Grading each of the Vancouver Canucks’ signings on day one of NHL free agency

Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
11 days ago
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The opening day of free agency was a busy one for the Vancouver Canucks. They were losing Nikita Zadorov, Elias Lindholm, Casey DeSmith, and Ian Cole off the bat, and they were active in trying to find replacements and bolster the lineup. That came in the form of 7 total signings, from a varying array of middle-6 options in their 20’s, some defensive depth, and more organizational depth pieces.
As teams were tripping over themselves to throw out big money and big term, the Canucks were relatively calculated, sitting tidy with still about $2 million to spend. While there are still gaps in the roster construction, it’s not a bad place to start from.
Here’s our look at the 7 free agent signings that Patrik Allvin made on day one of NHL free agency.

Jake DeBrusk (LW) – 7 years, $5.5 million AAV

Inking Jake DeBrusk to a seven-year, $5.5 million AAV deal, Vancouver is hoping that he will be the answer on the wing in the top 6. It might not be the glamorous option that fans might’ve been hoping for in Jake Guentzel, but it’s tidy business to get DeBrusk on this money and term. While it’s not a sure thing, there’s a definite upside when it comes to scoring, and in a winger for Elias Pettersson, that’s already a major improvement.
DeBrusk’s 2023-24 season could be summed up in one word: inconsistent. After posting a 27-goal, 50-point campaign in just 64 games during 2022-23, the former Bruin started this year off with just one goal in the first 15 games of the season. He wasn’t necessarily a liability, but the offence just wasn’t there from the start. But, the winger managed to turn it around a little, finishing the year with 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points in 80 games. DeBrusk was also shooting at 10.4% last season, two percentage points lower than his career average but attempted 33 more shots than in 2022-23.
What’s encouraging is that DeBrusk isn’t just a scorer, though the offensive upside is definitely nice. He’s always in the dirty areas, getting on the forecheck and driving the net. He might not be laying out the most hits on a team, given that he’s 6’0 198 pounds, but DeBrusk doesn’t shy away from contact. That also bodes well in his own end, being a defensively responsible winger with a solid two-way game by the numbers. DeBrusk received most of his shift starts in the defensive zone this year with the Bruins recording.
The winger made his presence a lot more felt in the postseason. DeBrusk put up 11 points in 13 games as an integral role in helping Boston continue to torment the Leafs. It’s a reasonable bet to make for a good player with top-6 upside – the hope is that he can become much more consistent when it comes to his production while bringing everything else in his game. Can’t be too mad with the reasoning behind this one.
Grade: A

Kiefer Sherwood (LW) – 2 years, $1.5 million AAV

Having good bottom 6 options is a key aspect to succeeding in the playoffs, and the Canucks are hoping that they’ve got one in Kiefer Sherwood. The winger comes in cheap and is definitely a reasonable get at his age and cap hit. While he might not be the biggest player on the ice, Sherwood’s style of play saw him throw his weight around at pretty much anything that moved. In total, Sherwood had 234 hits, ranking him as the 15th-highest in the league in that category. Canucks fans got a taste of that in the first-round series against the Predators.
It isn’t just all chippy aggressiveness from him either. Sherwood put up 10 goals and 17 assists in 68 games playing mostly in the Predators’ bottom-6, all of which are career tallies thus far. There’s a chance that the 29-year-old might see more production playing in Rick Tocchet’s system, considering that his style of play is the perfect fit for the systems that Vancouver is currently playing.
Adding Sherwood gives the Canucks more speed in their lineup, which hopefully will help their transition game and 5v5 play. All of the winger’s points came at 5v5 last year, and his presence in the lineup should allow for more flexibility with deployment and depth in the lineup.
With the motor, compete, and being a pain to play against, Sherwood should be a welcome addition for the Canucks forward group. It’s not a game-breaking signing, but it’s hard to hate the value that one’s getting in Sherwood.
Grade: A

Danton Heinen (RW) – 2 years, $2.25 million AAV

Heinen was actually a target that we at CanucksArmy thought would make for the “next Dakota Joshua” candidate, so getting the heavy 6’2 198lb forward to round out their middle 6 is a nice get. The Langley, BC native comes home on a friendly deal and should project to add plenty of upside for the contract that he’s getting.
His versatility throughout the lineup stands out. There isn’t a situation where Heinen is ever a liability, playing a wide variety of roles both on even strength and the penalty kill. In his first full season in the NHL, Heinen racked up 47 points, and while he’s not topped that mark since, the forward’s consistently putting up 30-40 point campaigns playing on teams’ middle-6. That should add a good chunk of depth scoring for the Canucks, who’ve been looking for consistent options to put up the secondary production.
Heinen’s combination of size and speed shines the most on the penalty kill. He had the lowest short-handed goals given up per minute out of any Bruin, playing just under 95 minutes on the PK. Vancouver management looks to have gone into the offseason looking to address their penalty kill and speed through their lineup, and that theme rings true with all three of their big forward signings.
There’s not really much to be upset about here. A local kid who was rumoured to be taking a pay cut to play in Vancouver, who adds more depth scoring, speed, and physicality in the bottom half of the forward lineup at a reasonable cap hit and term. It’s a good solid bet on a former captain of the Surrey Eagles.
Grade: A

