The Vancouver Canucks are basically an eighth of the way through the 2019-20 season. They’ve had a hot start, and unlike previous seasons, it doesn’t appear to be entirely luck-based. With that in mind, I thought I’d look into what’s driving the Canucks’ early success. Intros are for video games, so let’s just get right to it. Here are 10 things to know about the Canucks after 10 games.
The Lotto Line’s missing number was 9
JT Miller has made a strong case so far that he was worth the price the Canucks paid for him this summer, playing his way onto the top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Many fans wanted to see Micheal Ferland on the first line because of his physical game, but Miller’s playmaking and puck retrieval have turned heads for the Canucks at 5-on-5 on the top scoring line and first powerplay unit.
Miller hasn’t just been an offensive force at even strength, he’s also taken the bulk of the faceoffs on that line, winning 38 of 62 (61.3%) draws early on this season. Miller has been a calming, veteran presence on a line that can slow the game down and find the right opportunities to pounce on a opposition’s defensive breakdown.
(Shoutout to Jacob Calvert for coming up with the “Lotto Line” nickname for 6-40-9.)
I'd just like to say, our top line has a nickname that needs to start now.
"The Lotto Line" I'll wait while you figure it out.#Canucks
— Jacob Calvert (PP 7/38)(PK 30/34) (@CanuckCalvert) October 16, 2019
The Team is healthy
You love to see it. The Canucks have gone 10 games without sustaining any injury more serious than the flu that affected Micheal Ferland during training camp. Jacob Markstrom had to leave to team for a handful of days to return home to attend to a family matter, but in his absence Canucks fans got to see a few early starts for Thatcher Demko, who excelled against the Devils, Blues, and Red Wings.
The Canucks have been healthy throughout the early part of the season, but are scheduled to play 15 games during the month of November. That stretch will be a real test for this team, as they play just 13 games in December, making next month their toughest stretch of 2019. Obviously, the team will not make it through the entirety of the season without some key players getting banged up, but it’s been nice to see their first ten games go off without a hitch.
Quinn Hughes comes as advertised
It’s early in the season, but Quinn Hughes is an early betting favourite to be at least a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Hughes has dazzled fans with his skating and ability to move the puck, proving that his hockey IQ and offensive toolkit is something that Canucks fans have not seen from a defenceman over their entire 49-year history.
— NHL (@NHL) October 10, 2019
I could watch Quinn Hughes break the puck out all damn day pic.twitter.com/NVzc5Ck7n9
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) October 19, 2019
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) October 10, 2019
Quinn Hughes shocked the system like The Undisputed Era’s entrance song and Canucks fans should have a lot more confidence in their defense corps simply due to how he’s played during his brief NHL career thus far. His role has continued to grow throughout the season, getting more minutes, including an extended look on the top PP unit where I expect him to have supplanted Alex Edler by season’s end.
The Canucks have two strong options in net
The Canucks have the highest save percentage in the league when they are behind on the scoreboard. The team’s goaltending tandem has a combined save percentage of .957% while trailing, including over 20 minutes of PK time. They also top the league at 5-on-5, with an equally impressive .968 save percentage.
While the Vancouver market is likely burnt out when it comes to goaltending controversies, Demko’s emergence could end up creating quite the champagne problem for the Canucks. He’s looked like a future starting goalie this year, and with Markstrom on the last year of his contract and the expansion draft looming, the Canucks will likely have to come to a decision about their long-term outlook in net at some point in the near future. In the short term, though, the team is getting solid goaltending from both their starter and backup, which hasn’t happened since the 2014-15 season.
Chris Tanev is back, baby
Quinn Hughes has generated most of the headlines early on, but Chris Tanev has played some of his best hockey in recent memory early on this season, providing Hughes with a sturdy veteran presence on his right side. I spoke to Tanev at training camp in September and it was clear Hughes had immediately made a positive impression on the veteran defenseman:
“Everyone knows how good of a skater Quinn and how he moves, he’s mobile and great with the puck so it was awesome to get out there with him. It was great to be out on the ice with him.”
It was clear he welcomed the opportunity to play with a more offensively-minded partner and believed the two would generate chemistry together.
“I think we can both move well, we can move the puck and obviously he can get up the ice and he’s very crafty and offensive. I think we will read well off of each other and I think if we do end up playing together we will be a good pairing.”
If I could go back in time, I would tell Tanev just how right he was. He looks like he is in the prime of his career again, and if his new PPE can keep him healthy, he could be in for a nice pay raise on July 1st, 2020 when he becomes a free agent.
Captain Hat Trick
The Canucks named Bo Horvat captain and everything changed.
Ground control to Captain Horvat.
— NHL (@NHL) October 10, 2019
It took Bo Horvat 391 games to score his first career hat trick but it only took him seven games with a C on his chest to have an offensive explosion and score a confident empty net goal where he did not hesitate for a second when he got the puck behind his own blue line.
