Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Goals and expectations for every centre on the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart
6 months ago
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Welcome back to our series here at CanucksArmy where we’ve been going over expectations and goals for every player on the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart in 2023-24. So far, we’ve broken down the defencemen, goalies, right and left wingers, and today, we’re taking a look at the centres.
There’s no debate — Elias Pettersson is in a league of his own when it comes to any forward on the Canucks’ depth chart. Undoubtedly the Canucks’ most valuable player this past season, the sky is the limit for what Pettersson should be able to do next season.
This was the first season of Pettersson’s NHL career that he played at an elite level over the course of a full season. Heading into a contract year still without an extension, there’s little doubt that Pettersson will be able to at least match what he did this past season when he finished the season just one goal shy of 40 and added 63 assists for 102 total points through 80 games played.
Pettersson will look to prove that the level of consistency he brought last year wasn’t just a fluke, and we expect him to do just that. As for goals, Pettersson undoubtedly wants to lead this team back into the postseason, but on a personal level, Pettersson should look to continue to grow his reputation as one of the game’s top centres.
After a somewhat alarmingly poor start this past season, JT Miller turned things around in the end — specifically when Rick Tocchet took over.
What really concerned many about Miller’s seemingly disengaged and overall low-energy play was that his seven year extension hadn’t even kicked in yet. If Miller was playing this poorly already, then that was going to be a very long seven years. Enter Rick Tocchet.
Upon arriving in Vancouver, Tocchet told the media about his “non-negotiables”. Backchecking hard, hustling back to the bench for line changes, not slamming your stick, and overall body language. Obviously, this turned many people’s attention to Miller, who had been struggling as a centre all season long. Most of Miller’s struggles at centre came on the defensive end, and with Bo Horvat soon to be gone for good, the Canucks needed the guy they locked up with a long term contract to do what they expected of him — actually play centre.
And under Tocchet, Miller did an admirable job at the position despite a rotating cast of often lacklustre wingers down the final stretch of the season. Coming into this season, he’s the Canucks’ bonafide 2C, and they’ll need him to be a leader all season long.
Canucks management is hoping that Teddy Blueger can be their third line centre while they wait for Aatu Räty to potentially develop into the role. The club resisted the urge to dish out big money and commit multiple years to a player like Ryan O’Reilly, instead signing Blueger to a low-risk one year deal at $1.9 million.
And while that contract is certainly ideal, it remains to be seen if Blueger will really be capable of holding down the third line pivot spot all season long. After all, this was a player who served more as winger depth on the Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights following his acquisition from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nonetheless, Blueger is defensively responsible and can kill penalties, and those are two areas the Canucks needed plenty of help in last season. Our expectation is that Blueger helps the club keep the puck out of their own net more, and that the goal for the 28-year-old Blueger will be to chip more on offence while playing alongside some more skilled wingers like Conor Garland or even Anthony Beauvillier.
Nils Aman burst onto the scene last year and earned a spot as the Canucks’ fourth line centre out of training camp. He played that role admirably for a 22-year-old, and given the expectations most had for him, Aman’s season was a smashing success in every sense of the word. Aman appeared in 68 games with the Canucks, spending a brief 17 games with the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks.
Aman managed to tally four goals and 12 assists at the NHL level this past season, and while the Canucks don’t necessarily need Aman to chip on offence more this season, everything should come easier if Aman is able to put on some muscle the way new head coach Rick Tocchet wants him to.
Tocchet wants Aman to have a big offseason where he puts on some weight and becomes harder to push off pucks. Our expectation is that Aman comes in and improves on last season, holding down the fourth line centre spot without much fanfare or doubt from onlookers. Aman’s goal might be to chip in more on offence or to become a player that can be trusted with the toughest matchups on any given night. Defensively, Aman isn’t there yet, but he might be soon.
Realistically, Dakota Joshua should have been included on one of our winger depth chart pieces, because in all likelihood, Joshua will be a winger for this team next season. The only way the Canucks try him at centre realistically is if Blueger or Aman clearly aren’t up to the task of centring their own line. Joshua is going to be battling for a bottom six spot on the wings in training camp, and based on his usage under Tocchet, we’d say it’s pretty safe to assume he gets one of those spots.
