The Vancouver Canucks’ special teams were crucial for the squad last season as they made the playoffs for the first time in five years. The special teams will most likely need to remain as steady this season if the Canucks want to make the playoffs, and with a lot of the pieces of each unit staying in tact over the offseason, special teams success shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
The Canucks’ power play last season ranked 4th in the NHL, coming in at 24.2% success rate. There is no need for a shake up with the personnel on that front, and the continued progression of the young first unit will only help that percentage.
The second unit leaves some room for different options. The addition of Nate Schmidt adds some versatility on the back end, and on the forward side Nils Hoglander should find some time on the power play as well.
On the penalty killing side the team was about as average as you can get. The Canucks finished 16th in the NHL for SH% at 80.5%, which could obviously get worse but leaves room for improvement. The issue with that is there are a few players on the Canucks who are mainly there for penalty killing, so while those players are still on the team it doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth.
With that in mind, here’s what I would like to see the Canucks roll on special teams in 2021:
Power play unit 1: Miller-Pettersson-Boeser-Horvat-Hughes
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. These 5 playing together are a big reason for the Canucks success on the power play last season. The addition of Quinn Hughes as the point man completely revitalized the unit and having multiple options in Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser as finishers is great to have.
I do want to see more of Boeser and Pettersson on their off hand wings. Pettersson is generally hovering around the right faceoff dot, but Boeser tends to get moved around a little more and doesn’t spend as much time on the opposite side of Pettersson. Having Boeser get some consistency in that position would be nice to see, and may help him get back to the goal scoring pace of his rookie season.
Aside from that, I’d leave this relatively untouched. It does look like JT Miller will at least miss the start of the season.
Hoglander was taking reps in his spot, and I do think that’s the best option if any one of the forwards that are usually on PP1 miss time. As long as Hoglander continues to impress, every offensive opportunity should be given to him.
This brings me to my ideal PP2.
Power play unit 2: Hoglander-Gaudette-Virtanen-Myers-Schmidt
As long as Hoglander is on the main team he should be playing on the power play. Not only would it help his development, but it would add a legitimate playmaker to that unit, which is something that’s been missing for a while.
The other two forwards in Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen are kind of the natural players to slot into PP2, unless other bottom six players are getting power play minutes, which I’m sure would be the ideal choice for Canucks Twitter chaos.
I went back and forth on whether or not I would like to see two defencemen on the second power play, but Tyler Myers still has some offensive upside and Schmidt will more than likely be the Canucks’ second-best offensive defenceman option on the power play. I prefer seeing two defencemen on the second unit as generally, they find themselves on the ice when the penalty is over, but if Myers was swapped out for Tanner Pearson that would create a bit more of an offensive threat.
One thing the second power play unit was good at last season was maximizing their limited on-ice time, which I hope continues this year. Obviously, PP1 is going to be the main scoring threat and as such it will spend more time on the ice, usually somewhere between 60 to 90 seconds worth of the power play. That doesn’t leave much time for PP2 to work the puck around or wait for the perfect shot, so what that unit tends to do is get the puck on net and create havoc. When the power play is struggling, that could be a good method of getting them back in the goal column.
Notable players missing from the power play:
Tanner Pearson: Pearson was a feature on PP2 last season, and did well with his time there. He would probably be the first option if there is an injury or someone on the second unit struggles to start the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pearson on the power play early in the year, I just wouldn’t be excited by it.
Alex Edler: Edler has obviously been a workhouse for the Canucks for over a decade, but at this point in his career there are better options than him on the power play. Similar to Pearson, if there is an injury to one of the three defencemen I put on the power play, there’s a good chance Edler steps in. At 34 years old, the team probably wants to limit his ice time as well, especially with him probably playing on the penalty kill.
Antoine Roussel: Roussel spent some time on the power play last season, but with the addition of Hoglander and continued growth of Gaudette and Virtanen it’s hard to see Roussel seeing much time on the man advantage.
Roussel may also see some time on the penalty kill, especially with Loui Eriksson not in the lineup every night, which brings us to the other side of special teams:
Penalty kill unit 1: Beagle-Motte-Edler-Hamonic
At this point in his career, Jay Beagle’s on-ice value all lies in his ability to kill penalties, so he kind of has to be on the first penalty killing unit. Tyler Motte is in a similar boat, though has a bit more offensive upside. His tenacity and pressure on the puck carrier make him perfect for the PK, and he’s seemed to really find his footing in that role.
The defensive pair is pretty self-explanatory. Edler is the most experienced defenceman on the team and as he probably won’t be spending time on the power play it opens up more time for penalty killing. Travis Hamonic also looks like he will be filling the Chris Tanev position alongside Quinn Hughes and featuring on the PK.
Penalty kill unit 2: Sutter-Roussel-Juolevi-Myers
This would have to mean Beagle and Brandon Sutter are in the lineup at the same time, which may not be the top option for Canucks fans, but would provide a bit of stability on the penalty kill. Sutter and Roussel are both relatively safe options short-handed, and I do like the speed that Roussel would bring.
As far as forwards go, I do think the addition of Jake Virtanen or Adam Gaudette to the PK would be welcome, but they may get spot duty to get their feet wet throughout the season.
On the defensive end, Olli Juolevi stepping in on the penalty kill would be great for his development. Edler’s contract is up after this season and his future is uncertain, I do think he would return on a cheap, short-term deal, but if he doesn’t than having Juolevi as an option to take some of his ice time would be good for the team moving forward.
The “Trailing in the third” penalty kill unit: Pettersson-Virtanen-Schmidt-Myers
This would be used sparingly, obviously. I’ve long been on the “put Pettersson on the PK”
train, but only in certain scenarios. Virtanen could be more of a permanent option in the future as not as much of the Canucks’ offensive fortunes lie in his health, whereas Pettersson drives the bus on that front.
Schmidt did spend a decent amount of time penalty killing with the Golden Knights last season, so he has the experience to do it. He also has a bit more offensive upside, so having him out there down a goal or late in a tie game would be interesting. The same goes for Myers, though I do think he’ll be featured on the penalty kill regardless of game situation.
I would really only like to see a unit like this if the Canucks take a few penalties in succession or if they’re trailing in the third period. Pettersson is one of the best defensive forwards in his age group, so if the unit gets hemmed in their own zone he would be able to handle himself while also providing the skill they need to get back into a game.
Notable players missing from the penalty kill:
Adam Gaudette: Gaudette did take some reps on the PK in training camp, so he may be an option down the road. I don’t know if his defensive game is at a point where he can handle that yet, but if he can get some chances throughout the season it would be nice to see.
Nate Schmidt: I did put him in the final penalty-killing unit, but didn’t have him on the main two units. Schmidt’s skill on both ends of the ice is probably superior to Myers, but I would rather see Schmidt get more of the offensive zone starts and help the team more at that end.
In the end, we’re going to be seeing a lot of similar personnel on special teams for the Canucks this season, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I would like to see young players step up and maybe take a bit more of the responsibility short-handed, but on the power play the kids are already running the show.