Potential in-the-system replacements for all 9 of the Canucks’ potentially-departing free agents

Photo credit:© Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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Still about four weeks out from July 1 and the Free Agent Frenzy, soon-to-expire contracts continue to be the major point of focus in Vancouver.
Nine different players off the active roster – Elias Lindholm, Dakota Joshua, Nikita Zadorov, Ian Cole, Tyler Myers, Teddy Blueger, Sam Lafferty, Mark Friedman, and Casey DeSmith – are set to become UFAs if not extended prior to that date.
For some, negotiations remain ongoing. But it’s all but certain at this point that at least a few of those players won’t be returning for the 2024/25 season.
Obviously, those players will need to be replaced in some fashion. GM Patrik Allvin has already talked about finding “the next Dakota Joshua” on the UFA market.
But not every replacement will come from outside of the organization. Naturally, some of the replacing will be done by those already “in-the-system.”
With that in mind, we thought it might be a useful exercise to go through those UFAs, one-by-one, and see if we can find any players potentially capable of stepping into their roles from the roster of the Abbotsford Canucks.
What we’ve found is definitely not a perfect or complete solution, but it might just be part of one.
Casey DeSmith
We’ve ordered this list roughly in the order of whose replacement is most obvious so, of course, we’re starting with the slam-dunk. Arturs Silovs is the clear heir apparent to the backup job. We suspect the Canucks will look to sign a veteran third-stringer to both challenge Silovs in camp and support Nikita Tolopilo down in Abbotsford, but barring a truly disastrous training camp, Silovs has already secured this gig.
Sam Lafferty
This is one of the instances in which the Canucks might not just be able to replace a UFA from within, but perhaps even upgrade on them. Really, in this fourth line role, the Canucks just need a winger who can break even, provide energy, and maybe a little timely scoring, too. Those are things that Lafferty himself only provided at infrequent junctures in the season.
Candidates to pop onto the fourth line next year include, most prominently, Linus Karlsson and Arshdeep Bains. Both got cameos in 2024/25, and each brings a little something different to the table. Karlsson is steadier, more reliable defensively, and provides a speedier brand of energy. Bains, meanwhile, is all about that physicality and grind.
As a dark horse candidate, don’t count out Tristen Nielsen. The 24-year-old has yet to make his NHL debut, but he keeps getting better in Abbotsford, and fits the Lafferty mode of a pesky, persistent personality.
Mark Friedman
This is an interesting one, because on the one hand, Friedman barely played for the Canucks past a certain point in the year, and on that token alone he should be easily replaceable. But then he’s a right-handed defender, and those are few and far between in this organization.
When we think about what Friedman provided, which is very occasional hard-nosed play and a willingness to sit in the pressbox most nights, we begin to think that the only real replacement currently available is Jett Woo. Then again, Woo still needs to be qualified by the Canucks, and that doesn’t sound like a guarantee.
If Woo is back, he could be ready for a role like this. If not, it’ll probably be someone from outside the franchise.
Teddy Blueger
Now this is a player who played a lot of different roles for the Canucks in 2023/24. He was ostensibly signed to be a third or fourth line centre and a key penalty killer, but Blueger also wound up helming one of the team’s most successful forward units with Joshua and Conor Garland.
To replace Blueger, a player has to have that same versatility. Here, again, there might be an heir-apparent already on the scene in the form of Nils Åman. He was already added to the roster at the tail-end of the season and remained in there for a good chunk of the playoffs, which shows he has the trust of the coaching staff. Åman is a natural centre and a bit bigger than Blueger, and he might also have some untapped offensive potential waiting to be unleashed through some more talented linemates.
If not Åman, consider Max Sasson. He just had a highly successful rookie campaign in Abbotsford, notching 42 points in 56 games, and he’ll be 24 before the season starts, so he’s already fairly advanced for a prospect. Expect him to get a genuine shot in training camp, though he does remain waivers-exempt.
Dakota Joshua
Really, there’s no replacing what Joshua currently is. There aren’t that many players with his combination of skill, size, and the willingness to use both in concert in the entire NHL, never mind the Canucks organization.
