“X-factor” is a common buzzword that gets bandied about this time of the year.
Well, ‘tis the season to be buzzy.
Late September/early October is the time for optimism in the hockey world.
However, Canucks’ fandom has been tested already after the team lost two of their top-six forwards and their first four preseason games.
Oh, there was also the Francesco Aquilini bombshell and the Rachel Doerrie departure.
This is all to say that not all is well in Canuckland, and the vibes entering the season could be defined as “mixed.”
Regardless, the Canucks still have a strong chance of being good this year. Their forward group is above average, they have some of the best centre depth in the league, and they have a goalie who could challenge for the Vezina.
Still, if this team is going to be successful, they’re going to need a couple of X-factors to step up.
Here’s our definition of X-factors, thanks to our old friend, Google.
X-factor: “a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.”
Below is our ranking of the six biggest potential X-factors for the Canucks heading into the season.
6. Ilya Mikheyev
It appeared as though the Canucks were going to go bargain bin shopping in free agency. Instead, they broke the bank on Ilya Mikheyev.
The speedy Russian winger looked, well, extremely fast at Canucks training camp.
That was never going to be the question with Mikheyev.
The real question is, what kind of impact will he bring offensively?
There was no doubt that the Canucks needed a guy of Mikheyev’s size and two-way ability. However, based on the salary, he needs to prove that he’s more than just a speedy, defensive whiz, and that last year’s goal-scoring pace wasn’t a mirage.
Flames draw first blood after Ilya Mikheyev turns over the puck in the neutral zone, and Mitch McLain beats Spencer Martin. #Canucks pic.twitter.com/DDWYVA3cgi— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) September 25, 2022
5. Nils Hoglander
Although preseason vibes have been diminishing, one of the Canucks trending upwards the fastest is Nils Hoglander.
Just when it looked like he might be heading to the AHL to begin his season, injuries to Brock Boeser and Mikheyev have re-opened a path for him to join the top nine.
Hoglander received glowing reviews for his performance in training camp, although he didn’t do much alongside Bo Horvat and Vasily Podkolzin against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night.
The 21-year-old Swede still needs to earn the coaching staff’s trust. If he does though, he could be back on the path towards the top-six.
4. Spencer Martin
Backup goalies play a pivotal role in today’s NHL.
And, for a team like the Canucks who’s firmly on the playoff bubble, they’re going to need Spencer Martin to be good.
The 26-year-old was rock solid last season, going 3-0-3 with a .950 save percentage. If he can even just give the Canucks league-average goaltending in his starts, he’ll help increase this team’s 50/50 playoff odds.
3. Jack Rathbone
From the AHL to the top-four?
With no one really emerging as the Canucks fourth-best blueliner (aside from perhaps Luke Schenn), there’s a path for Jack Rathbone to play major minutes this season.
Jack Rathbone making moves. #Canucks pic.twitter.com/UzEB62ZQ0g— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) September 25, 2022
It likely won’t happen off the bat, but it’s time for the 23-year-old to make an impact after torching the AHL last season.
If Rathbone can truly push for top-four minutes, suddenly, this Canucks’ defence looks much better than it currently does on paper.
2. Bruce Boudreau
When considering X-factors, you can’t ignore the Bruce Boudreau effect.
His jolly and honest demeanour immediately made the Canucks a better team last season, and there’s little reason to doubt that he won’t have a similar effect again.
In 13 seasons where Boudreau finished the year as an NHL head coach, he’s only missed the playoffs 3 times, including last season.
If you exclude midseason takeovers, Boudreau has only missed the playoffs once (2018-19 with the Minnesota Wild) in 10 seasons.
If the Canucks primary goal is to sneak into the playoffs, there probably isn’t a better coach to have at the helm than Boudreau.
1. Andrei Kuzmenko
It’s easy to see why 25+ NHL teams were chasing Andrei Kuzmenko this offseason.
His puck skills and the creative way in which he processes the game have both been on display during the preseason.
The Hughes pass— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) September 30, 2022
The Kuzmenko goal pic.twitter.com/wACyF4vT7d
And while there’s undoubtedly a learning curve in terms of catching up with the pace of play, there’s reason to believe that Kuzmenko is smart and skilled enough to figure it out.
Of course, he might not figure it out, which is why he’s this team’s biggest X-factor heading into 2022-23.