The biggest question mark for the Canucks heading into the 2022-23 NHL season is if the team’s defence is strong enough to compete with the best across the league. The new management group has had a difficult time overhauling the position group and — as of now — it seems like the Canucks will be icing a very similar defence core.
The Canucks defence group is characterized by bloated contracts. While Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford managed to shed Travis Harmonic at last year’s trade deadline, they’re still left with the overpaid Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, and Tucker Poolman.
Last season, assistant coach Brad Shaw arrived and many Canucks defenders subsequently had great defensive seasons. Hughes bounced back after a rough year during the previous season and the Ekman-Larsson/Myers pairing managed to stay afloat together. While it’s difficult to tell how much of an impact Shaw had, the effects from his departure this offseason will be interesting to monitor.
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The Canucks are much stronger on the left side of their defence than the right. Right-handed defencemen are perhaps the most valuable asset in the NHL and the organization has really struggled to bolster that position group. Their issues are compounded by the fact that they haven’t been good at developing defence prospects. In addition, they failed to draft a RHD at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
In terms of dollars allocated, the Canucks have a relatively normal split between their defence and forwards. However, in terms of talent, the Canucks are very forward-heavy at the moment. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canucks make a move this offseason to rectify that issue. However, here is a look at the depth chart as it stands.

Comparing the depth charts

2021-22 Canucks defence
2022-23 Canucks defence

Who’s in?

Jack Rathbone, Wyatt Kalynuk

The Canucks will hope that Jack Rathbone proves himself as a regular contributor this season. Rathbone had a tough start to his NHL season last year but managed to tear up the AHL when sent down. Considering the Canucks were terrible as a whole for those games, it’s easy to give Rathbone a pass.
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The Canucks have been careful and deliberate with Rathbone’s development, ensuring that they take all the best steps necessary to help him succeed. While there’s likely going to be some growing pains, this season marks a huge milestone for Rathbone as the one where he needs to claim his position in the NHL.
Another player that will slide into the Canucks plans this offseason is Wyatt Kalynuk. An offseason signing, Kalynuk has spent time in the Chicago Blackhawks organization and has had mixed results at the NHL level. He has shown an ability to get on the scoresheet as he likes to jump into the rush, but his defensive game has often left coaches wanting more.

Who’s out?

Brad Hunt

The only defender from last season that is out of the lineup is Brad Hunt. He signed with the defending Stanley Cup champions this offseason. Hunt, a British Columbia native, played a depth role for the Canucks last season as he rotated in and out of the lineup.
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There is pressure on Jack Rathbone to step up and become a full-time NHLer this season. If that does happen, then Hunt will quickly be forgotten. Even if Rathbone struggles, Travis Dermott’s presence means that the Canucks should easily replace Hunt this season.

Who will be the first call up?

The Canucks’ first call up on defence will depend on which side they need the player to play.

Who will be the first call up if the team needs a left-handed defenceman? 

If the team is looking for a left-handed defenceman, Travis Dermott seems an easy candidate to slide into the lineup. He will battle Jack Rathbone for that third pairing position and could be in the opening day lineup. Besides Dermott, Wyatt Kalynuk is another good candidate.
He was signed by the Canucks this offseason and has shown the ability to put up points at the NHL level in the past. If he has a strong start to the season in the AHL, and shows that he can hold his own defensively, then
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Who will be the first call up if the team needs a right-handed defenceman? 

Noah Juulsen played in the Canucks organization last season and could be the first call up if the team needs a right-handed defenceman. A former first-round draft pick, Juulsen had his career derailed due to unfortunate injury luck. Last season he played mostly for the Abbotsford Canucks, though he did manage to play eight games with the big club.
Juulsen figures to be one of the top defenders in Abbotsford this season and will almost definitely get in some NHL games.

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