A disappointing season is in the books, but there’s a lot of reason for optimism.
That was the shared message from Vancouver Canucks President Trevor Linden, General Manager Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins, who all spoke to the media Tuesday morning at Rogers Arena.
Patience, they all said, is the key to the path the Canucks are on, one that has the team drafting well and developing players to usher in a new era of hockey in Vancouver.
Not preparing for the playoffs right now is certainly a blow, yet the steps Vancouver’s young core took this year prove things are on the up and up.
“There were some great signs from our young players,” assessed coach Desjardins. “Was it hard? Sure, but there were some real rewarding parts as well.”
Desjardins named Bo Horvat and Jacob Markstrom as two players he saw significant growth in. Horvat surpassed his rookie totals in goals (16), assists (24), points (40), ppp (12), gwg (4), otg (1) and shots (152) during his second NHL campaign, while Markstrom established a new career high for starts in a season with 30, wins (13) and saves (988).
There’s good reason Linden, Benning and Desjardins spoke so highly of Vancouver’s young guns, they were the story of the season.
Overall the Canucks had nine different players make their NHL debuts this year (McCann, Virtanen, Hutton, Gaunce, Shinkaruk, Grenier, Pedan, Friesen and Tryamkin); the last time eight or more players made their NHL debuts in a single season for the Canucks was in 1999-00, with eight players.
Canucks players aged 23 or younger that appeared in the lineup (Granlund, Baertschi, Horvat, Hutton, Virtanen, McCann, Gaunce, Shinkaruk, Pedan, Etem, Tryamkin and Zalewski) accounted for 28.9 per cent of points (142), 31.7 per cent of goals (58), 27.2 per cent of assists (84), and 31.1 per cent of shots (710) for the Canucks this year.
What Benning didn’t like about the Canucks young players was the position they were put into this season.
“I think the hard thing for us this year was the injuries to our experienced players, where we had to then elevate young players into roles that maybe they weren’t quite ready for,” said Benning. “Looking back, that was a tough thing to go through.”
That being said, Benning believes there was also long-term good to be had from throwing players into the fire, and added that injuries helped a player like Nikita Tryamkin get 13 games of NHL experience he wouldn’t otherwise have.
Watch the full press conference below.
Other news of note: Benning met with the families of both prospects Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko last week and while Boeser has opted to return to the NCAA, Demko’s status is up in the air and the Canucks will try to sign him if it’s an option; if the Canucks are to land a top-three draft pick this year, Benning is confident the player chosen is ready to step in and play in Vancouver next season; Linden confirmed Desjardins will be back as head coach next season and that he could envision a scenario where both Alex Burrows and Dan Hamhuis return as well; Henrik Sedin suffered a broken finger late in the season and played through it.
Linden echoed much of what Benning and Desjardins said, reiterating that the team is working hard to develop young players and their actions have supported that and remained true to their long-term vision.
"I know how passionate our fans are and this is an exciting time. We have young players that will capture this fan base.”