Roundtable: The next Canucks captain, expectations for Aatu Räty, and three more burning questions
By Faber1 month ago
Welcome to a CanucksArmy roundtable article. I asked five contributors to do what they do best — contribute.
There were five questions sent out to our guys and they each gave an answer.
Maybe this will help you decide who you’re favourite writers are on the site. If you like this kind of article, we can try to do some more in the offseason and if you want to throw some topics into the comments, that makes my life even easier to write another one of these articles.
Let’s dive right in because you’ve got a big article to load here.
Who do you think will be the next captain and when will it be announced?
Elias Pettersson. It will be announced at the end of the 2023/24 season, and Pettersson will debut as captain for the home opener of 2024/25. This year is just to make sure he can handle the responsibilities without it affecting his play.
The next captain of the Vancouver Canucks will be Quinn Hughes, it just won’t be official until the 2024-25 season, and I’ll tell you that for free.
This current Canucks core already has massive playoff expectations levied on them. Naming Hughes captain for 2023-24 would be unnecessary pressure on a player as critical as he is to the ultimate success of the club. If the baseline goal is to ice a team that can win from behind, defend leads, and play fast, effective, two-way hockey en route to a playoff berth, then the captaincy is superfluous.
My guess is Quinn Hughes, though the team won’t be in a rush to announce it. If anything, they will go back to 4 assistant captains for the 2023-24 season then figure it out for the 24-25 year. It’ll be about seeing what leadership roles look like and how they fit certain players, but my early vote would be Hughes.
Me, but I’ll heroically rip it off my jersey, hand it to Elias Pettersson, smile knowingly and say, ‘I think this belongs to you, kid,’.
Then I’ll leave the dressing room to thunderous applause behind me, on to another adventure. Fade to black.
I think that after Elias Pettersson agrees to an extension with the Canucks, it’ll only be a matter of time before he’s named captain. If that contract is signed this summer, I could see Pettersson being named captain before the second half of next season.
In my eyes, the only two contenders on the team at the moment are Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Hughes’ contract situation and willingness to speak to the media last season may help him slightly, but if Pettersson signs a long-term deal and continues to mature, he seems like the perfect fit.
Well, this one was pretty split down the middle, Stephan, Noah and Lachlan went with Pettersson while Cody and Michael went with Hughes. I’m going to make it a perfect split as I’m also going with Quinn Hughes.
Hughes has won me over in the past 18 months. His stepping up at the end-of-season media availability when Brock Boeser had to step away from the mic after taking multiple questions about his father was a big sign of leadership. He was also vocal about the Tanner Pearson situation and I believe that he has that captain trait in him from how he was raised so close to the NHL with both his parents being in the hockey world. I also believe that being the oldest of three brothers has taught him some leadership qualities that you want to see from a captain.
I’m not sure if they will name him captain prior to the 2023-24 season but I think it is going to happen on opening night. I’m not confident it will happen but I’d still bet on it.
How do you project Aatu Räty’s 2023-24 season will look like?
Aatu Räty is probably scheduled to play the entire season in Abbotsford, but he might have a better shot at regular NHL minutes than folks are giving him credit for. The Canucks have plenty of wingers to run three scoring lines but lack a third play-driving center. Sheldon Dries was not that guy last year, Teddy Blueger has never been that guy, and Nils Aman has never put up significant offence since leaving the Swedish Juniors. If the Canucks really want to run three scoring lines, it’s hard to imagine it working without someone like Räty in the mix.
Assuming Räty adds a step to his skating and improves his pace over the summer, he could be a late-season call-up option in the event of injuries.
I think a full season spent as a top-six center in the AHL is the best course of action for Räty’s development. During the Abbotsford Canucks’ Calder Playoff run, pace and speed were a problem area for Räty, resulting in significantly limited ice time as head coach Jeremy Colliton shortened his bench.
With the Canucks’ heavy playoff expectations, it would be unfair to expect playoff calibre 3rd or 4th line minutes from Räty in a call-up role. Let him cook.
If the club’s playoff success depends on Aatu Räty being an NHL contributor next season, then something has gone terribly awry.
