JPat: Canucks stickhandled successfully on first day of NHL free agency

Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
12 days ago
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Considering the biggest fish in National Hockey League free agency were off the board by the time the market opened on Monday morning, the Vancouver Canucks fared reasonably well in their attempt to spend wisely and upgrade their roster. 
In Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Kiefer Sherwood, the Canucks placed bets on three forwards all in their 20s. If you’re going to take swings in free agency, why not try to find players as close as possible to their statistical primes in order to extract value over the duration of their deals? 
At 27, DeBrusk is a three-time 25-goal scorer and comes from Boston – as polished a program as there has been in the NHL over the past decade and a half. On top of that, he’s been to a Stanley Cup Final (2019) and has been to the second round on four other occasions. In total, the well-rounded winger has already appeared in 86 playoff games and scored 27 goals. The Canucks are hoping he adds to those totals significantly and as early as next spring.
And with an open slot on the wing on a line with Elias Pettersson and quite possibly first-unit power play opportunities, the Canucks are banking on DeBrusk finding ways to grow his game. He hasn’t been a 30-goal scorer yet, but there is reason to believe he can reach that threshold as he makes his way to the West Coast. Sure, the term is longer than some would have liked, and maybe the dollar figure is a shade richer than he deserves. However, goal-scorers in the NHL get paid – especially in free agency. And the Canucks were able to add a player that met their needs and didn’t overspend to the point they had nothing left to address other areas of concern.
In a perfect world, they would have found another bona fide goal scorer. And perhaps they’ll forced to explore their options via trade at some point throughout the season. But the club had enough money left to add two other forwards that should help their depth and their penalty kill.
Heinen, a Langley native who has been linked to the Canucks through the years, doesn’t score at the rate DeBrusk does. But he has reached double digits in goals in five of his seven full seasons in the league. Heinen’s coming off a 17-goal season, and two years ago, netted a career-high 18 in Pittsburgh, so he knows where the net is and how to put pucks in it. He has decent size at 6’2” and 195 pounds, speed and has versatility that allows him to play either wing.
In Sherwood, the Canucks added an absolute thorn in the side to play against. He finished 15th in the league in hits last season and didn’t miss the opportunity to take the body in any of the six contests Nashville played against Vancouver in the playoffs. Undrafted out of college, it’s taken the 29-year-old Columbus, OH native a while to figure out his role at the NHL level. But he developed into a hard-hitting, fearless forechecker this past season for the Predators, scoring 10 times and playing in a career-high 68 games. 
In a league where depth players often struggle to leave their mark, Sherwood understands what he needs to do to be effective. And he seems to have found a consistency that allows him to be noticed on a nightly basis. Much as he’s done with Dakota Joshua, Rick Tocchet will certainly take a shine to Sherwood, and it’s possible with the Tocchet Touch, the right-shot winger may discover untapped potential in his game.
Sherwood is the kind of player you’d much rather have on your team than have to play against. The Canucks found that out the hard way in their series with the Preds.
While the team demonstrated discipline and precision in upgrading its forward ranks on a day of league-wide overspending, it’s impossible to say the Canucks are better on defence than they were at season’s end. Derek Forbort and Vincent Desharnais add to the club’s collection of bruising blueline brutes, but in a league getting faster by the season, it’s fair to question the lack of puck movers beyond the top pair. Obviously, Tocchet and Adam Foote value size on the back end, but this team could certainly use one more offensively-inclined defender whose first option isn’t glass and out on every shift.
The Forbort signing made sense in the wake of Nikita Zadorov’s departure. The midday addition of Desharnais felt like more of what the team already had in abundance when more pressing needs existed.
Still, there is nothing among today’s business that seems overly risky or would be considered reckless. So for that the front office should be commended. The Canucks stayed within their financial means and added significant pieces that ought to provide a payoff.
This was always a day that was about adding to a core group this organization believes in. The Canucks didn’t win the first day of free agency, but they did enough that should help them win when it matters – once the puck drops on the new season in October.

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