Our Vancouver Canucks 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
The Canucks finished fourth in the Pacific Division with a 36-27-6 record and 78 points. They were 8th in the league for goals scored with 228, and were 17th in the league for goals against with 217. The club also had the fourth best powerplay in the league with a 24.15% effectiveness. Overall they had a successful season, but there were some tough streches.
The season began with Bo Horvat being named Captain, and I think the team really made an excellent decision with that. Horvat has been with the team through some tough times and has consistently been improving.
Acquisition J.T. Miller had a year! In my preview for last season I wrote that Miller could benefit from some increased ice time having played on a deep Tampa team, and his aggressive style of play would endear him to Canucks fans. Watch the video below and see what I meant about Miller.
The trade to acquire him faced a little bit of heat, with General Manager Jim Benning giving up a 1st round pick for Miller in the 2019 off season. Critics of the trade were silenced over the season though and I was proved vindicated when J.T. elevated his game and was the highest scorer on the team with a career high of 72 points. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that happens when you play a lot of minutes with Elias Petterson and Brock Boeser. Interestingly enough J.T. Miller actually took a lot of faceoffs for Petterson and it’s no suprise too since he had a 59.2% win rate, compared to Petterson’s 41.8%. Behind Miller, Elias Petterson was next on the team with 66 points in 68 games. Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes each had 53 points, and Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson each had 45 points. Scoring was not an issue for the team.
Markstrom was a great goaltender has been a great goaltender for the team for a number of seasons now, and he performed well again this year. He had a .918 save percentage and a 2.75 goals against average. His goals saved above average was 11.40. Aside from the goals saved above average, his numbers weren’t off the charts great, but we have to remember that the Vancouver Canucks were not an overal great team defensively. Things like the video below routinely happened to Markstrom and most of the time he would bail the team out.
I’m a huge Markstrom fan, and I watch a lot of Canucks hockey. Almost every game it seemed like Markstrom made a gigantic timely save to keep the game close, and that’s something reflected in the advanced stats for the team. Marky actually had the highest point share on the team, meaning he was a large contributor to the overall success of the team. He actually finished fourth in Vezina votes for the season too, and in my opinion was the real MVP for the Vancouver Canucks. His backup Thatcher Demko struggled though with only a .905 save percentage and a 3.06 goals against average. His regular season goals saved above average was -3.67. He made 25 starts and did not look ready to take over the starter job.
Despite the scoring not being an issue, the Canucks acquired Tyler Toffoli in February from the LA Kings in exchange for Tim Schaller, a 2nd round pick and Tyler Madden, a solid prospect. Toffoli immediately fit in with the team and earned 10 points in 10 games. He played mostly with Petterson and Miller and by all accounts looked to be a longer term addition to the club, which helped fuel the trade Brock Boeser rumours.
Let’s dive into the playoffs the Canucks had, because I think it was a major success for the team despite the lack of a Stanley Cup victory. Let’s be honest, nobody thought that the Canucks would have a real shot at winning, and they actually went on a bit of a run. They beat the Minnesota Wild in the Qualifying round, defeated the defending champion St. Louis Blues in the first round and went all the way to a game 7 against a stacked Vegas Golden Knights team in the second round. Elias Petterson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes were all making their playoff debuts. I’d say they were all pretty darn good. Petterson and J.T. Miller each showed that they aren’t just regular season performers and had 18 points each in 17 games. Hughes had 16. Bo Horvat had 10 goals! Including a beautiful series winner breakaway goal to knock off the defending champ Blues. Boeser had 11 points too. Bottom six forward Tyler Motte really made fans fall in love with him too, scoring 4 goals along the way. The kids showed they could get things done, and they had a heck of a lot of help in net.
Markstrom was the team’s MVP and in playoffs he had one poor game against Minnesota but otherwise was great. He had a .919 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average in 14 games before getting injured. One of the biggest stories for the team was Thatcher Demko’s performance in the second round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. In 3 starts he posted a .985 save percentage and a 0.64 goals against average. He really was a brick wall and kept the underdog Canucks in the fight for far longer than they should have been. Demko made 128 saves on 130 shots. These are godly numbers but obviously a very small sample size and when compared to his regular season numbers, could point to a goalie getting hot at the right time.
The offseason saw some big pieces leave in free agency. Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Josh Leivo and Louis Domingue all signed with the Calgary Flames. Troy Stecher signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Tyler Toffoli ended up in Montreal. The team definitely wanted to keep some of these guys, but the cap space issues the team faces meant that they had to let them walk. Thankfully the Canucks brought in some new talent and should have a few homegrown prospects able to step up to fill the gaps.
