Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Goals and expectations for every left winger on the Canucks’ depth chart
6 months ago
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Welcome back to our series here at CanucksArmy where we have been going over reasonable expectations along with goals for every player on the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart this season. So far, we’ve covered the defencemen, goaltenders, and right wingers, and today, we’ll be going over the left wingers.
Our best guess is that Ilya Mikheyev will be the Canucks’ first line left winger, and in turn, will line up alongside Elias Pettersson and fellow Russian Andrei Kuzmenko. That’s where he lined up for the majority of last season, and there was even a stretch in the first half of the season where the trio was among the best lines in the entire NHL.
That was, of course, before Mikheyev was shut down in order to go take care of the ACL injury that he was able to play through. Once it became clear that the Canucks wouldn’t be in the playoff hunt the way they’d hoped to be, Mikheyev got his surgery in hopes of being ready to hit the ground running for training camp. All signs point to that being the case.
The most impressive thing about Mikheyev’s abbreviated 2022-23 campaign — in which he tallied 13 goals and 15 assists through 46 games — was that the ACL injury that he was playing through was something that affected his skating. Even so, Mikheyev was one of the fastest Canucks on a nightly basis. And while that is certainly an indictment on the much-maligned team speed of the Canucks, it also makes the mind wonder what Mikheyev will be able to accomplish with two legs working the way they’re supposed to.
Mikheyev’s two-way game, speed, forechecking, and penalty killing abilities are sure to make him a player Rick Tocchet trusts with plenty of opportunities, so it’s safe to expect Mikheyev to play a big role in his second of four years with the Canucks. Our expectation is that he remains on the Canucks’ first line and breaks the 20 goal mark with ease.
As for Mikheyev’s goal, it will be similar to what it was in his first year in Vancouver, and that’s to prove to everyone that he’s a first line player. In Toronto, he didn’t get as many top six opportunities due to the Leafs’ strength up front, but in Vancouver, he should get ample opportunity to not only play in the top six, but to be Elias Pettersson’s most consistent linemate. That could break Mikheyev’s ceiling open in terms of production, and he could play a bigger role for this team than perhaps anybody would have expected in 2023-24.
Following the trade of Bo Horvat, the Canucks found themselves with Anthony Beauvillier as the only NHL-level player coming back in the deal. Beauvillier finished off the year strong in Vancouver, closing out the final 33 games of his age-25 season with nine goals and 11 assists — the exact number of goals and assists he’d notched in his 49 prior games with the New York Islanders.
Playing with Pettersson and Kuzmenko on the Canucks’ top line, Beauvillier’s offensive output was certainly promising for a player who was essentially a throw-in on the Horvat trade to make the money work for the Islanders.
And while the Canucks’ lack of offseason acquisitions and overall lack of depth up front basically guarantee that Beauvillier will be in the Canucks’ top six forward group to at least start the season, it won’t be surprising to see Beauvillier slow down from the 20+ goal pace he played at to close out this past season.
It also wouldn’t be crazy to see Beauvillier play on the Canucks’ third line in favour of a player such as Conor Garland or maybe even Vasily Podkolzin or Nils Höglander. We expect Beauvillier to be a serviceable middle six option for the Canucks this season, and his goal will obviously be to reach the 20 goal mark, something he hasn’t done since the 2017-18 season when he was 20 years old.
Is it right to put Tanner Pearson this high on the Canucks’ depth chart? We’re not so sure, but we’re putting him here anyway, and that’s mostly due to the fact that every indication from general manager Patrik Allvin has been that Pearson is expected to be ready to go for training camp in September.
Pearson’s struggles with his hand injury have been well-documented, and led to an internal investigation by the Canucks into their medical department’s handling of the injury after Quinn Hughes said his teammate’s injury “wasn’t handled right”.
The last time we spoke to Pearson at end-of-season media availabilities, he didn’t really want to talk about playing hockey.
“I’m not going to share my personal opinions,” said Pearson when asked if the organization handled his injury correctly. “I think the people that need to know what’s going on know, and I’m going to keep it that way… Look, I’m just trying to get my hand back… I’m just trying to go home and be a dad and be with my kids and be able to play at the moment. It sucks.”
That quote didn’t necessarily scream “ready for training camp”, but if Pearson is 100% and ready to go, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see Tocchet and his staff trust the veteran winger with a spot in the lineup. While Pearson’s offence isn’t much to write home about, his work along the boards and overall two-way game certainly are, and that could be enough for him to make his comeback with the Canucks a successful one.
Our expectation is that Pearson gets healthy enough to make the team out of camp, and we’d assume his goal is to just put his hand issues very firmly in the rearview mirror.
The Canucks certainly have an interesting case with Nils Höglander on their hands. After two seasons in the NHL where he was thrust into a top six role thanks to the Canucks’ lack of competent top six talent, Höglander found himself in the AHL for the majority of 2022-23.
Once down there, Höglander didn’t complain, he didn’t give up, and he didn’t have a bad attitude about the situation that he almost certainly didn’t see coming. Instead, he got down to work with the development staff down in Abbotsford, putting up a respectable 32 points in 45 games.
