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The Franchise Pyramid: Tier ranking Canucks players from superstars to Abbotsford depth pieces
7 months ago
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The biggest moves of the NHL offseason are officially in the rearview mirror, and all 32 teams’ depth charts are practically set for training camp in September.
The Canucks are heading into the summer break looking more or less the same as the team that ended last season, save for a few free agent additions and some new prospects in the cupboard. So what better time to take a look at the franchise as a whole and look at where everybody sits in the pecking order?
Introducing the Canucks Franchise Pyramid.
For this tier list, I’ve elected to focus primarily on players’ overall outlook and role within the organization, as opposed to just their talent level. I’ve also elected to leave most of the unsigned players unranked, with a few key exceptions for recency reasons.
Let’s dive in!
Tier 1: The Faces of the Franchise
Elias Pettersson (C)
Quinn Hughes (D)
Every team needs a foundation, and the Canucks obviously have that in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
The pair that anchors the Canucks at both ends of the ice is arguably among the best one-two punches in the NHL, and they’re only getting more unstoppable year over year. On a team that has regularly missed the playoffs over the last decade, these two are currently the only ones that have the chance to be lifetime Vancouver Canucks if they want to.
If two players could make a whole team, EP40 and Huggy Bear would have Vancouver in the postseason dance on an annual basis.
Sadly, hockey isn’t that simple.
Tier 2: The Supporting Core
Thatcher Demko (G)
J.T. Miller (C/RW)
Andrei Kuzmenko (LW)
These players are about as close to foundational as you can get without being in the top tier. These players may not have immunity from being traded if the right offer came along, but they certainly expect to be here for the long haul.
Until recently, Thatcher Demko would’ve probably landed in the first group. Now, with playoff contention being a huge question mark and Arturs Silovs already rounding out his game quite nicely at the AHL level, Demko has become slightly more expendable than he might’ve been last year.
J.T. Miller likely isn’t going anywhere any time soon now that his massive seven-year contract has kicked in, but he’s still the most valuable asset the Canucks could risk parting with if an absolutely necessary opportunity comes up. And Andrei Kuzmenko is still new enough that his long-term outlook is still a mystery, but if he plays anything like he did last season he’ll be in this category for a while to come.
Tier 3: The Armchair GM Five
Brock Boeser (RW)
Conor Garland (RW)
Anthony Beauvillier (LW)
Tyler Myers (D)
Nils Höglander (RW)
Regardless of how you feel about them, these players have had their names in the rumour mill for approximately a decade and a half.
On the surface, that’s understandable. Teams that lose consistently don’t get the opportunities to stay together like winning ones do. But it is fascinating just how many of these players are younger skaters whose best days are likely still ahead of them.
Brock Boeser’s return to form as a 50-point player last season flew way under the radar and deserved more credit. Conor Garland’s reputation as an advanced stats darling has been more or less backed up by Rick Tocchet leaning on him for ice time down the stretch. And Nils Höglander is still cutting his teeth in the AHL.
Outside of pending UFAs Tyler Myers and Anthony Beauvillier, most of these guys will end up being part of the long-term solution in Vancouver. Just not all in the way they’d expect.
Tier 4: The Young(ish) Guns
Ilya Mikheyev (RW)
Vasily Podkolzin (RW)
Filip Hronek (D)
Dakota Joshua (C)
Nils Åman (C)
Jack Rathbone (D)
These are the young depth pieces that Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford have coveted ever since their arrival in Vancouver, or in the case of Dakota Joshua, young feeling.
It’s important to remember that age is just a number, and doesn’t necessarily guarantee all the skills associated with youth. For example, Ilya Mikheyev is arguably the only player on this list with above average NHL speed, and the Canucks are especially lacking in that department save for a few players.
Still, this is a group that has been growing into their expanded roles quite nicely. Joshua and Nils Åman have each cemented themselves as regular NHLers, Filip Hronek was a big part of the Red Wings’ blue line before being traded to the Canucks, and Vasily Podkolzin has been rounding out his game while splitting his time between Vancouver and Abbotsford. We’ll see if any of them can take an even bigger step in 2023-24.
Tier 5: The Veteran Supporting Cast
Carson Soucy (D)
Teddy Blueger (C)
Ian Cole (D)
Phil Di Giuseppe (LW)
Sheldon Dries (C)
Jack Studnicka (RW/C)
Christian Wolanin (D)
Noah Juulsen (D)
Matt Irwin (D)
Spencer Martin (G)
Here in Tier 5, we have a perfect mix of old and new faces.
Teddy Blueger, Carson Soucy, and Ian Cole will have some expectations to live up to, but considering the low-risk contracts they’ve landed in Vancouver with, they’ll be given as much time as they need to meet them. Meanwhile, returning vets like Phil Di Giuseppe and Sheldon Dries are far from guaranteed a roster spot, but they proved why they deserve the first call-up from Abbotsford in limited minutes.
