Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Canucks set to have another big showing at next February’s Four Nations Face-Off
14 days ago
The Vancouver Canucks had a masterful January, going 10-1-2 on the month to tie for the league’s best record throughout the month. Then they closed it out with the biggest trade of the year, bringing in Elias Lindholm.
And though they’ve yet to play an actual NHL game yet in February, as of this Tuesday morning writing, it’s fair to say they’ve been dominating this month, too.
The Canucks had a full seven representatives at the 2024 All-Star Game in Toronto. That’s Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Lindholm, and coach Rick Tocchet. Actually, it’s a full eight representatives if one counts Michael Bublé, arguably the weekend’s MVP (mushrooms very potent.)
Now, it’s back to business on the rest of a 2023/24 campaign that already promises to be one of the franchise’s most memorable.
But first, a look ahead to February 2025, another month that is set to have a big showing for the Canucks.
In addition to the elimination-style skills comp and the All-Star Game itself, Pettersson got one more moment in the spotlight when he joined Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sebastian Aho, and Connor McDavid on stage for the announcement of the Four Nations Face-Off.
It’s an idea we wrote about back when it was first floated a few months ago, and we had deemed it “actually pretty cool.” Others disagreed.
Well, it’s a real “have your cake and eat it, too” moment, because the league announced a whole lot of other stuff, too. Bettman revealed that the NHL and NHLPA had reached an agreement to attend the 2026 and 2030 Winter Olympics. And then he unveiled plans for the Four Nations Face-Off to evolve into a full-scale World Cup again as soon as 2028.
It was a lot to take in for a sports fanbase that has been starved for best-on-best competition. But first comes the Four Nations Face-Off itself, one year from now.
It was Pettersson, Matthews, McDavid, and Aho on the stage because they’re (arguably) the top representatives from each of the titular four nations. The tournament will take the place of the All-Star Break next February, running from February 12-20, and feature some sort of seven-game schedule between Sweden, Finland, the United States, and Canada.
The games will be hosted in two unspecified North American cities.
For the Vancouver Canucks and their part, they may just be sending seven representatives themselves.
And we’re here to speculate about who those representatives are likely to be.
Let’s start with the “home team” in Canada, because that’s the shortest and easiest discussion to have. The Canucks only have four Canadians on the entirety of their NHL roster, and none will be anywhere near the running for Team Canada. For the record, it’s Carson Soucy, Phil di Giuseppe, Mark Friedman, and Tyler Myers (born in, but too big to be contained by, Texas.)
Keeping things on the North American side, we’ve got Team America, the world police. And what promises to be tight competition for spots for at least four Canucks.
Miller is tied for fourth in NHL scoring this season and first among American-born scorers. He should thus be a lock for Team America ’25, right?
Easier said than done. As a centre, Miller is in direct competition with the likes of Matthews, Jack Hughes, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Tage Thompson, and more. At this point, we like Miller’s chances, especially since he can also play on the wing whenever needed, but he won’t have a spot handed to him.
The same could definitely be said for Boeser. His 30 goals are the second-most of any American, after Matthews, in 2023/24. But the United States is absolutely loaded up on wingers that will be difficult to beat. There’s the Tkachuk brothers, Jason Robertson, Kyle Connor, Jake Guentzel, Chris Kreider, Clayton Keller, Alex DeBrincat, Johnny Gaudreau, Cole Caufield, and more for Boeser to beat out, plus any of the centres that wind up on the wing.
It’s a doable goal for Boeser, but only if he can keep up his pace all the way through 2023/24 and well into 2024/25.
Believe it or not, even Demko can’t claim an all-but-guaranteed spot on the American roster. There are three spots for a goalie (maybe even two for such a short tourney), and Demko, Connor Hellebuyck, Jeremy Swayman, and Jake Oettinger are all very much in the running.
Maybe that’s why Demko didn’t hug Swayman at the All-Star Game.
The only Canuck who can start sizing out their American jersey now is Hughes, who will join his brother on the roster and almost certainly helm a top pairing on the blueline.
Now, back to Pettersson and Team Sweden. If Pettersson’s presence on the stage wasn’t clue enough, he’s the top Swedish scorer in the NHL this season and the player who most would agree is the nation’s best at this point. He’s a lock.
The same likely goes for the newly-acquired Lindholm, even though he’s currently mired in a difficult season. Lindholm’s past performance and strong defensive reputation likely get him a spot on the team no matter what, and the bounceback we’re predicting he’ll have with the Canucks should all but cinch it up.
That’s probably it, though. The Canucks’ top prospects, and a few of their rostered players, are also Swedish, but none will be in the serious running for a February spot.
The one exception may be Nils Höglander. His nine goals in 2023/24 are tied for the ninth-most amongst all Swedish NHLers, his goals-per-60 are the highest of his nation, and he’s definitely on the up-and-up in his career.
The Swedish roster isn’t so deep that we can’t imagine Höglander stealing a spot away over the course of the next 12 months. He’d be a fourth liner, but that’s where Höglander seems to do his best work anyway.
That leaves Team Finland. After the Lindholm trade saw Joni Jurmo sent the other way, the Canucks have just two Finnish players left in the entire organization. Goaltender Aku Koskenvuo is a long ways off still, but Aatu Raty is closer. Until he makes the NHL, he won’t receive serious consideration, but a good rookie campaign next year by Raty could feasibly work him into the mix. The Finnish depth chart is the shallowest of the four, with players like Eetu Luostarinen, Kaapo Kakko, and Erik Haula currently penciled in to spots. Those are players a good first-year skater could potentially bump out, but it’d take one heck of a rookie performance by Raty to do so.
And there you have it. A good six Canucks players should make it to next February’s festivities, and perhaps a couple more than that if all goes well. And we should see them actually facing off against one another in genuinely serious competition.
We realize, too, that some of you reading this are not particularly keen on thinking about something that’s still a full year away.
But we also realize that much of our coverage over the next several months is going to be of the breathless variety as the Canucks make a run at the 2024 playoffs and the glory contained within. So, we wanted to take this brief opportunity for a breath and a look way ahead at something that should, at the very least, be more exciting and interesting than an All-Star Game.
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