Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
3 bold predictions for the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks
By Noah Strang5 months ago
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With the 2023-24 NHL season just around the corner, now is the time that everyone is making predictions in hopes of being able to say “I told you so” over the coming months. Optimism is also at an all-time high as every fanbase dreams up scenarios where their favourite team walks to the Stanley Cup.
For the Canucks, the 2023-24 NHL season is an important one. It’s Rick Tocchet’s first full season behind the bench and the team has aspirations of making the playoffs. Another season in the lottery, and the franchise will need to start thinking long and hard about if they can make things work with this current core, that is, if the best players even want to stay.
With the season opener roughly a month away, the Canucks are in full-on preparation mode. With a tough schedule to start the year, they’ll need to be rolling on all cylinders from day one. Before the action gets underway, here are my three bold predictions for the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks.
Thatcher Demko earns a career-best Vezina finish
Last season was the worst of Thatcher Demko’s relatively young NHL career. The goalie appeared human for the first time since he joined the Canucks and finished the year with a 3.16 goals-against-average and a .901% save percentage. After struggling through the first half of the season, he was eventually shut down for a few months with a groin injury. Upon his return to the lineup, he looked much better and like the Demko of old.
Demko has always been asked to carry a heavy load for the Canucks. At the start of last season, that came to a boil as he looked physically and mentally tired. Eventually, his groin injury forced him to get some rest by sitting out, perhaps a little bit of a blessing in disguise.
“It pretty quickly turned into me realizing that I had a lot of time to reflect and I had a lot of time to work on my physiology, my biology, the mental side of things, just the whole thing,” he said when discussing his time off. “It’s only been five games, but I definitely want to keep building off the start I’ve had coming back.”
Not only did Demko get some time off, he also returned to a different situation. The games he played after returning from his injury were after Rick Tocchet had taken over, bringing his more structured system with him. Ideally, the more structured defensive system will reduce some of the load that Demko has to carry, and he pointed out that he noticed a difference.
“It’s definitely encouraging to see the transformation,” Demko said near the end of last season. “Obviously, we’re still trying to get better every day as a team. But just the energy in the room and the willingness to commit to improving every day has definitely taken a step for us. It’s something that every good team does.”
Two years ago, Demko finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting for the 2021-22 NHL season. This year, he has the chance to achieve an even better result. He’s had the lightest workload of his career over the last 12 months and looked just like the Demko of old after he returned. The Canucks have also upgraded their defence to a point where life should be slightly easier, although he will still get plenty of chances to make highlight-reel saves and steal the show.
Vasily Podkolzin scores 20 goals
After scoring 14 goals as a rookie, Vasili Podkolzin’s sophomore season didn’t go as planned. He finished the year having split time between the NHL and AHL, scoring just four goals and adding three assists in 39 games at the highest level.
Life in the NHL has not been easy for the young Russian winger. He’s already played for three head coaches and been asked to do different things in each of their systems. That is not what you want when trying to develop a young player like Podkolzin.
Still, this year will be the one that Podkolzin will break the 20 goal mark and establish himself as a strong middle-six winger.
When asked what he wants to see out of Podkolzin earlier this summer, Tocchet encouraged the younger winger to show some more creativity.
“Podzy’s just gotta let it hang, he’s just got to play almost a little reckless,” the head coach said. “I think when he gets in trouble he receives the puck and then he makes his decision instead of like — he knows he’s going to get the puck, then he can make his play in his mind as he’s receiving the puck. It seems like he’s getting it and then he just wants to make that steady play, whether that’s a chip up the boards when sometimes nobody’s on you. That’s the time to make a play or move your feet.”
Remember that Podkolzin was playing as a bottom-six winger on a men’s team as a teenager in Russia. They were not focused on developing him, they were focused on winning games. Mistakes were punished harshly. Getting out of that mindset and showing off some of that skill, of which Podkolzin does have, will be key for a breakout season this year.
The Canucks’ penalty kill finishes at 82% or better
This is likely the boldest of all the takes on this list. I went over more in-depth why I think that the Canucks’ penalty kill will be much improved this season in this article here, the main points can be summarized as follows.
The new players that the Canucks brought in are not just solid defensive players, many of them are known for their penalty killing skills. Blueger is the type of centre that you throw over the boards in all short-handed situations and Cole was a workhorse for the Lightning last season. Matt Irwin, Carson Soucy, and Pius Suter are all also more than capable of stepping in.
Rick Tocchet has a history of coaching strong penalty kills and last year’s unit saw an improvement the moment that he took over. Under his guidance, as well as the team’s strong collection of assistants, the Canucks will have better systems than they did to start last season.
Finally, and this ties in with the first prediciton, the goaltending will bounce back. If you believe that Demko will get back to playing his best, it will be impossible for the penalty kill not to improve as the goaltending was terrible when down a man last season.
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