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Goalies, scoring depth among questions

by Kevin Woodley / Vancouver Canucks

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks reshaped their roster with several trades this offseason after losing in six games to the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference First Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Longtime defenseman Kevin Bieksa is gone, as are goalie Eddie Lack and forwards Zack Kassian and Shawn Matthias. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin remain as the Canucks' core players.

General manager Jim Benning said the roster shakeup will make Vancouver better equipped for the postseason and open spots for young players. It will be up to second-year coach Willie Desjardins to put the pieces together.

Here are three questions facing the Canucks entering the season:

Is goaltending still a strength? From Roberto Luongo to Cory Schneider to Lack, there has been strong goaltending in Vancouver since 2006, and the Canucks have employed one of the NHL's top tandems since 2010. They needed it again last season when Lack took over after Ryan Miller injured his knee in late February and carried them into the playoffs.

Lack had a .927 save percentage as the starter and finished the regular season at .921, ahead of Miller's .911, before faltering and giving up the crease in Game 4 against the Flames.

Miller's save percentage was his lowest since the 2007-08 season and hasn't been above .920 since 2009-10, when he won the Vezina Trophy. He turned 35 in July, but there are a few reasons for optimism this season.

First, Miller has an elite ability to read and anticipate plays, a skill that shouldn't necessarily erode over time like a more reactive physical element would.

Second, he was continuing to adjust to the Western Conference last season (he spent the first 10-plus seasons of his NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres before being traded to the St. Louis Blues in February 2014), as well as a new system.

Finally, he didn't always look comfortable after making changes to his style under new goaltending coach Roland Melanson. But Miller trusts the changes, telling NHL.com he was cutting himself "some statistical slack" early in the season in the hopes they would pay off down the stretch. The knee injury prevented Miller from finding out if the changes helped him finish strong.

After trading Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2015 NHL Draft, the Canucks hope Miller is better. If not, they will turn to 25-year-old Jacob Markstrom, a 6-foot-6 Swede who dominated with Utica of the American Hockey League last season (1.88 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts in 32 games) but has struggled in the past when given opportunities in the NHL.

"We feel we're going to have real good goaltending [this season], with Ryan and Jacob," Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden said at the draft. "[Markstrom's] a player that's young and needs some time, and we're going to give him that."

The changes Markstrom has made since arriving in Vancouver from the Florida Panthers as part of the Luongo trade in March 2014 should make it easier to use his big frame more effectively and efficiently.

Is there enough scoring after the top line? Doubts about trade acquisition Brandon Sutter's ability to play a more offensive role at center would be moot if Bo Horvat can continue last season's late scoring push and grab the second-line job. The Canucks more than likely will rely on depth and versatility with two units behind the Sedins that are better suited for third-line duty.

Vancouver should have enough depth on the wings to spread around, whether Alexandre Burrows or Radim Vrbata plays with the Sedins at even strength, but the pressure is on 22-year-old Sven Baertschi and possibly 19-year-old Jake Virtanen to score following the departure of Matthias, who scored 17 of his 18 goals at even strength, and Kassian, who scored nine of his 10 goals at even strength.

Is there enough depth on defense? The Canucks have never really had a bona fide No. 1 defenseman, and they usually need to go well beyond their top six to get through each season. In 2014-15, Vancouver used 10 defensemen, including 27-year-old Alex Biega, who played his first seven NHL games during a run of injuries in mid-February.

With Bieksa and Adam Clendening traded, and their lone free agent addition of Matt Bartkowski offset by the departure of Ryan Stanton, the Canucks defense looks thin going into the season. Rookie Frank Corrado should give them seven NHL-ready defensemen to start, but 5-foot-10, 187-pound Biega could be called up from Utica earlier this season.

Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent

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