He’s probably going to spend the entire season down in Abbotsford barring major injuries up front. Räty’s development would be best suited to be a full-time top-line AHLer as opposed to scrounging less-competitive minutes on Vancouver’s bottom six. It’d be encouraging to see his point production tick upwards a little but that isn’t the end all be all of development. I don’t think he’ll get too much NHL ice time if the team can help it.
I expect Räty to spend the majority of the year in Abbotsford and maybe earn a call-up or two down the stretch if things go well.
Räty’s still got a fair bit of development to go, and I think the Canucks will be more likely to bring up established players like Tristen Nielsen and Linus Karlsson for a go-around first.
Aatü Raty is one of the most intriguing Canucks prospects to me. While I really like certain aspects of his game, such as his NHL-level shot, prospects that struggle with skating issues always scare me.
For next season, I would love to see Raty become a high-level AHL player while pushing for more NHL games. With the Canucks weak centre depth, there’s a very real chance that a few injuries could see him fly up the depth chart.
I’m going to predict that he finishes the season with 12 NHL games. In the AHL, I think he will finish the season with 0.7 points-per-game and impresses people as a strong middle-six centre.
After being traded during his first full season in North America, next season will be an easier landing spot for Räty after a season that challenged him mentally.
I see Räty being a top-six centre with Max Sasson next season and he should have some pretty strong AHL wingers flanking him. He will probably get some NHL games as well but not many unless there’s an injury and a middle-six centre is needed for multiple weeks or months.
My expectation is something like Räty playing in 5-20 NHL games next season so our stat line prediction for him in the AHL next year will be something like 13 goals and 22 assists in 49 games.
What are your opening night defence pairings?
Top pair: Hughes takes on a stable but unspectacular partner until a better one can be found.
Soucy and Hronek become the new shutdown pair, taking on big minutes and big matchups, tossing out big checks.
The ultra-responsible Cole gets the duty of keeping Myers on the up-and-up. This pairing can handle more minutes than the average bottom pair, reducing the load of the other two.
I’m curious to see how Hirose looks now that he doesn’t have school obligations (homework) and is playing meaningful games. Hirose was excellent for much of his debut during the Canucks’ garbage time. He’s waiver eligible, so barring a tragically awful training camp performance, he should get an early look to start the season a la Jack Rathbone in 2022-23.
It’s pretty straightforward with this one. Hughes and Cole probably are the best fit stylistically together and make the most sense to try out to start the year. Obviously, Hughes isn’t Cernak, but Cole should be able to stabilize the other side of the young number one. Soucy-Hronek will be a test to see if the Canucks’ pros scouting has indeed gotten better. Allvin has been on record saying that he thinks Soucy can elevate his game to be a full-time top-four defenceman in the NHL, while next year will be Hronek’s first full year in Vancouver. Can these two make it work? As for the third pairing, I would’ve tossed in Jack Rathbone but with how he’s struggled a little in the AHL last year and Hirose’s solid audition at the end of the season, I’m giving the edge to the former Minnesota State Maverick.
It’s definitely possible that Akito Hirose or Jack Rathbone impress in training camp to crack the top six, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the coaching staff opts for a more veteran-heavy group with Christian Wolanin playing on Tyler Myers’ left side otherwise.
The Canucks have a lot of versatility on their backend and plenty of choices for how they could set their pairings for opening night. Because Hughes can virtually carry any partner he plays with, I’d like to see them go with something like this.
Hughes – Juulsen
Cole – Hronek
Soucy – Myers
Cole – Hronek
Soucy – Myers
Ideally, Wolanin and Hirose are both fighting for a spot in the lineup and making things difficult for the coaching staff. I also would not mind if Juulsen was swapped out of the lineup for one of those players who then swapped spots with Cole.
I love how different the answers are on this question but it’s too bad that everyone else was wrong and my pairing projection is the correct answer.
Christian Wolanin is my clubhouse leader at this point in the offseason to win the left-side, third-pairing role. He moves the puck like an NHLer and is incredibly motivated to belong in the NHL regularly.
