with crisp edgework who likes to shoot a lot and lean on their offensive instincts. Things did not go well for Jack under Travis Green in Vancouver.
But he thrived under Trent Cull’s tutelage in Abbotsford, now his PK coach in Vancouver. Cull already knows what Rathbone brings offensively. Rathbone even earned PK reps under Cull last season. Will Cull’s trust in Rathbone extend to Bruce Boudreau? The Canucks want a strong start this season, and Rathbone will have to prove he can contribute if he hopes to stick as an NHL defenceman.
Jason Dickinson: Can he earn a lineup spot?
It’s no secret.
Jason Dickinson’s first year in Vancouver wasn’t good enough, and the team went out and got Curtis Lazar this past offseason to help do the job that they thought Dickinson was going to be able to do.
The Canucks’ forward group is jam-packed, and there isn’t going to be much forgiveness or time for Dickinson to be anything but sharp right out of the gate in training camp and the preseason.
With the Canucks’ deep forward group, will Dickinson sink or swim?
Brady Keeper: Can he earn the spot he was once considered for?
When Brady Keeper signed in Vancouver, many believed he would be the first call-up from Abbotsford, and might even find a home on the Vancouver Canucks’ third pairing.
Instead, he broke his leg in brutal fashion during last year’s training camp, and didn’t play a single game during the 2021-22 season.
Now, his leg is all healed up and he’s looking forward to reminding everyone who he is. Can he earn the spot that he was once being considered for and bolster the Canucks’ right-side depth?
The Goalies (not named Thatcher Demko)
Spencer Martin: Can he take what’s his and be the NHL backup?
By all accounts, Spencer Martin is currently pencilled in as the Vancouver Canucks’ backup heading into this season.
He earned an NHL contract with his play last year, and the team would love nothing more than to be able to rely on Martin for 20-30 starts to help alleviate Thatcher Demko’s workload.
It’s Martin’s job to lose heading into the preseason.
Collin Delia: Can he implement some structure in his game?
Collin Delia was candid when speaking to us about the biggest reason he signed in Vancouver this past offseason as a free agent — to work with Ian Clark.
Delia desperately wants structure brought into his game, something he didn’t have a ton of while in Chicago.
He’s essentially at the same spot Spencer Martin was in last season — battling a younger goalie in the AHL for starts, and looking to grow his game. In a pinch, he’s likely a fine option at the NHL level should an injury occur, but the biggest question for Delia is if he can implement that structure in his game to accomplish his long-term goals.
Arturs Silovs: Can he become “the guy” out in Abbotsford?
Look, you already know we — and the Canucks’ organization themselves — are very high on Latvian-born netminder Arturs Silovs.
At just 21 years old, Silovs has a serious shot to solidify himself as the AHL club’s undisputed starter by next season, and has the chance to begin that process this season.
Having seemingly leapfrogged Michael DiPietro as the organization’s golden goaltending prospect, Silovs can build on a strong showing at the Young Stars Classic and some solid performances last year when he’s given an opportunity this preseason.
Michael DiPietro: If he isn’t traded, where will he end up?
Finally, the biggest question marks surrounding any Canucks goaltender are the ones that dance around Michael DiPietro’s crease.
DiPietro’s camp requested a trade this past offseason, and Jim Rutherford has said publicly that the Canucks are willing to accommodate that. It seems as though there isn’t much interest in DiPietro, however.
This is a big hurdle and one that’s led us to this point — DiPietro getting ready to suit up for Canucks training camp.
If he isn’t traded, where exactly where DiPietro end up?
GM Patrik Allvin said on the record that the club would only be carrying two goaltenders in Abbotsford this season, and with Delia and Silovs seemingly ahead of DiPietro on the Canucks’ depth chart, things could become interesting in a hurry if DiPietro isn’t moved before the preseason concludes.
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