Where Höglander really took off was in the AHL playoffs, where he tallied three goals and three assists through Abbotsford’s six games. He was an absolute fiend on the forecheck in Abbotsford’s series against Bakersfield, and while he got into some penalty trouble in the club’s second round matchup with the Calgary Wranglers, his commitment level and give-a-bleep meter never waivered, and Rick Tocchet seems to have taken notice of that.
“Enthusiasm,” said Tocchet when asked in a recent radio interview about what he’d need to see from Podkolzin and Höglander to stick with the NHL club. “Chasing pucks down, winning puck battles. I think young guys add that to the team. When you can get a bunch of young guys to play for you that they just bring that enthusiasm. Even in practice in the doldrums of the season sometimes in practices, guys are a little bit tired or whatever, if you got a young guy out there buzzing around, the guys you mentioned Podkolzin and Höglander, can they be that guy, those energy bunnies. Can they be the first on the forecheck, can they get the crowd going at Rogers? Those are the things you want these young guys to do, just add a little bit of spice and life to your team. Obviously, they have skill sets, but one thing for me is whether can they be really good forecheckers for us. That would be huge for me, if I could get those young guys, we’d be a good forechecking group.”
We expect Nils Höglander — who just signed a two-year one-way contract this offseason — to make a strong push to make the Canucks’ opening night roster. His goal will be to not only do that, but emerge as a regular contributor to a club that hopes to make their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2023-24.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Ah yes, PDG. After not being used a ton under Bruce Boudreau, Phil Di Giuseppe found a role under Rick Tocchet as an energy guy who could pitch in with some offence every once in a while. And while that may sound like the profile of a bottom six winger, Di Giuseppe was regularly used in a second line role alongside JT Miller to close out last season.
Through 30 games at the NHL level, PDG put up a respectable six goals and six assists to go along with the 32 points he logged in 37 AHL games this past season.
It’s safe to expect that Di Giuseppe will almost certainly make the Canucks’ NHL roster out of camp this season, something he was unable to do in his previous two training camps with the club. As for goals, Di Giuseppe has to have his eyes set on being a full time NHLer next season. The abbreviated 2020-21 season was the last time Di Giuseppe spent an entire season with an NHL club, when Di Giuseppe appeared in 31 of the Rangers’ 56 games that season.
Now it’s time to tag in CanucksArmy’s prospect guru Chris Faber!
After a long-time stint as a Canucks prospect with the potential to be a scorer in the NHL, it’s now time for Aidan McDonough to make the full evolution into a pro player. We don’t expect to see him start the season in the NHL but can see him being a call-up option throughout the season — especially if he rips it up in the AHL.
McDonough should be a top-six winger in the AHL next season and we see him being a big part of Abbotsford’s first power play unit. If he can find a fit in Jeremy Colliton’s system, we see some NHL games coming his way as well but this season is about adjusting to pro.
Another graduating player who will embark on their first full pro season, Josh Bloom is going to be a staple in the Abbotsford middle-six next season. You can expect him to be a big-time piece on the Abbotsford Canucks’ penalty kill and that may end up being how he punches his ticket to getting some NHL games. There’s a lot to like about this kid including his leadership qualities, high-motor and sneaky scoring touch.
Bloom has pace, hands and is committed to getting to the NHL. We’re not sure he is going to get any NHL games next season but a strong showing in the AHL next year will give the 20-year-old a chance to earn some NHL games during the 2024-25 season.
We will see Arshdeep Bains in the NHL at some point next season. He has put himself in the conversation to be the first call-up from Abbotsford when the Vancouver Canucks need a winger.
Arshdeep Bains can kill penalties and is one of the smartest players on the AHL club’s roster. He should be a middle-six winger in the AHL next season but we see him getting a few NHL games as he continues to develop into a bottom-six winger.
We were pleased to see that Vilmer Alriksson will be heading to the OHL next season and joining the Guelph Storm.
Alriksson will get lots of top-of-the-lineup minutes and should see time on both special teams units. Our expectation is that he will take a couple of months to get used to the OHL but perhaps by December or January, he can figure out how to use his 6’6″ size as his biggest strength and dominate the net front while also being defensively responsible. We love that he is already coming to North America to develop and he is charting himself a nice little path to getting to the AHL in a couple of seasons.
The big 20-year-old winger is heading into his third NCAA season after his first two years have not gone great.
Jackson Kunz has just eight goals and three assists in two NCAA seasons and will need to drastically augment his scoring numbers to earn the chance to play pro hockey. We like the 6’3″ size and he has shown a strong shot in the past — it just has not clicked at the NCAA level. We hope to see him figure it out in 2023-24 but aren’t holding our breath.
After a 15-goal and 29-assist season in the USHL, Matt Perkins is moving to the NCAA as he joins the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
We don’t have much in terms of expectations for this kid. If he pops off a bit, we will pay attention but there wasn’t really anything that stuck out in his tape that made us excited about the prospect. Let’s hope that changes in 2023-24.
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