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Projecting the Vancouver Canucks’ opening night defence pairings

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
6 months ago
It feels safe to say that the Vancouver Canucks are done adding for the offseason.
There may be a few minor transactions still to come as training camp nears, but for the most part, the Canucks appear to be done with one of their major tasks of the offseason: Retooling their blue line. Here’s what the Canucks’ opening night defence corps looked like last season:
Quinn Hughes-Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Tucker Poolman
Riley Stillman-Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers are the only two defencemen from this past season’s opening night lineup that we expect to see in this year’s. Luke Schenn, Ethan Bear, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Riley Stillman are all gone, and Tucker Poolman is almost certainly going to start the season on LTIR.
With the Canucks additions, it’s safe to say that the opening night lineup will look something like this:
Quinn Hughes-Ian Cole
Carson Soucy-Filip Hronek
???-Tyler Myers
Did you notice we left that third pairing LHD spot wide open? That’s because it is wide open, and almost looks like it’ll be that way right up until the final day of the preseason. And that brings us perfectly to the subject of this article (and of today’s episode of Canucks Conversation).
Who will win that spot by opening night? Let’s dive into it.
Christian Wolanin
It’s hard to bet against the defenceman who was named the AHL’s best defenceman last season, and a guy who didn’t look out of place through 16 NHL games, either. The Canucks have just that in 28-year-old Christian Wolanin, and given Wolanin’s all-around abilities plus his ability to chip in offensively as well, he could be a prime candidate to win not only a roster spot but also a spot in the opening night lineup.
Wolanin took massive strides in all areas of his game last season, and when you go back and watch his NHL games, you see a steady defenceman who wasn’t trying to do too much. The Canucks signed Wolanin to a two-year contract extension this summer, and although it’s a two-way deal, Wolanin will still require to pass through waivers in order to be sent down to Abbotsford.
It’s for those reasons that Wolanin feels like a lock for a roster spot with a legitimate shot to take the reins on that 3rd pair LD spot.
Akito Hirose
Akito Hirose impressed toward the end of last season when he tallied three assists in his first seven NHL games. He looked poised at calm at both ends of the ice, and all around just looked like he had NHL potential when you watched him play.
But those games came at the end of the season, and they were the 24-year-old’s first opportunity to play pro hockey. Can he continue that greatness over the course of a full season? Or would he be better off playing some games in Abbotsford where he’d be the number one guy and be surrounded by the Canucks’ development staff? As a young player who also won’t need to pass through waivers in order to be sent down, it’s not hard to believe that Hirose starts and spends most of the year in Abbotsford.
Could he blow the doors off at camp and in the preseason to force his way onto not only the Canucks’ roster but also their opening night lineup? Never say never.
Matt Irwin
It feels like Matt Irwin’s signing on July 1st went a bit under the radar. Maybe it’s because it’s a two-way contract, or maybe it’s because the signing was announced after the big signings of Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, and Teddy Blueger. As we mentioned in last week’s article looking at the Canucks’ depth chart, you may not want to sleep on Matt Irwin.
At 35 years old, Irwin signed with his home province Canucks following a successful season with the Washington Capitals in which he appeared in 61 games. Irwin’s contract is a two-way deal, so the veteran defenceman is betting on himself and is looking to prove that he can still play in this league.
Despite having not played an AHL game since the 2016-17 season, it feels like Irwin has been excluded from many roster and lineup conversations within various Canucks circles. Don’t be surprised to see Irwin not only make the Canucks’ opening night roster but also be a legitimate candidate to be in the opening night lineup as a veteran defence-first defenceman.
Irwin turns 36 in November and has never played in every game of an entire season, so he may not be the solution all year long, but from the get-go? Don’t you dare sleep on Matt Irwin.
Jack Rathbone
Jack Rathbone made the Canucks out of camp last season, but between the Canucks’ poor team defence and the coaching change sideshow that dominated the headlines for most of last season, Rathbone never really had a long leash at the NHL level.
As an offensive defenceman, Rathbone is going to make mistakes. And when you play on a team that defends as poorly as the Canucks did last season, those mistakes are only going to be amplified. Rathbone appeared in just 11 games for the Canucks, and his 37 games in Abbotsford weren’t nearly as impressive as the 39 he appeared in for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in 2021-22.
Last season, Rathbone tallied just five goals and nine assists through 37 games, which pales in comparison to his ten goals and 30 assists in 2022-23. Granted, losing power play opportunities and overall ice time to players like Christian Wolanin certainly didn’t help Rathbone last season, but he’s going to have to absolutely blow the doors off in camp to leapfrog some of the names we’ve outlined here.
Still only 24 years old, it’s certainly not too late for Rathbone to make the adjustments he needs to find success at the NHL level, but we’re sure he’d like to find that success sooner rather than later.
Conclusion
If we had to guess today, we’d project the Canucks’ opening night lineup will look something like this:
Quinn Hughes-Ian Cole
Carson Soucy-Filip Hronek
Christian Wolanin-Tyler Myers
In this scenario, Matt Irwin and maybe even Noah Juulsen make the opening night roster as the seventh and eighth defencemen with Kyle Burroughs signing a three-year deal in San Jose.
What do you think the Canucks’ opening night lineup will look like? Let us know in the comments section below, and be sure to check our debate on this topic on today’s episode of Canucks Conversation!

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