Only a select few players in the NHL are vital to a team’s core.
The Pittsburgh Penguins boast star power with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. However, a deep team like Nashville could have close to ten players that are considered vital members of their success moving forward.
When you look at core players on rebuilding franchises, the conversation changes. A team like the Buffalo Sabres would consider the likes of Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and (eventually) Rasmus Dahlin as part of their core. Ryan O’Reilly could be in the conversation too if the Sabres don’t fall out of love with him before he falls out of love with playing hockey. For the most part though, you’re talking about good young players who can help you down the road, but won’t help you win a Cup in the present.
No matter how many core players you do have, you want them to be pushing towards the league’s elite. That’s something the Canucks currently lack, even if there is some hope for their current players to climb into the league’s upper echelon.
When a player like (spoiler alert) Bo Horvat is considered a key component of the rebuild, that’s good for Horvat but not necessarily for the franchise. However, there isn’t a realistic offer that could pry Horvat from the Canucks. He’s too important to the organization considering the shallow pool of talent at centre.
This exercise was mainly meant to show how many expendable pieces are on the Canucks, while highlighting who’s really important to this organization. No foundational players made this list, by the way.
This list has to begin with the Canucks captain. Wait, he hasn’t been named captain yet?
It won’t take long for Horvat to don the “C” in Vancouver, after setting the bar for young players in this organization. With every passing year, Horvat continues to elevate his game to another level. Towards the end of the season, you could argue that one of the only reasons worth watching the Canucks was to see Horvat play.
While not an elite NHL player, Horvat continues to shred expectations each and every season when he suits up. If he continues to be surrounded by intelligent offensive players, then there’s no reason why he couldn’t be even better next year.
There were high expectations for Brock Boeser coming into the season. The Burnsville, Minnesota native casually brushed those expectations aside and produced one of the most successful rookie seasons in Canucks history.
Even though injuries and, ahem, healthy scratches, limited him to 55 games, he was still one of the most productive goal scorers in hockey. He finished ninth in goals per 60 at even strength, behind players like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin.
As long as he stays healthy, Boeser looks like a legitimate 40-goal scorer in the NHL. Of 890 players to suit up for an NHL game this year, only eight players hit that mark. Yeah, scoring 40 goals in this era ain’t easy.
You might not have called Elias Pettersson a core player after he was drafted last season, but his record-breaking season in the SHL has grabbed everyone’s attention.
It’s not everyday that an NHL prospect (and a Canucks prospect at that) absolutely torches a professional league as a teenager. Pettersson’s championship winning season resulted in MVP honours, a World Championship nod, and a truckload of hype.
Not since Pavel Bure has a Canucks rookie been this highly touted before making his NHL debut. Bure torched the old Soviet league and the World Juniors as a teenager, and Pettersson has dominated in a similar way. While perhaps it doesn’t bode well for the organization that a player with no NHL experience is a key rebuild component, an exception has to be made for the ultra-talented Pettersson.
I was admittedly on the fence about this one, with predicting the potential of goalies being such a fickle task. However, Thatcher Demko has done nothing to disprove that he isn’t the Canucks goaltender of the future.
He’s continuously improved in the minors to the point where it’s safe to say that he’s been Utica’s best player for the last season and a half. While this is nothing new, his trajectory is very similar to that of Cory Schneider’s. Demko is a large goalie who plays with poise, and one who seems to have the mental makeup to handle the pressures of NHL play.
While I’d consider him a key part of this rebuild, it’s certainly up for debate. Even though predicting how goalies will turn out is an unsteady task, Demko seems like as much of a safe bet as most highly-touted goalies not yet in the NHL. That being said, there’s no need to push him into NHL action while the team is smothered in question marks.
I’m cheating a bit here, but hear me out.
Green’s first year might have been a mixed bag in terms of how he handled players, but there was one area where he was vital. After the brutally boring Willie Desjardins tenure, Green got this team playing a more suitable style of hockey. The up-tempo, puck possession style he’s implemented in Vancouver fits the NHL game today. While he didn’t have the weaponry available to make it succeed, his strategy should help this up-and-coming group reach their potential. Unless your name is Ben Hutton, that is.
seriously, how old was Travis Green in 1984? pic.twitter.com/uydPUwYEXU— nobody (@petbugs13) December 14, 2017
One of the other reasons why he becomes a key member of this rebuild is because coaching continuity is understated for a young team. Just look at the Edmonton Oilers, who cycled through coaches like unsuccessful Tinder dates. In the decade where they missed the playoffs, they went through seven different bench bosses.
There were other problems evident in Edmonton, but the coaching carousel couldn’t have been beneficial for the young core. With Green’s past coaching success, along with the style he implements, he should remain a key part of this rebuild for the foreseeable future.