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A look at the Vancouver Canucks’ projected lineup post free agency

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Photo credit:Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
10 days ago
With the first two days of the NHL free agency window in the books, the Vancouver Canucks have given a broad framework of what their lineup could look like at the start of the 2024-25 season. With looming cap pressures in the form of OEL’s buyout, Elias Pettersson’s extension, and Filip Hronek’s new deal, the Canucks needed to make some shrewd moves to keep the team as competitive as possible. For the first time in a while, they look to be starting the season with room under the cap and have made reasonable bets on players that could help this team. Is the roster perfect? By no means – but there’s still room for moves to be made.
Here’s what the 2024-25 Canucks lineup could look like after the first couple of days of free agency.

Forwards

The plan and hope with the Jake DeBrusk signing is for him to mesh alongside Elias Pettersson and finally give him a proper winger. Time will tell if this is the case, but the 27-year-old should feature prominently on a line with Pettersson and Nils Höglander. DeBrusk is a definite improvement over the traded Ilya Mikheyev and should help add at least a little more offensive punch with the same defensive responsibility on his own end. Höglander himself will also be looking to become more consistent in his production and cement himself as a viable top-6 winger for the Canucks.
Slotting Danton Heinen into the lineup is interesting. While breaking up Pius Suter’s established chemistry with JT Miller and Brock Boeser might sound like heresy, ideally the Swiss isn’t playing top 6 minutes. He’s smart, he’s relentless, and clicked well on that line – but a player like Suter is one that contenders would have playing in their bottom 6. Heinen isn’t a bonafide top 6 winger either but is definitely a versatile middle-six option who should be able to slide onto a second line without issues. His play style should help free up pucks for Miller and Boeser to capitalize on, and Heinen has shown some offensive punch himself. At worst, he doesn’t work, and it’s simply swapping Suter back onto that line. Not a bad problem to have.
Keeping the Thirst Line together seems like a recipe for success. For a stretch in the 2023-24 season, the Joshua-Blueger-Garland line became Vancouver’s defacto first line with their consistent production game in, game out. What’s nice about this too is that with the established chemistry, it’ll be a good fallback option that could be swapped around, sliding Joshua or Garland up and down the lineup as Tocchet sees fit. The rest of the bottom 6 is rounded out by energy presence Kiefer Sherwood, who should be a great fit in the lineup, and Vasily Podkolzin. The former 10th overall selection will finally look to break through as a consistent NHLer. Hopefully, by the end of the season, Podkolzin won’t be in the bottom 6.

Defence

The first pairing of Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek shouldn’t be questioned too much. Together, they were one of the NHL’s best defensive pairings with Hughes picking up the 2023-24 Norris Trophy for his efforts on the back end. Keeping them together gives Vancouver a potent top pairing to call their own and deploy, and should be how the lineup shakes up to start the year.
However, things become a little bit more murky after that. A second pairing of Carson Soucy and Tyler Myers isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it could do a lot better. Soucy is a good 4-5 defenceman on most teams, so having him in the top 4 isn’t much of an issue. However, Myers at this point in his career is not a top 4 defenceman. Sure, he and Soucy played well with each other, but that’s pairing two defencemen together who have issues moving the puck out of their zone consistently. Perhaps shifting Hronek down to play with Soucy might be the answer, but that also leaves Hughes having to drag a defenceman that can’t keep up alongside him.
The bottom pairing is definitely up in the air. Right now, penciling in Derek Forbort – Vincent Desharnais makes the most sense, with the two of them having established themselves as daily NHLers. The two giants on the back end will be good at defending and penalty killing, but that combination will not be as mobile on their own end. Both of these players should be paired with a puck-moving defenceman who can either skate the puck out of trouble or make that first pass – and right now, Vancouver only has two of them. If they get stuck out against a team with the speed to attack them, it doesn’t spell the best of things for the Canucks.
At the very least, Vancouver doesn’t have a big drop-off in their depth options. Having Mark Friedman and Noah Juulsen as the penciled 7-8th man on the back end is pretty nice. They’re reliable and can fill in with little to no issues. An extended run in the lineup might be asking for a bit much, but sparing doses of either player won’t hurt. This shouldn’t rule out a player like Cole McWard, Jett Woo, or Akito Hirose from making a run during training camp to earn a shot at the main roster.

Goaltending

No real question marks here, besides signing Arturs Silovs to a deal. The Latvian is still currently an RFA as the Canucks look to sign the hotshot netminder. Thatcher Demko will return as the incumbent starter between the pipes, while the backup role is still to be determined. Will Vancouver have Silovs take the reins in Abbotsford and have Jiří Patera ride the pine, or will Silovs have a consistent spot in the Canucks lineup sheet? If Patera does take the backup role, then it’s a definite downgrade from Casey DeSmith. But, it might prove better for Silovs’ long-term development to get more games in. It’s not quite clear what Vancouver’s goaltending philosophy will be going into next season, but the starting job is Demko’s regardless of what happens behind him.

Overall Thoughts

Vancouver’s lineup is probably around the same as where they started the 2023-24 season, which isn’t a bad thing. They’re probably not as good as how they finished the year after the playoffs, but for the prices that Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov commanded, they were probably better off not resigning them. Lindholm was penned as a winger for Pettersson, but that didn’t go so well in the regular season. Sure, his playoff run was great – but that came from playing between Joshua and Garland, and a third-line center shouldn’t be making upwards of $7 million. The same thing could be said for Zadorov, who had a good enough regular season but an amazing playoff run. For a perennial bottom-pairing defender, it isn’t worth shelling out $5 million a year.
From the outset, the Canucks look to have a more well-rounded 4 forward lines. All of them have the capability to put up points, have the speed and intelligence to fit Tocchet’s systems and play good hockey. None of them are particular liabilities defensively, nearly all of them are on the right side of 30 and shouldn’t see much regression due to age. Performance-wise, it remains to be seen how they all gel together, but on paper, it’s a lot of players that stylistically play the way that Tocchet wants them to play, and that’s a pretty good thing.
Defensively, it’s a bit more of a question mark. Hughes-Hronek is great, but for the team to be able to roll a consistent top-4 against good opposition, they’ll probably need to split them up given the personnel they have on the back end. Sure, Soucy-Myers worked somewhat at the end of the season and into the playoffs, but it doesn’t inspire confidence to have them as your second pairing. The third pairing is made up of two fine defensive defencemen that are bottom-pairing material, but ideally there’s more speed on the back end than what the Canucks have from pairings two to three. Vancouver is likely not done making moves, and one of the key pieces should be finding a value/hidden gem top-4 option that can be another puck mover in the d-corps. At the very least, they absorbed Ian Cole’s departure.
Goaltending should be fine, as long as Demko can stay healthy. Taking some of the load off of him will be key, and the man to do so is still undecided. But, at least there are options, and it’s probably the position that the Canucks have the least question marks surrounding.
Again, Vancouver still has cap space, and knowing this management, this team could be far from done making moves. There’s room for improvement, but overall, the Canucks’ projected lineup after the opening days of free agency isn’t all that bad.

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