But, in general, a big body who could succeed on a scoring line and provide a few other things, like penalty killing? That we can probably do.
Perhaps the assumed replacement here is Vasily Podkolzin. He checks off the size and skill boxes, but has yet to put it all together. Then again, neither had Joshua just a year ago. We’re not sure if Podkolzin is yet up to tasks like a regular penalty killing shift at the NHL level, but it’s something he’s done at all other levels. His corner-work was noticed and appreciated last season.
Another strong option is Aatu Raty. The former phenom really rounded out his game in Abbotsford this year, and although he’s just 21, he showed signs of being ready for the jump. Raty isn’t as big as Joshua or Podkolzin, but he is physical, and when we talk about untapped offensive potential, there’s no one in the system with more of it than Raty. As of now, he’s still listed as a centre, but breaking into the NHL at wing might be a better choice for him in the end.
Ian Cole
An aging, defensively-oriented left-handed defender might sound relatively easy to replace, and yet we find ourselves struggling to find someone capable of stepping in for Cole. Most of the notable LHDs in-the-system are either too young to be considered yet (your Sawyer Mynios and Kirill Kudryavtsevs) or already too old to ever be considered anything more than a temporary fill-in (your Christian Wolanins and Guillaume Briseboises.)
At this point, the best we’ve got is Nick Cicek, the 6’3”, 201lb 24-year-old acquired for Jack Studnicka partway through last season. Cicek wound up playing a fairly important role for Abbotsford all the way into the playoffs. He’s got the size and the defensive-orientation, but he’s a longshot from ever holding down a full-time NHL role, and an even longer-shot at becoming anything comparable to Cole.
The other Elias Pettersson is worth mentioning as a long-term Cole replacement, but he’s just entering his first full year in North America and won’t be ready for a while yet.
Elias Lindholm
We’re now getting into the realm of players that are, admittedly, pretty difficult to replace from within.
Really, the Canucks aren’t going to find another Lindholm waiting in the wings. The closest they might come is the aforementioned Raty, who could eventually fit into Lindholm’s role as the centre of a scoring third unit, but is probably not quite ready for that responsibility yet.
Raty might also be the best fit as a just general addition to the top-nine in place of Lindholm. But if another top-nine player is all we’re talking about here, then maybe Jonathan Lekkerimäki is worth some consideration.
There was talk of inserting him into the playoff lineup, so one has to assume he gets a long look in training camp. If he makes it, no one is going to add more of the scoring talent that the Canucks lose in Lindholm than Lekkerimäki. In fact, no one comes close.
Tyler Myers
Okay, if we had a tough time finding a replacement for Friedman at RHD, you know we’re going to struggle with Myers. If Noah Juulsen counts as “in-the-system,” he’s the real answer. But we don’t think Juulsen really qualifies as that anymore.
At RHD, Cole McWard remains an intriguing option. His rookie pro season in Abbotsford was a bit up-and-down, but he did take further steps toward solidifying his NHL future. He’ll never bring Myers’ size to the table, but he does have some similar ability to move the puck, and Myers himself needed some serious defensive tutelage from the current coaching staff, so if McWard needs the same, it’s doable.
The aforementioned Woo gets another shoutout here, and then we’re basically tapped on RHD, the newly-signed Christian Felton and the as-of-yet-unsigned Tom Willander aside.
Nikita Zadorov
If you’ve spent this entire article wondering who on Earth we were going to pitch as a Zadorov replacement, we’re sorry to disappoint. We got nothing here.
Zadorov is, truly, one of the most unique specimens in the hockey world. There just aren’t all that many Nikita Zadorovs out there, and there sure ain’t any waiting for a call-up in the Vancouver depth chart.
One could maybe pitch Christian Wolanin as a very temporary replacement on puck-skating and goal-scoring ability alone, but that’s so tentative we’re not even going to bold his name.
Nobody is truly irreplaceable…but from where we’re sitting, Zadorov comes close.
Does this make Zadorov worth the overpayment it will likely cost in order to keep him? That’s a debate that would more than double our word-count here, and so it will have to be saved for another day.
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