If you’re a fan of the Vancouver Canucks and somehow forgot about the inevitability of injuries, you got a great reminder on Sunday night as the team kicked off the exhibition schedule with a couple of split-squad games.
Less than halfway through his debut in Canucks colours, free agent signing Ilya Mikheyev took a big hit in the corner and went off in obvious pain, never to return.
At the point of this writing, we don’t yet know how serious the injury was or how long Mikheyev might be out. We do know that, whatever the case, it’s a little frustrating for fans who were hoping to get a glimpse of Mikheyev’s trademark speed during the preseason. But it’s not all that worrying, because the Canucks are entering 2022/23 with plenty of depth to cover their injuries, no matter where they occur in the lineup.
We’ve written at length already about the apparent logjam in the Canucks’ top-nine forwards. The Canucks appeared to be carrying at least ten players who deserved top-nine time — meaning one extra. Now, with Mikheyev out for an unknown period of time, Nils Höglander gets back into the mix without even having to fight for it.
Beyond those ten top-nine forwards, the Canucks can probably count on the trio of Curtis Lazar, Jason Dickinson, and Dakota Joshua to round out the forward corps. If and when injuries occur up front, the Canucks also have plenty of call-up options to choose from, depending on who goes down.
Will Lockwood and Phil Di Giuseppe are the two most obvious candidates. Both should be among the last cuts at Training Camp, and both are more than capable of holding down bottom-six NHL minutes on at least a temporary basis. Justin Dowling is still around, too, should an experienced bottom-six center be called for.
The 22-year-old Swedish duo of Nils Aman and Linus Karlsson will also get looks should a bottom-six forward need replacing, although they may be given a chance to adjust to North American ice before being considered for a call-up.
If a top-six forward were to be injured, promotion would likely just occur from within. And as luck would have it, on Monday, the club let it be known that Brock Boeser is out three-to-four weeks after hand surgery.
Suddenly that ten-player top-nine is down to eight.
Thankfully, there’s a plan in place there, too. An existing top-nine player slides up into the top-six, one of the fourth liners gets similarly promoted, and one of the aforementioned call-ups covers the fourth line minutes in turn. Replacing a top-six player in the longer-term becomes a trickier prospect, but not an impossible one. Depending on how much success he finds as a rookie pro, Karlsson could be handed some of those opportunities. Another option is veteran Sheldon Dries, who has the offensive touch to fill in on the power play for the short term.
If the team is feeling particularly adventurous, it could even give Danila Klimovich his first taste of big league action.
The Canucks aren’t going to replace Boeser with a call-up, but they can replace him from within the lineup, and then replace that player with a call-up.
Vancouver’s depth on the blueline might not be all the way up to snuff at the highest level, but its lower-end is still quite well-stocked. Kyle Burroughs enters the preseason as the established extra defender, but his spot will be challenged by a bevy of others with NHL experience. Brady Keeper, Wyatt Kalynuk, Noah Juulsen, and Christian Wolanin have each done stints of various lengths in the big leagues, meaning the Canucks have at least two quality call-ups on either side of the blueline. Maybe Danny DeKeyser joins them if his PTO works out, although blueline spots in Abbotsford will be hotly contested.
Don’t count out the always-reliable Guillaume Brisebois, either, or former first round pick Filip Johansson. When blueline injuries hit, as they always seem to in Vancouver, the replacement coverage should be, at the very least, adequate.
In net, there’s obviously no replacing Thatcher Demko, and the Canucks’ fate this season will still largely ride on his individual health. Spencer Martin will back him up, and he will in turn be backed up by two goalies at very different points in their career.
For now, the 28-year-old Collin Delia, with 32 NHL games to his name, would seem to be the nominal third-stringer, and would likely get the call if one of Demko or Martin were to miss time. But don’t count out Arturs Silovs, the 21-year-old who will spend all season trying to supplant Delia as Abbotsford’s starter.
All told, it’s enough depth to feel that, should the Canucks end up among the league leaders in injuries and illness again in 2022/23, which they absolutely will, they will at least have plenty of quality call-ups to choose from.
That might seem like small consolation in the present moment, with a prized UFA signing injured just minutes into his Vancouver career. But, in the long-term, the depth will make a positive difference.