Still, there’s a few question marks as well. Will Spencer Martin be able to rebound from his roller coaster of a 2022-23 and resolidify his role as Demko’s backup? Will Christian Wolanin earn an NHL opportunity a lot sooner than he did last year? Hopefully the answer for both of those is a definitive yes.
Tier 5 1/2: The Missing Links
Tanner Pearson (LW)
Tucker Poolman (D)
Vitaly Kravtsov (RW)
Did you forget Tucker Poolman was still a Canuck? It’s okay if you did, he only played one game last year due to lingering head injury issues.
While Poolman’s status is a complete mystery, Tanner Pearson’s outlook has gotten a lot more positive since Patrik Allvin said his hand injury wouldn’t keep him from September training camp earlier this month. That’s some incredible news for Pearson, after rumours last season that the complications surrounding his injury might be career ending.
As for Kravtsov, while the Canucks have retained his NHL rights, he won’t be back any time soon after signing with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL in the offseason.
Tier 6: The Blue Chips
Aidan McDonough (LW)
Danila Klimovich (RW)
Jonathan Lekkerimaki (RW)
Arturs Silovs (G)
Akito Hirose (D)
Aatu Raty (C)
Cole McWard (D)
Elias Pettersson (D)
If everything goes according to plan, the Canucks have a fair few decent prospects that could be ready for NHL action sooner than later. Some, like Aidan McDonough, Cole McWard and Akito Hirose, have already gotten their first tastes of the big leagues and were at least able to tread water late in the year.
Regardless, they all need some seasoning first. McDonough, McWard and Hirose will all benefit from regular shifts under Jeremy Colliton in Abbotsford that they wouldn’t get in Vancouver yet. Danila Klimovich’s game is slowly but surely coming along in the AHL, while Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Elias ‘RePetey’ Pettersson have yet to play a pro game in North America yet and will likely remain in the SHL next year.
As far as NHL ready goes, the one name to focus on is Arturs Silovs. The young Latvian goalie looked rock solid in his few NHL starts last season, and if Spencer Martin struggles to find his footing, it might not take much for Silovs to get the call back to the big leagues.
Tier 7: The New Kids
Tom Willander (D)
Hunter Brzustewicz (D)
Sawyer Mynio (D)
Ty Mueller (F)
Vilmer Arliksson (LW)
Matthew Perkins (C)
Aiden Celebrini (D)
It’s too early to judge the Canucks’ 2023 draft class, but the bets their scouting staff made are some real reputation stakers.
The biggest statement the team made was drafting for immediate need by taking Swedish defender Tom Willander 11th overall, bypassing the highly touted Zach Benson to do so. This is a not an unfamiliar gamble in the eyes of Canucks fans, who still have regular nightmares from the infamous “Juolevi over Tkachuk” incident back in 2016.
The early opinions for the rest of the class have been mixed, to say the least. While draft experts have spoken highly of the team’s first two picks in Willander and Hunter Brzustewicz, and gave a good review for sixth-rounder Aiden Celebrini, the rest of the group has a bunch of question marks and asterisks attached to them.
Sawyer Mynio, who experts tabbed as a potential late round option, went to the Canucks in the third round instead. Among Vancouver’s three selections in the fourth round were Ty Mueller, a 20-year-old college centreman in his final year of draft eligibility, and Matthew Perkins, a 19-year-old centre on his second go-around. And their only first-year eligible pick of the round, Swedish winger Wilmer Arliksson, was a choice that left more than a few scouts scratching their heads.
The argument for the older draft picks could be made that the team sees them as immediate projects for Abbotsford and their development system, but we won’t know how a gambit of that kind will pay off for at least two or three years after they sign their entry level deals. Until then, we’ll just have to watch and hope for the best.
Tier 8: The Mystery Bag
Jett Woo (D)
Arshdeep Bains (LW)
Tristen Nielsen (C)
Josh Bloom (LW)
Max Sasson (C)
Kirill Kudryavstev (D)
Karel Plasek (LW)
Zach Sawchenko (G)
Filip Johansson (D)
Finally, we come to our group of AHL and junior depth pieces. None of these players are on a clear track to become NHL regulars right now, but you never know which one might surprise us all down the line.
For what it’s worth, my money is on Arshdeep Bains. The 22-year-old winger made the jump from juniors to the AHL look particularly smooth, finishing fifth in Abby scoring with 38 points.
Regardless, these are all names worth keeping an eye on next year, be it in Abbotsford, Sault St. Marie or Czechia.
Now just wait for next July when all of these names are in completely different spots!
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