- Braden Holtby
- Nate Schmidt
- Jayce Hawryluk
- Jacob Markstrom
- Tyler Toffoli
- Oscar Fantenberg
- Chris Tanev
- Troy Stecher
- Nikolay Goldobin
- Josh Leivo
- Louis Domingue
Vancouver Canucks Roster Preview
Yeah this team lost Tyler Toffoli, but they still have some pretty solid options on forward. A top line of J.T. Miller, Elias Petterson and Brock Boeser sounds pretty darn good to me. These guys played the most 5on5 minutes out of any line combination for the team last year and should stick together heading in to the season.
Captain Bo Horvat will likely centre a line with Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen. Bo showed a real offensive prowess in playoffs and I’m curious if that was just big game Bo or if he’s really taking a step forward in the offensive zone. Either way, this line should be a solid option for coach Travis Green. Jake Virtanen re-signed with the team and this really seems like a last shot to prove yourself type of deal for the 24 year old.
Adam Gaudette also re-signed with the team and looks to be the third line centre. Does he play in between Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel? I think that’s how the year will start out but we will see some movement there. We could very well see a trade, or some younger guys getting a look on this line like Kole Lind or Nils Hoglander.
The fourth line should be comprised of centre Jay Beagle and wingers Tyler Motte and Zack MacEwan. Both these wingers re-signed in the off season too. These guys should chew up defensive zone faceoffs and penalty killing for the team.
A notable absence in the lineup is Loui Eriksson who could very well start the year as the press box specialist. There are a couple question marks in Sven Baertschi and Michael Ferland, who both seem to be dealing with some concussion or post concussion symptoms. These two could be put on LTIR or retire. It’s still anyone’s guess what exactly is going on there.
Overall at forward I believe the Canucks should still be pretty good at scoring goals. Their bottom six has a few bad contracts but should be able to play some okay defensive hockey.
Chris Tanev has been a Canuck for a while and his loss hurts. Troy Stecher is a local BC boy too, so it does suck to see him go, especially with how affordable his contract ended up being in Detroit. These two will effectively be replaced by Nate Schmidt and Olli Juolevi.
Schmidt was was acquired in a very smart trade by Benning and is a capable puck moving defenseman. He’s speedy, disciplined and can definitely chip in offensively. He’s usually good for 30 points, won’t top 20 PIMS and can be relied upon to play a lot of minutes. I really think his addition will be a positive one and he’ll fit in well into the lineup. It’s probably my Capitals fan bias coming in, but I think just how positive his personality is should be a good thing for the Canucks too.
Olli Juolevi was the 5th overall draft pick from the 2016 draft and is looking to make his regular season NHL debut. He only played 6:16 minutes in the playoffs, and so far that’s the only NHL action he’s seen. He’s faced a few injuries that have set him back so far in his young career. Now that he’s finally healthy he should earn a spot in the Canucks defensive corps.
Quinn Hughes will look to improve in his sophomore season, and he’s in need of a new defensive partner since Tanev is gone. It could be Schmidt or Tyler Myers. Myers was a disappointment for the team last season and was a real liability for getting undisciplined penalties in playoffs. I would be more confident in a Schmidt – Hughes pairing myself, but perhaps Green will opt into splitting those two up. Edler will play with the man who doesn’t play with Hughes
Jordie Benn will also be in the lineup on the bottom pairing and may get to play mentor to Juolevi. His spot could be up for grabs though too, with Jack Rathbone, Brogan Rafferty or Jalen Chatfield looking to get some NHL time.
Markstrom leaving definitely leaves a big hole on the team. On the free agency market Benning filled that hole by bringing in Stanley Cup Champion, Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby to town. Holtby will be looking to bounce back after some career low numbers with the Washington Capitals last season. In 48 games he had a .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals against average. As a Capitals fan I feel qualified to way in that Holtby is still a great goalie, but he’s looked rougher since his goalie coach Mitch Korn left with Barry Trotz to work for the New York Islanders. That and the fact the Capitals defense is pretty bad. Braden actually mentioned that part of the reason he signed with the Canucks was to work with their goaltending coach, Ian Clark. Hopefully Clark can work some goalie magic and help Holtby return to form. With what Clark was able to do for Markstrom, I think its very likely he does.
A major question going into the season I have is which version of Demko will be around: regular season or playoff god? The numbers were wildly different. I’m leaning that Demko needs more time to be a consistently good goalie at the NHL level and that’s okay because he’ll be able to split games right down the middle with Holtby.
This tandem has a couple question marks, but it also has the makings of a very solid goaltending duo for this season.
Vancouver Canucks 2020-2021 Prediction
4th-5th North Division
The Canucks are in a tough division with the rest of the Canadian teams and should end up in the middle of the pack somewhere. Solid offense, mobile defense and a reliable tandem are what they are hoping for going in to the season. Despite the major losses of players in the offseason, I think the Canucks will still make a bit of a push to return to playoffs after their taste of the bubble playoffs.
That concludes our Vancouver Canucks 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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