Cole has not spent a ton of time on the right side but has proven that he is certainly capable of doing it. He should get a long look with Hughes and if there’s a fit at all, he’s the guy. I can also see Juulsen being used in this spot but I think Cole and his contract show that he will be given an opportunity to play with Hughes this season while the team awaits Tom Willander’s arrival.
Soucy gets to play with a top-four defenceman in Hronek and we will see Hronek be the primary puck-mover of the pairing — making Soucy’s landing into the top-four a bit easier. This pairing has something we haven’t seen in a long time — two defencemen who can hammer the puck. I see this pairing scoring the most goals as a defence duo next season.
How will Andrei Kuzmenko perform in his second NHL season?
Andrei Kuzmenko will almost certainly suffer a bit of a sophomore slump this year. He does tend to score in a very particular area of the ice, and opposing defences are going to start planning around it. The question is how much does his offence decline, and how permanent that is. I expect a bit of a step back that rounds itself out as the year winds on, a strong finish, and another breakout campaign in Year Three…right in time for a big new contract extension.
I hate to be that guy. But, let’s do a comparison here.
Nikita Gusev scored 13 goals and 31 assists in his debut season with the New Jersey Devils; a coaching change re-oriented the Devils into a playstyle that did not gel with Gusev’s strengths. Gusev’s sophomore season with the Devils under new coach Lindy Ruff saw his shooting percentage halve. Shortly after, he found work with the Florida Panthers, where his shooting percentage rebounded. But not enough to justify his lack of wheels and two-way IQ.
Now, I’m not suggesting this is a possibility for Kuzmenko. He has the IQ, and the wheels weren’t out of place. However, Gusev’s high-point shooting clip was 8.23%. Last season, Kuzmenko converted on 27.27% of his shots, scoring 39 goals on 143 shots across all situations. If his shooting clip regressed to half with the same shot volume, Kuzmenko would score 19 goals.
Can Kuzmenko afford to lose 20 goals from his production chart? Probably! He’s endeared himself well to most of the fanbase!
Can this team afford to lose 20 goals, though? Doubtful!
Kuzmenko will likely be excellent in his sophomore season! But hedging on him being an elite, “best converter in the league” shooter is a big ask.
There’s no way that the shooting percentage stays as high as it does, but at the same time, Kuz is too good and too smart to go ice-cold. Look for a slight drop off in point production but nothing too significant. I think he’d still be good for 50-60 points in the same role. At the same time, there is a possibility that he comes into the season in better shape and working on the details that Tocchet was hammering at him at the end of the season. Even if the points aren’t where they were last year, I don’t think many would complain if he looks better in his own end and off the puck. That being said, can the Canucks afford it if Kuzmenko took a step back offensively?
Depends entirely on how long a leash Rick Tocchet gives him.
If Kuzmenko is able to stick on the top line with Pettersson for the majority of the year, he could easily crack the 80-point mark. But if he ends up being bounced around the lineup a lot, the additional game tape teams have on him might make it hard for him to reach 74 points again if he spends most of the year with Teddy Bleuger or Sheldon Dries.
Just for fun, I’ll say Kuz finishes with 81 points (47 goals, 34 assists).
Andrei Kuzmenko beat everyone’s expectations in his first NHL season by scoring 39 goals. While I loved watching Kuzmenko play, I think that next season may be slightly more difficult for the winger.
Rick Tocchet was more willing to break up the Kuzmenko / Pettersson pairing and it’s much more difficult to produce with any of the other centres on the roster. Kuzmenko’s shooting percentage will also fall.
I’m going to predict that he finishes the season with 28 goals and 29 assists for 57 points playing as a middle-six winger.
I’m convinced that Andrei Kuzmenko is a tremendous power play scorer. I don’t think that part of his game is going to decline as much as his scoring at five-on-five. Kuzmenko will be a top-20 scorer with the man advantage next season. I can see him scoring 14-20 power play goals and then he should add at least 12 at even-strength, especially if he’s playing alongside Elias Pettersson.
The dude has been working his butt off this offseason and that will look good from Rick Tocchet’s point of view. I see the shooting percentage taking a dip from 27.3% but can also see him playing a bit more than 16:15 per game and getting more than 143 shots on net next season.
