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Four Canucks with something to prove in 2023-24

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Photo credit:© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
8 months ago
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With the start of the 2023-24 NHL season creeping closer each and every day, cautious optimism is rising in every market around the league. It’s the time of year when fans get excited over clips of summer skates and off-ice workouts.
In Vancouver, there is an expectation that the team will seriously contend for the playoffs this season. After adding Ilya Mikhyev last summer, re-signing J.T. Miller, and then acquiring Carson Soucy and Ian Cole this year, management clearly has the postseason as their goal in mind.
Last year, the Canucks had a dreadful start to the season, digging themselves into a hole that they were never able to recover from. The overall season was very disappointing, not just on a team level but also for several individual players. For the Canucks to avoid repeating that same story this season, they’re going to need players to answer some big questions.
Here are four Canucks with something to prove next season.

Thatcher Demko: Prove that last season’s start was just a fluke

Thatcher Demko has gone from a highly-heralded goalie prospect to a postseason hero to one of the best starting goalies in the NHL. Last season, however, he was not at his best, finishing the year with a 3.16 GAA and a .901 save percentage, both well below his career averages.
The Canucks finished eighth last in the NHL last season in goals allowed as opponents managed 296. However, the team had just 258.93 expected goals allowed according to Natural Stat Trick, landing them firmly in the middle of the league at 16th. While this isn’t a perfect measure of goaltending, it’s clear that it was one of the Canucks biggest pain points last season.
While everyone will give him the benefit of the doubt, Demko needs to prove that last season was a one-off due to injuries and exhaustion and get back to being the franchise goalie everyone knows he is. The Canucks also need to uphold their end of the bargain and make things a little easier for Demko, giving him more rest and a better defensive structure. Ideally, both sides will improve on last season to help provide the Canucks with some stellar goaltending.

Vasili Podkolzin: Prove that he can hold a spot in the top-nine

After an encouraging rookie season that saw Podkolzin get better as the year went on, 2022-23 was a bit of a disappointment for the Russian winger. He finished with just four goals and three assists in 39 NHL games, adding 18 points in another 28 AHL games with the Abbotsford Canucks.
When he’s on, Podkolzin plays a physical game that lets other players on his line shine as he fights hard for every loose puck. The key to taking his game to the next level will be getting more confident to make plays when the puck is on his stick. It’s something that head coach Rick Tocchet seems keen on addressing with Podkozlin.
With so many wingers on the roster, it will be difficult for Podkolzin to carve out a significant role, especially if he doesn’t come out of the gate hot. Still, at 22 years old and heading into his third NHL season, it’s time for Podkolzin to prove that he can be an everyday top-nine winger with the potential to keep improving.

J.T. Miller: Prove that he can be an effective player at 5-on-5

J.T. Miller is one of the most controversial players currently on the Canucks. As he enters the first year of his $56 million / seven-year extension, that spotlight is going to be shining bright. There is no doubt that we get plenty of attention on Miller’s play throughout the early part of the season, no matter how he performs.
Last season, Miller was not a good player at 5-on-5. While his raw counting stats at the end of the season weren’t bad, they were inflated by plenty of special teams’ points, including some unsustainable penalty kill numbers. He had four goals and eight points short-handed, almost matching his career numbers in both categories across a decade up to that point.
Miller finished last season with 31 points at 5-on-5, the same number as Conor Garland and Quinn Hughes. Even Bo Horvat managed 30 in just 49 games with the Canucks. If Miller is going to stand any chance at living up to his big contract, he’s going to need to be a better player when not on special teams and find ways to create offence.

Andrei Kuzmenko: Prove that he can score away from Elias Pettersson

Andrei Kuzmenko was a huge surprise during his first NHL season, finishing with 39 goals and dazzling fans with his creativity. He was the perfect compliment to superstar centre Elias Pettersson and together, the two dominated on most nights. However, when Kuzmenko was moved to a different line, his effectiveness plummeted.
When playing together, the duo outscored opponents 52-36 in 742:40 5-on-5 minutes. They also had a 57.22% expected goals-for percentage, showing that they not only were the pucks going in the back of the net, but they also were dominating play and controlling a large share of the scoring chances.
Away from Pettersson, Kuzmenko had a 42.61% expected goals-for percentage in 281:03 5-on-5 minutes. While head coach Rick Tocchet may just opt to keep the sublime duo together, it would be nice to see Kuzmenko be a productive member of a strong line that didn’t contain Pettersson.

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