— NHL (@NHL) October 23, 2019
Horvat is just keeps finding a way to reach new offensive heights year after year, and currently find himself fourth in team scoring behind only the team’s top line, despite drawing difficult matchups and going six games without a goal to start the year. At this point, it feels like a fool’s errand to try and put a ceiling on what Horvat can achieve at the NHL level. The sky’s the limit.
The Farm is Ready for Harvesting
If the Canucks’ start has been good, then the Comets’ has been an absolute revelation. They’ve yet to register a loss as young players like Kole Lind, Zack MacEwen, Olli Juolevi and Nikolay Goldobin are playing important roles at the AHL level and the team as a whole has dominated their opposition. The Canucks organization took a lot of criticism last season based on how they handled Petrus Palmu and Jonathan Dahlen, but it appears as though the organization has taken a big step when it comes to developing their players at the AHL level.
Kole Lind is playing alongside Reid Boucher and they have been an even strength scoring machine. Justin Bailey looks like one of the fastest players in the AHL, and a large portion of the defense have played their way into the conversation to be first call-up when the team is hit by injuries. Brogan Rafferty, Josh Teves, Jalen Chatfield and Guillaume Brisebois have all showed very well in their roles so far and in my conversations with Cory Hergott he has mentioned that any of these players would likely be top four defencemen on almost any other AHL team.
The only bad story coming out of Utica right now is that Jonah Gadjovich suffered an injury. It doesn’t appear to be anything major, but it is tough to see the 55th overall pick in the 2017 draft have another injury hold back his development.
The New Old Jerseys
The Canucks showcased their newest rendition of the Stick in Rink jerseys and some fans enjoyed the minimalist look to the jerseys while others didn’t appreciate the large white collar. Personally, I think they look a lot better on the ice than they do in pictures and during my latest trip to the team store I saw them in person and can now say with conviction that they look better than many originally thought when the first pictures were released by Adidas.
Honor the past. Celebrate the future.
— adidas Hockey (@adidashockey) June 13, 2019
More importantly, the team is finally bringing back the flying skate jerseys that fans have been clamouring for since the team discontinued them back in the late ’90s.
The Canucks will wear their black skate jerseys for the first time on November 16th at home against the Colorado Avalanche which happens to be a Hockey Night in Canada game. pic.twitter.com/7rr8G9XC6K
— Chris Faber (@ChrisFaber39) October 12, 2019
Bo Horvat has already got his dog Gus rocking the black skate and the jersey even feature Bo’s new flashy “C” on the chest!
When your dad is Cap, you get a new #Canucks jersey!
(: gus.frenchie_ on Instagram) pic.twitter.com/fPUlcPawS3
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 11, 2019
The PK is OK
Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Tim Schaller, and Tyler Motte have been the targets of frequent criticism over the course of their Canucks careers, but they’ve been key parts of a PK unit that is hovering around the top of the league.
Perhaps most importantly, the goaltending has been nearly unstoppable at 5-on-4. Thatcher Demko has a remarkable .941 save percentage on the PK and Jacob Markstrom’s .927 isn’t far behind.
Elias Pettersson can still be Better
Pettersson scored 10 goals over his first 10 games in his rookie season, and though he has been very productive over the first 10 games with 11 points in 10 games, he has yet to really show off the impressive shot that put him on the map last year. He’s missed the net on a lot of shots so far this year, but once he finds his groove he should be back to his goal-scoring ways.
Last season Pettersson finshed the year with a 19.1% shooting percentage and as many predicted his shooting percentage has dropped. Pettersson is currently sitting at 16.7% and now Canucks fans are hoping that Pettersson can find hit the net more on odd-man rushes and a generate a few top of circle snipes like the ones we used to see from Markus Naslund during the West Coast Express era.
A big part of the reason Pettersson hasn’t had the kind of offensive success we saw from him early on last year is his power play usage. He is currently playing the left side on the power play, a spot where he did not score from last year.
Spray Chart Courtesy of HockeyViz
The good news is, despite the fact that Pettersson hasn’t exactly wowed fans the way he did last season over the first ten games, he’s still tied for the team lead in points with 11. He’s proven he can still find ways to produce even when he’s not finding the back of the net quite as often.
In closing, the Canucks sit at 6-3-1 after 10 games, even after a major letdown on Friday night against the Washington Capitals. Starting Monday against the Panthers the Vancouver Canucks will have 19 games in 37 nights. For now the Canucks should be happy with the month of October and should look at November as a challenge instead of a speed bump.
It’s still very early on in the season and the Canucks have not faced many playoff-calibre teams so far, but they’ve been a lot more fun to watch and look like a serious improvement over last year’s squad and that’s really all you can ask for as a fan. If this team can stay relatively healthy and the goaltending can hold up over the course of the year, the Canucks will finally find themselves in the playoff conversation for the first time in a half-decade.
What is the one thing that you think is the most positive takeaway from the team’s first 10 games?