3 things to watch for in the Canucks’ final three preseason games with a close to NHL lineup

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
6 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks will start the second half of their preseason schedule with a game against the Edmonton Oilers tonight. The Canucks are winless through their first three games of the 2023-24 campaign which while not super worrisome, isn’t exactly encouraging for a team that cannot afford another slow start to the NHL season.
While the Canucks have thus far iced lineups featuring plenty of AHL talent, that is set to change on Saturday night. From the looks of it, the Canucks will be rolling with a lineup that is highly similar to what’s expected on the opening night of the regular season. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Thatcher Demko are all dressed for this one.
While it’s been easy to dismiss the Canucks’ preseason losing streak due to the weak rosters iced, that excuse will be invalid if the team loses again tonight. Wins and losses aren’t all that important in preseason, but it would be nice if the roster could build some momentum before the games start to count.
Besides the ability to put up some points in the preseason standings, here are three more things that you should keep an eye out for over the next three preseason games for the Vancouver Canucks.

Who’s going to be starting with Quinn Hughes?

This has been a question that the Canucks have been trying to answer since the departure of Chris Tanev. So far through training camp, a new option seems to have emerged in a young right-handed defenceman who has impressed during his opportunities alongside Hughes.
22-year-old Cole McWard seems to be getting the nod to play with Hughes again tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. McWard was signed as an NCAA free agent at the start of last season and had his moments during the five NHL games he played.
While it’s a minuscule sample size, McWard does also have the best Corsi for % and expected goals for % of any Canucks’ skater through the first the first three preseason games.
“He’s had a good camp, he looks strong, good hockey sense, good skater, good player,” Quinn Hughes commented when asked about McWard. “[I] enjoyed the game with him in Edmonton…I think he’s done a great job.”

Can the Canucks score goals at 5-on-5? 

While the Canucks have developed a reputation over the past few seasons as an explosive offensive team that struggles on defense, the numbers do not really support that premise, especially at 5-on-5. In the 240 games across the 2020-21 to the 2022-23 NHL season, the Canucks ranked 18th in 5-on-5 goals behind teams like the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, and St. Louis Blues.
So far through the first part of the preseason, the Canucks have just two goals, and one of them came on the power play. With the NHL lineup now taking the ice, the Canucks need to show that they can create 5-on-5 goals.
Rick Tocchet’s emphasis on discipline and systems will help the team be better defensively, but that won’t matter if they can never score. It’s been an issue with the Canucks for the past few years where they can either lose games 5-4 or 2-1 but struggle to both create offence and defend at the same time at 5-on-5.

Which wingers are making the opening night fourth line? 

Barring injuries, most of the Canucks opening-night roster is set. The trade for Casey DeSmith settled the goaltending debate, the centres are locked in, and there is just a single spot on defense up for grabs. However, there is still some mystery as to which wingers will be starting the season in the NHL.
Vasily Podkolzin seemed like a lock for the NHL entering training camp but has failed to seize the opportunities handed to him. Players like Jack Studnicka have now surpassed Podkolzin on the depth chart after a string of impressive performances. Another name to watch is Dakota Joshua who had a weak start but has stepped up his game ever since a public calling-out by head coach Rick Tocchet. 
Can Arshdeep Bains make the opening night roster? While the answer is likely no, the Canucks do have a bevy of wingers pushing for those two spots and to see who takes advantage of these last three games to stake their claim will be interesting.

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