3 Vancouver Canucks who could become the next unlikely playoff hero

Photo credit:© Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks have made the 2023-24 NHL Playoffs. Not many would’ve seen that coming at the start of the year, but this team rocketed out of the gates and kept themselves at the top of the league. Yes, there were stumbles, and yes, it wasn’t all perfect. But considering where this team was just one year ago, what many analysts predicted for them this season – nearly every expectation has been surpassed.
With the postseason just about to begin, the Canucks will be entering with some big-time talent. Quinn Hughes separated himself all season from the rest of the pack chasing the Norris trophy, proving that he belongs in the league’s elite tier. JT Miller showed that his 99-point campaign wasn’t a fluke by topping 100 points this season, putting together a year worthy of the team’s MVP. Brock Boeser hit 40 goals. Thatcher Demko probably would’ve led the league in wins if it weren’t for the IR stint. And there’s still Elias Pettersson, who’s looking to prove a point after inking his extension this season.
But the focus of this article isn’t on the top end of the team. Instead, we’ll be looking at some players that could surprise us as playoff heroes for the Canucks. In the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, the winning goals of Game 1 and Game 5 weren’t scored by the top 6; rather, coming from the hands of Raffi Torres and Maxim Lapierre, respectively.
So, who might shine in the 2023-24 playoffs?

Elias Lindholm

The most recent addition to the Canucks lineup has been underwhelming. When Vancouver traded Andrei Kuzmenko and a bunch of other pieces for Elias Lindholm from the Calgary Flames, they expected to get an elite centreman at both ends of the ice that would immediately solidify the middle of the ice. 
While Lindholm has shown himself to be a reliable defensive player, the offence has yet to materialize in Vancouver. With a total of 44 points on the year and a stint on the IR, Lindholm recorded the worst offensive output in a season since 2017-18 with the Carolina Hurricanes. All the while Canucks fans have to watch Calgary gloat about Kuzmenko finding his absurd scoring touch once more.
But again, Lindholm was brought in for more than just pure offence. He’s been used extensively on the penalty kill and in the closing stages of games. His faceoff prowess and defensive awareness make him one of Tocchet’s preferred options for that role – something that Kuzmenko was never capable of in Vancouver. Additionally, you need a player you can trust not to be error-prone when the referees put away their whistles and the games get close. 
Hopefully, the wrist injury that kept Lindholm out for a while has healed and become closer to the player who tallied 82 points in 2021-22. If the Canucks can get that version of Lindholm in the playoffs, they might have the best centre depth in the West.

Ian Cole

The player with the most playoff experience on the team might know a thing or two about performing in the postseason. Ian Cole hasn’t exactly headlined any performances with electric offence but he has been found money for the Canucks on the back end. The 35-year-old veteran has been solid playing in the 4-5 role throughout the season and has not looked out of place. He brings size, grit, and smart hockey from the blue line; Cole saw his play slip a little bit toward the end of the year but looks primed to compete in the playoffs.
While he shouldn’t be expected to be putting up big points, Cole has the potential to push the momentum in the Canucks’ favour. He finished as the second-best Canuck defender behind Quinn Hughes in expected goals for percentage (xGF%), ranking fourth in xGF and third in xGA amongst defenceman. He’s also faced the fewest high-danger chances against of any Canuck with more than 54 games played. 
Cole’s production wasn’t quite there at any point this season, but make no mistake — he was anything but a liability. The opportunities that Cole creates have good odds of becoming production, and even without the points, the grizzled playoff veteran will have a chance to battle his way into playoff hero status.

Nils Höglander

When Vancouver needed another top-6 winger to round out their lineup, they found one from within. Nils Höglander emerged with a breakout year to this point, posting a career-high in goals (24) and points (36). It’s been a journey back into the Canucks lineup for the Swede, spending a good period of time in Abbotsford last year after seeing multiple healthy scratches. What that time marinating has done seems to have paid dividends this year, as Höglander has been consistently one of the Canucks’ best 5v5 options.
He might not surprise anyone if he starts producing in the playoffs. Höglander experienced a playoff run with the Abbotsford Canucks last season, and being one of the offensive leaders on that team could help him find his role with the big club in this postseason. His relentless motor and offensive touch makes him effective no matter where he finds himself in the lineup. It’s a good bet to see Höglander make an impact in this playoff run, especially since he’s got a penchant for getting under opponents’ skins.
Who knows? Perhaps he can leverage a breakout year into playoff hero status and springboard from there.

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