Derek Forbort (LHD) – 1 year, $1.5 million AAV

With the departures of Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov, Vancouver was looking to round out their defence once more after their 2023 offseason revamp. One of the pieces that they’re hoping to be a good bottom-pairing defender and replace Cole is Derek Forbort. Canucks fans probably remember him most for jumping Nils Hoglander back in the bubble season:
Maligned by Bruins fans for some gaffs and giveaways, Forbort isn’t a massive game-breaking piece for the Canucks. But, he adds a big body on the back end (6’4, 216lbs) that isn’t shy about laying into others, and while the giveaways stand out, it might be because most of the time Forbort is pretty low-key. Last season in his 35 games, the defenceman only had 11 turnovers to his name.
Once again, Vancouver management went out to acquire someone known for their play on the penalty kill. Forbort featured prominently on the Bruins’ PK, laying out some big blocks and using his wingspan to disrupt cross-seam passes. Boston’s penalty kill dropped to 65.6% when Forbort was out of the lineup in 2022-23, showing just what kind of impact he had for them.
The biggest concern with Forbort is his lack of agility, which wasn’t helped much by the injuries that he’s suffered in the past two seasons. What he needs is a puck-mover that can help cover up these mobility issues – and that’s not what Vancouver has a lot of on the back end right now. For the contract, it’s a good defenceman, but the Canucks need to find him the right partner for Forbort to work as an everyday defenceman.
Grade: B-

Vincent Desharnais (RHD) – 2 years, $2 million AAV

Another signing added a massive tree to the Canucks’ back end. The 6’7 226lbs Vincent Desharnais should feature on the bottom pairing, and it’s hard not to like the physical tools that he brings to the team. With his long reach and lots of hits, Desharnais brings more sandpaper and grit to hopefully make this team harder to play against.
There’s a reason why he’s a bottom-pairing defender, and that’s because Desharnais isn’t exactly the best decision-maker with the puck. He’s much more of someone who will lay the body and have someone else clean up the puck play. Desharnais isn’t the fastest skater either, but he can get himself around decent enough. Vancouver seems to think that there’s more to be extracted from the 28-year-old, as well.
The problem is if the bottom pairing is Forbort-Desharnais, there’s no real secondary puck-moving defensive pairing. We’ve seen what happens when Tyler Myers is expected to play that role in the top 4, and Carson Soucy for all his efforts on the back end simply isn’t a quick skater or one to make puck movement happen.
That’s more reflective of the team’s roster composition, however. As for the signing itself, $2 million AAV is a little steep for a defensive defenceman with Desharnais’ pedigree, but putting a defensively responsible, massive blueliner in the lineup will definitely be a deterrent for the opposition.
Grade: B- 

Jiří Patera (G) – 2 years

With the Canucks looking to figure out their goaltending situation outside of Thatcher Demko and Arturs Silovs, Jiří Patera was inked to a 2-year, 2-way deal as the expected third goalie in the organization. The Czech netminder hasn’t really had a shot at a full-time NHL gig, nor has he played exactly at the level that warrants that kind of role. His two games in 2022-23 were a nice cameo with a 2.50 GAA and 0.929 SV%, but in 2023-24 Patera posted a 3.98 GAA and 0.893 SV% in 6 games played.
Still, he isn’t bad depth for the Canucks, and it should be expected that Patera would likely shuffle between Abbotsford and Vancouver. The netminder was often left out to dry by a patchwork Silver Knights team in the AHL, so for his SV% to sit above 0.900 in the minors is decent. At 25 years old, there is a chance that he might actually develop a little bit more and become a full-time backup. Maybe Ian Clark can work some more magic there. Until then though, this signing probably won’t amount to too much impact.
Grade: C+

Nathan Smith (C) – 1 year

Another signing meant to bolster organizational depth, Nate Smith brings some more scoring punch to the AHL Abbotsford Canucks. A product of Minnesota State, Smith also featured for Team USA at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, where he had a goal and an assist. The right-shot center posted 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 60 AHL contests last year with the Tuscon Roadrunners.
Smith should bring a good amount of experience for the baby Canucks, having played through the NCAA development route and going through a couple of seasons in the AHL already. At 25, Smith has already had quite an adventurous hockey career. He’s got a silky set of mitts on him, but it’s hard to say that he’ll ever become an everyday NHLer at this point in time.
Grade: C+
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