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With many departures and arrivals on the way, Canucks fans can finally trust in the team’s pro scouting

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
18 days ago
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What a strange segment of the hockey year we now find ourselves in.
The 2023/24 Vancouver Canucks were a darn-near revelation. They exceeded the expectations of all but the most foolhardy, soaring through the regular season and then taking the Western Conference Champions all the way to the brink of Game 7.
On the one hand, the Canucks gave their fans and followers ample reason for optimism about the future.
But on the other hand, as soon as Game 7 wrapped, that future became filled with uncertainty. With the beginning of the offseason, more than a dozen Canucks have become pending free agents. So that surprisingly-excellent roster of the past season is anything but secure, and thus the Canucks faithful are in a holding pattern, waiting out the next few weeks to find out who stays, who goes, and what it means for the 2024/25 campaign and beyond.
Times like these are strange, they’re anxious, and they can be downright stressful. But if there’s one thing that Canucks fans are going into this scenario with the benefit of – one thing they definitely haven’t had a lot of before – it’s reason to trust in the team’s pro scouting department.
There wasn’t a complete staff teardown of staff upon POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin taking over in 2022, but there has been a general shuffling since. More than that, there’s been a serious change in direction from the top, from AGMs Emile Castonguay, Cammi Granato, Ryan Johnson, et al. on down, and the most immediate result has been an increase in the quality of pro scouting.
Or, if not an increase in the quality of the scouting itself, which is near-impossible to measure, at the very least a serious increase in the quality of the results.
A prime and primary example of this can be found in one of those key pending free agents: Dakota Joshua.
At this point, there’s a real risk that Joshua departs to explore the lucrative waters of unrestricted free agency. And if he does, few could blame him. Joshua is coming off a well-timed career season in which he increased his all-time high in goals from 11 to 18, and his high in points from 23 to 32. All that in just 63 games, and all the while offering that always-sought-after combination of size and skill.
That Joshua added eight points in 13 playoff games is just the icing on the cake. Should he choose to become a UFA on July 1, there will be teams in heavy pursuit of him, and he will receive offers well in excess of what the Canucks could reasonably offer to retain his services.
As such, many are already making the mental preparations for Joshua’s exit.
But it’s important to remember where Joshua arrived from before he departs.
Prior to coming to Vancouver, Joshua had been drafted in the fifth round, 128th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. But then he played out all four years at Ohio State and became a free agent, ultimately choosing to sign with the St. Louis Blues organization.
His first year with that franchise, in 2019/20, Joshua played 30 games in the AHL, racking up seven points, and another 20 games in the ECHL for the Tulsa Oilers.
The next year, he made his NHL debut, racking up 12 games and a single point for the Blues, along with six more games down in the AHL for our old friends the Utica Comets.
Then, in 2021/22, Joshua split his time, playing 30 games for the Blues (eight points) and 35 more for the Springfield Falcons (20 points).
And that’s it. Joshua’s entire professional resume before arriving in Vancouver was three seasons and 133 games split over three leagues, with only 47 of those games coming at the NHL level. Joshua only put up the 0.5 PPG he did last season once at the AHL level, and only over a span of 35 games.
Now, it’s not that there weren’t signs that Joshua could be something more. Upon his signing back in July 2022, this same author wrote that Joshua might be “everything that the Canucks have been looking for in a fourth liner.”
But the point is that it was the Canucks’ pro scouting staff which noticed those things and correctly valued those things and targeted Joshua the most, not the pro scouts of any other franchise. That allowed Allvin and Co. to bring Joshua in on a two-year deal at a $825,000 that proved to be one of the greatest bargains in the entire league last season.
Yes, it will be painful if the Canucks lose a fan favourite in Joshua. But those same fans can take solace in the fact that the folks who found Joshua in the first place are still employed by the franchise, and feel confident as they look to find the next Dakota Joshua.
Of course, Joshua isn’t the only such example.
Many of the players added by Allvin and Co. at all levels of the organization have proven terrific fits, and have often brought back returns well in excess of expectations. This includes a quatro of free agent signings this past summer: Teddy Blueger, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, and Pius Suter.
The 29-year-old Blueger set a career-high in assists with 22 and became the centrepiece of a key line alongside Joshua and Conor Garland.
At the age of 34, Cole was what he was at this point, but made for an excellent fit behind Quinn Hughes on the left side of the blueline for the vast majority of the season.
The team bet big on Soucy, making a three-year commitment on the assumption that he’d be able to rise above his bottom-pairing deployment in Seattle to bigger things, and he did, playing 17:29 a night despite being hampered by frequent injuries.
But, Joshua aside, it’s Suter that really shows off the quality of the pro scouting in starkest clarity. Suter didn’t just fit in one spot in Vancouver, he fit into about a dozen of them, most prominently on JT Miller and Brock Boeser’s wing. Suter both kept pace with his highest-scoring seasons of the past and turned in a strong defensive performance, leading up to him being one of the Canucks’ leading generator of scoring chances in the playoffs.
All that for a tidy, two-year, $1.6 million AAV contract late in free agency.
The impact of the pro scouts can also be seen through successful trades. Filip Hronek may be a controversial topic of conversation this offseason, but none can deny that he was an expertly-selected choice to be Hughes’ defensive partner this past season, in which Hronek put up a career 48 points and set himself up for a major payday in Vancouver or elsewhere.
Out of a bloated goalie market, the team plucked Casey DeSmith, who proved vital to keeping the team alive long enough for Arturs Silovs to subsequently keep them alive when Thatcher Demko went down.
Sam Lafferty turned in a good start, even though that faded as the season progressed.
And then there’s the twin Calgary pickups of Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm, each of whom wound up being among the Canucks’ most important players in the postseason and moved themselves right to the top of the “hope-to-keep” column among free agents.
One can quibble about the price paid for these players all they want. From a pro scouting perspective, it really doesn’t matter. The pro scouts’ role is to select targets, not to acquire said targets. And the target selection has been, simply put, phenomenal of late.
That, more than anything, is why the Canucks faithful should be approaching this summer of uncertainty with some genuine confidence. A good chunk of the 2023/24 Canucks was cobbled together recently and cheaply, and that was done largely on the back of the pro scouting staff. What that means is, should the Canucks’ free agents use the success of 2023/24 to springboard themselves into lucrative contracts elsewhere, the Canucks should be able to replace them with other well-scouted and affordable talent.
The next Dakota Joshuas, Nikita Zadorovs, and Teddy Bluegers out there.
After all, they found the first ones.
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