JPat’s post-free agency Canucks mailbag: New-look line combinations, favourite signing, a secret trade target, and more

Photo credit:Cody Severtson
Jeff Paterson
11 days ago
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We here at CanucksArmy delivered loads of content on Monday, but like Canada Post, we didn’t deliver the mail. It was Canada Day – a statutory holiday – and, of course, National Hockey League free agent day. We were busy covering all the Canucks moves in free agency and at summer development camp. And with the holiday falling on a Monday, now the rest of your week is going to be messed up as you think Tuesday is Monday and Wednesday is Tuesday, etc. But the good news is next weekend will arrive sooner than you think. And to help you pass a few moments on the way to the weekend, we offer up the day late – but never a dollar short – CanucksArmy mailbag. You had questions, and we will try to provide reasonable answers. Let’s get started.
That deployment is a distinct possibility. General Manager Patrik Allvin admitted on Monday that DeBrusk was brought in to play on Elias Pettersson’s wing. And that makes perfect sense. You have to think DeBrusk will finish a handful (and then some) of the glorious chances that died on the stick of Ilya Mikheyev last season. As for Heinen — note the spelling — in the top six, I’m not sure that’s a perfect fit. But he’s certainly an upgrade on Phil Di Giuseppe who started in that spot last season. In an ideal world, the Canucks would have found one more scoring winger in free agency – and perhaps they still will. Heinen has 17 and 18 goal NHL seasons to his credit which is more than Pius Suter has ever scored in his four seasons in the league. So by that measure alone, perhaps the Langley native has the inside track on the wing with JT Miller and Brock Boeser. Perhaps in that situation, Heinen can prove to be a 20-goal scorer.
This is going to be fascinating to watch. Where exactly does Vasily Podkolzin fit in with these signings? Some likely want to see him get an opportunity with Miller and Boeser, but that seems unlikely to start the season. Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland feel likely to stick together on the wings on the third line. That likely puts Podkolzin in a position to battle with newcomer Kiefer Sherwood, Phil Di Giuseppe and Nils Aman for a fourth line role. Or perhaps it makes him a trade chip. It feels like the final summer people can ask where Podkolzin fits into the mix here. If that same question is being asked again at this point next year, he’ll be a 24-year-old that still hasn’t found his place in the NHL. And at that stage, it’ll be fair to wonder if he ever will. Hopefully for all involved, Podkolzin takes training camp by storm, carries that over into the preseason and earns a spot in the opening night line-up. He’s a likeable guy and easy to root for, but as this organization tries to improve the roster, it’s up to Podkolzin to raise his level of performance. At this point, so much of this is on the player.
I really like the Kiefer Sherwood signing. I was drawn to the guy throughout the Nashville series. Admittedly, I knew of him by name and reputation prior to the playoffs, however I’ll admit I didn’t know a whole lot about his game. But one of my favourite parts of post-season hockey is the ability to watch particular players closely and on a nightly basis. Sherwood was one of those players. He didn’t mess around. He hit everything that moved. He was fearless and relentless. But he did it all without taking a single penalty. And that’s not easy when emotions boil over in the postseason. He’s just a really difficult player to play against and the Canucks will much prefer having him on their side than going against him.
As for the least favourite signing, I suppose the addition of Vincent Desharnains just felt redundant. And to be clear, it’s more the idea of Desharnais than it is the person or the player himself. The Canucks already had size for days on the back end and then added more. They locked up Tyler Myers for three more years and then brought in Desharnais for two. They both play the right side. They both do many of the same things and play the same way. And they both have term that could impede the opportunity for Tom Willander if and when he’s ready to join the big league team down the road. I thought the idea of three more years of Myers was to ease the transition for a player like Willander. And that made some sense. Now, it’s hard to know what the succession plan is for Willander. I suppose you worry about those sorts of things when the time arrives. 
In the here and now, I don’t believe so. Allvin said he spoke briefly to his star netminder in Vegas last week and Demko appeared to be in good spirits. It seems he has moved past the two late season knee injuries that kept him out of action for all but three games between March 9th and the end of the playoffs. But big picture, Demko’s health has to be an issue for the Canucks. For all the amazing things Demko has done for the organization through the years, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for an entire season while shouldering the work load of a true NHL starter.
Two of the past three seasons have ended in injury and the season in between he missed three months of action. That’s why I feel strongly the Canucks should implement a cap on his work load at 50 games. Demko doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone in the regular season any more. He showed this year with his Vezina runner-up finish that when he’s healthy, he’s a difference maker and one of the best in the business. What he needs to prove is that he’s available when it matters most and that’s the post-season. But with the signing of Jiri Patera on Monday, it certainly looks like the club is prepared to head to next season with a Thatcher Demko-Arturs Silovs tandem in goal at the NHL level.
It’s easy to look around the league and pull names of all kinds of players you’d like to see in Canucks colours. But one that stands out is Dawson Mercer in New Jersey. The 22-year-old is a restricted free agent looking for a second NHL contract. He scored 27 goals in his second season but dropped to 20 this past season. He’s durable and has never missed a game in his three seasons in the league after being selected 18th overall in the 2020 Draft. The Devils spent a bunch of money on July 1st and are looking to get back into contention mode in a hurry. Mercer likely has a role to play in that. But he needs a deal first. The Devils have $6M in cap space to round out their roster, but they may not be able to absorb another sizeable contract. If things get contentious or Mercer remains unsigned late into the summer, the Canucks should inquire at the very least. They could certainly use a young proven goal-scorer. But as always, at what cost of acquisition?

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