On January 13th, the puck will drop to commence the 2021 NHL season for the Vancouver Canucks. They will be on the road playing against the Edmonton Oilers, looking to build on the success that they experienced last year when they made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
A new season brings forth new opportunities and another chance to chase Lord Stanley, but as we all know it’s likely to bring its share of setbacks as well. While it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen exactly, here are the only three things that are guaranteed for this year.
I Know...The Canucks are Going to be Fun to Watch
The core — especially Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser — all ooze skill and are a part of a younger generation that is more fearless with the puck than ever before. Pulling the puck between their legs, banking passes off the end boards to set up breakaways, it seems as if they’ll try anything and more often than not it ends up working out.
The Canucks ranked 8th in the NHL last season with 3.25 goals per game and the maturation of key offensive players should only drive that number higher. Hughes will be entering his second full season and as he gains more experience playing against men in the NHL he should only become more comfortable.
While at points last year it seemed as if Hughes was the only defensemen that could create from the backend, the offseason addition of Nate Schmidt means that the Canucks can have one of the two distributors on the ice for large portions of the game.
Look at how Schmidt (#88) makes a great pass to spring former teammate Alex Tuch (#89) for the scoring opportunity which Tuch calmly finishes. Schmidt will be a major upgrade over the departed Chris Tanev in this department and should only make the team more explosive offensively.
On the flip side the Canucks allowed 3.10 goals per game last season, good for 11th worst, a number that could have been a lot higher had Jacob Markstrom not stood on his head most nights. They allowed 33.3 shots per game (sandwiched between the lowly Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings), and if Thatcher Demko experiences some growing pains and newcomer Braden Holtby can’t find his Stanley Cup-winning form, it could make for some long games.
Whatever happens this season, Canucks games are going to feature plenty of goals for better or for worse. Win or lose, this team is going to play a fascinating style of hockey and be exciting to watch.
I Know...It’s Time to Finally Find Out What Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi Can Do
While it feels a bit like we say this every year, Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi are both about the be handed massive opportunities where they will have the chance to silence their many doubters.
Virtanen started to translate some of his massive potential into actual NHL success last season as he was on pace to score twenty goals before the season was shutdown. The organization clearly liked what they saw as Virtanen will walk into camp this season expected to play in a top-six role, an opportunity like he has never had before. Let’s just hope he’s in shape.
When Virtanen’s game is clicking, he’s an imposing power forward with rare skating ability for a player of his size. He has a strong wrist shot which helped him score on 12.5% of his shots last year, a similar number to John Tavares and Anthony Duclair.
The only issue is that it’s far too often that he struggles to put together all these gifts and instead he can often look lost. Figuring out how to make a consistent impact night after night will be key for Virtanen this season, though playing next to Elias Pettersson will probably make it easier.
Olli Juolevi is another oft-criticized Canucks prospect, and he is now going to get his first real chance at cracking the NHL roster. The young defender has dealt with injury issues which have hampered his development timeline, but he has shown flashes at all levels of being a steady player with the ability to throw an excellent breakout pass.
Juolevi impressed in the few minutes he played against the Minnesota Wild during these last playoffs. Granted, it was only a few carefully chosen minutes that he was actually on the ice but he made a few heads-up plays and overall didn’t look out of place.
It’s not quite do-or-die for Juolevi, although it may be for Virtanen, but for both of these young players they have fallen behind the lofty expectations that were set for them and are now presented a strong opportunity to get back on track.
I Know...the Canucks Better be Prepared for a Dogfight in the Canadian Division
Four teams will make the playoffs from the pool of seven Canadian teams and besides the Ottawa Senators, every team can make a strong case as to why they’re deserving. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the favourites, and for good reason, as they added some help on the backend to complement their dangerous forward group.
The Oilers, Flames, Jets, and Canadians all offer different challenges and most of them have been quite successful against Vancouver in recent years.
Four significant Canucks offseason departures landed on Canadian teams, with three of them now on the Calgary Flames. These familiar faces should only serve to amp up the pressure for Vancouver, as if the team falters their decision to let these players walk will be placed under a magnifying glass.
Having to face only seven teams over-and-over is sure to create a different atmosphere than regular season games in previous seasons as teams don’t have long breaks in between matchups to forget about dirty plays and other transgressions. The Canucks don’t have an abundance of grit and could struggle if they are forced to play a tougher brand of hockey.
While it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in a typical NHL season, and even harder in an unique season like this, this year does promise to help the Canucks discover what they have in some of their players while offering plenty of entertainment in a tough division.