My projection is 33 goals and 33 assists.
What’s one thing that will derail the Canucks this season? (CAN’T SAY INJURIES)
Center depth. Bo Horvat got overpaid and I’m glad the Canucks aren’t carrying that contract forward, but his role in the depth chart will be very tough to replace. Pettersson and Miller will automatically get a lot more attention, and the option of cycling Miller to the wing when he is struggling is now firmly off the table. Center depth is key in the NHL, and the Canucks have taken a major step back on this front.
The Canucks need the defensive group (sans Hughes) to pitch in offensively in a way previous Canucks d-groups could not. Sadly, there is a genuine concern that the recent crop of UFAs won’t be enough to move the needle.
Neither Filip Hronek nor Ian Cole have scored more than five goals over an entire season at 5v5. Carson Soucy scored 7 goals in 2019-20 and nearly hit double-digit goals for Seattle in 2021-22. But, on a playoff-contending Kraken team, Soucy scored just 3 goals. After scoring 6 goals in back-to-back seasons to start his Canucks tenure, Tyler Myers’ goalscoring has fallen off a cliff, with just a single goal in his last two seasons. Akito Hirose had a decent debut in garbage time with 3 assists over 7 games. But counting on him to be a double-digit goal or double-digit assist contributor over an 82-game season is pure hopium.
The Canucks 2022-23 ended with Luke Schenn finishing 2nd among Canucks defencemen in 5v5 scoring, with 3 goals and 16 assists. Oliver Ekman-Larsson finished 3rd, with 2 goals and 13 assists. It’s a low bar to clear, but this year’s defensive crop needs to bring infinitely more offence to prevent another repeat of seasons prior.
If Cole and Soucy struggle, that will be huge. If it lasts for an extended period amount of time, whether it’s just a lack of adjusting to the Canucks’ system or just not being able to replicate previous results in a Canucks jersey. Without them, the team goes back to where it was last year and I don’t think that is a desired outcome.
Injuries… oh, wait.
The honest answer might be the NHL’s obsession with divisional play in the postseason. Under the current playoff format, a team has to be at least in the top 5 in their own division to make it in, and top three if they want to guarantee a spot.
Assuming nothing goes wrong the Canucks should be decent. Still, the highest in the Pacific you can realistically pencil them in is right at #5 behind Vegas, Edmonton, LA and Seattle. And even that assumes Calgary doesn’t improve with a new coach behind the bench. OR that the fourth-best Central team won’t finish higher.
Of course, the Canucks could catch a break or two and maybe leapfrog the Kraken or Kings, but it’s far from a guarantee. Right now, fifth feels like their likeliest way in, and that won’t be easy to pull off either.
One thing that could derail the Canucks this season is a regression from the top players. While this is true of any team in the league, the Canucks are in a weird situation where while the team had a bad year last season, several key players actually played very well.
Pettersson, Kuzmenko, Hughes, Horvat (during his time in Vancouver), and more all had the best season of their careers. If these players take any steps backward, or even just stagnate, the Canucks are going to be in lots of trouble.
It can be easier at times to put up numbers when the games aren’t close or meaningful. Not saying that the Canucks stars were guilty of this last season, but they’re going to need to prove that they belong in the conversation of elite players in their position group for the Canucks season to go smoothly.
As much as the defence corps has improved on paper, I still look at the group as the piece that will decide if the Canucks are a playoff team or not.
The Canucks can’t be the worst penalty-killing team in the league for the third consecutive season if they expect to be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A lot of the improvements to the penalty kill have to come from Hronek, Cole, and Soucy. The team added to their penalty kill group with Teddy Blueger as well and the team will need to be better there.
With an improved penalty kill and a better defence corps, we are looking at a playoff team if they are healthy enough. There’s some pressure on the new defencemen to bring this organization back into the playoffs and that’s why they make millions of dollars. If Soucy can fit as a top-four defenceman and Cole can play well with Hughes, it’s a huge step toward being a playoff team.
That’s it for the first roundtable article of the offseason. If you want more of these monster articles with a variety of answers, let us know in the comments.
If you’ve got a topic or question, leave it in the comments!
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