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Canucks Preseason Thoughts: Leivo surging, defence still suspect and what to watch for in the final two games

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With two preseason games to go, here are some thoughts on what’s occurred and what’s to come before the regular season begins.

NHL: Preseason-Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks
Sep 16, 2019; Victoria, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Loui Eriksson (21) celebrates with defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) and forward Adam Gaudette (88) and forward Josh Leivo (17) after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The puck drops on the 2019 regular season for the Canucks next Wednesday.

While it’s easy to get distracted around the hoopla surrounding Brock Boeser’s concussion, the organization has other things to worry about as the preseason comes to a conclusion.

There are still cuts to make, defence pairings to solidify, and line combinations to perfect. That becomes more complicated if Boeser is out for an extended period of time.

With two games left in the preseason, here are some thoughts I’ve had about the games, and what to watch over the final two contests.

Leivo leading left-wing battle?

I think one of the more under-discussed stories of the preseason has been the solid play of Josh Leivo. The Maple Leafs cast-off was a solid, if unspectacular player for the Canucks last season. He was one of the best Canucks in terms of possession last year and chipped in some occasional offence as well.

I thought it was telling that with Micheal Ferland out of the line-up, it was Josh Leivo who got an assignment on the top line during Boeser and Elias Pettersson’s first preseason game. He also got some time on the power play as well.

Two wingers who most are probably penciling into that second line slot (with Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller presumably) are Tanner Pearson and Sven Baertschi. However, I’d say that Leivo has outperformed then.

For his hard work in the preseason, here’s Leivo’s supposed reward:

Gaudette grinding, but let him start in the “A”

No one will be surprised when Adam Gaudette eventually gets sent down to the Utica Comets prior to the start of the season. Not to say he’s had a poor preseason, but he still needs to refine his game.

Gaudette does deserve some credit for continually improving in the preseason though. That first game against the Calgary Flames was ugly, as he turned over the puck numerous times and got leveled by the diminutive Dillon Dube right before a goal against.

He has gotten better game by game, but the Canucks need him to develop into a reliable third line centre who can chip in some offence. He’s worked hard in the preseason, but it’s clear that some time in the AHL would help.

Would Gaudette be a more productive centre than Brandon Sutter? There’s a chance. Is he the player the Canucks need in order to boast their depth on offence? Nope, not yet at least.

Concerns with the defence

I know it was only the preseason, but it was troubling to see the Canucks get lit up for 45 shots against the Belleville, err, Ottawa Senators in preseason play.

Yes, the Canucks did lose Oscar Fantenberg, so they were down to five defenceman. However, the biggest problem was the pairing of Alex Edler and Tyler Myers, who were on the ice for a barrage of chances.

What’s most troubling is that, based on preseason pairings, the Canucks have largely rolled with Alex Edler and Tyler Myers as the top pair. Can the Canucks coaching staff really expect those two to face top-six guys every night and successfully limit scoring chances?

If that’s what the Canucks signed Myers for, they might be in some trouble.

Something, anything, from Goldy or Jake?

It’s easy to rag on two young guys loaded with potential who never seem to realize it. It’s also easy to feel bad for them for continuously being lambasted by fans and the media in a hockey-hungry city.

There isn’t a Canucks fan who doesn’t want to see Nikolay Goldobin or Jake Virtanen succeed. Who wouldn’t be happy if they just started lighting it up for the Canucks?

There are two preseason games left, with both guys penciled in to play on Wednesday. These last two games are about as important as a preseason can get for these two guys, who are at risk of falling out of a top 12 spot in the line-up to less talented wingers like Loui Eriksson and Tyler Motte. Yeesh.

In case any more positive reinforcement was needed...

Who might Pettersson’s temporary right-winger be?

There’s been zero update on Boeser’s condition following his concussion, which isn’t surprising. The hit was absolute garbage, and Travis Green will have to find a replacement winger alongside Pettersson in the meantime.

Among many jobs in hockey, there might not be one much better than that.

Some of the players we’ve mentioned: Leivo, Goldobin, and Virtanen, would be candidates to fill in that role. Pettersson doesn’t play on Wednesday versus the Senators, but Thursday could be telling if Boeser is unable to return.

Hopefully it’s a moot point, and Boeser is back next week. If not, the guy who’s earned it most based on preseason play, is Leivo.