The goal for Joshua next season should be to become all-around tougher to play against, but most importantly, stake his claim as a reliable penalty killer for this team. That is almost certainly the best way for Joshua to stick in the NHL for a long time.
All things considered, Sheldon Dries performed well when called upon last season. The only issue was that the Canucks’ lack of overall centre depth meant that they were calling on him far too often and to do far too much. Dries scored 11 goals and added six assists in 63 NHL games and played just two games in Abbotsford last season.
Like Joshua, Dries is a centre option for the Canucks if Blueger or Aman simply don’t have what it takes, or if either guy needs a breather. We expect Dries to make the roster as the club’s 13th or 14th forward, and the goal for him will be to build off of what he did last year and fight for a spot in the everyday lineup.
Okay, time to tag in CanucksArmy’s prospect guru Chris Faber!
I’m a bit of a Stevens-stan. I’ll admit it.
John Stevens isn’t going to blow you away and he’s not going to play in any NHL games with the Canucks but he is great depth for the AHL and we’ve heard from young players like Arshdeep Bains and Jack Rathbone about how helpful Stevens is as a leader on the AHL club.
This dude is going to be a coach when he retires. He’s a great culture setter for the Abbotsford Canucks and will help a ton on the penalty kill.
After showing well in his small stint in the AHL last season, Max Sasson will return to Abbotsford and has the potential to be the AHL club’s top-line centre.
He plays well with talent and that’s why we see him sitting at the top of the AHL depth chart. Sasson can keep up with fast-paced, skilled play and scored some big goals late in the season for Abbotsford. He’s a smart player with decent enough wheels and good hands.
Sasson likely won’t play in any NHL games this season but there’s a small chance he could if there are a bevy of injuries.
Although many of us would love to see Aatu Räty steal the top-line centre position in the AHL or be the third-line centre in the NHL, we don’t see that happening to start the season.
Räty still has a lot of developing to do before he’s at the level of being a serious option at the NHL level and the good news is that he is still just 20 years old.
We see him being the centre on Abbotsford’s second or third line and he should still get some power play time. The ultimate situation for his development would be seeing Räty play alongside Arshdeep Bains and Danila Klimovich on a middle-six line in Abbotsford and those three help elevate each other into a spot where they are first-up for call-ups.
After earning an NHL contract, Tristen ‘the OG-DAWG’ Nielsen will be back with Abbotsford and playing in that spark plug role where he can literally fit in at any position on any forward line — up and down the lineup. Heck, we wouldn’t be surprised if he plays some right-side defence and is the backup goaltender for one game.
No, but in all honesty, Nielsen continues to impress with his work-ethic and sneaky skill combines with blazing speed.
He might get into some NHL games next season with his ability to play any forward position and contribute on both special teams units. This kid can do it all but the question will be if he can do some of that all in the NHL.
Another player who is moving up a level and playing in the NCAA, Daimon Gardner tore his MCL during last year’s preseason but bounced back later in the year with some strong offensive numbers.
Gardner now heads to Clarkson University for his freshman season of NCAA hockey and is one of the two drafted forwards on his NCAA club. We expect him to be a regular in Clarkson’s lineup but what we want to see if some offensive flashes and the ability to stick at centre instead of being moved to the wing.
As much as we thought it was weird that the Canucks drafted a 20-year-old with pretty low-scoring numbers, we also really like Ty Mueller at Canucks development camp.
He is heading back to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for his third NCAA season and doubled his point totals last year. If he can get close to a point-per-game, the Canucks will look pretty alright by using a fourth-round pick on this 20-year-old.
We also hope he continues to see games at centre and is not moved to the wing.
Another standout from Canucks development camp, Dmitri Zlodeyev is on a two-year deal with a weaker KHL team and that means he will probably be playing up the lineup — likely in the top-six. He’s another one who has been used on the wing in the past but that was with another KHL team and we expect him to be playing centre next season.
Zlodeyev will need to continue to develop as a penalty killer who is good in the faceoff dot. The ETA on his North American arrival is the 2025-26 season and that is only if he proves enough to warrant a spot on the AHL roster.
The 21-year-old has zero goals and one assists in 20 KHL games, so, he’s going to need to start to produce a lot more to get that chance at playing pro in North America one day. Let’s see how he looks this season with the added ice time in the KHL. We know that he’d like to play for Abbotsford one day but has that two-year deal in the KHL to play through first.
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