They are what the fans come to see and are ultimately what decide the outcome of hockey games. It’s hard -- although not impossible with help from a shootout – to win without them. But someone has to score them. And so as the Vancouver Canucks prepare to embark on their first full season under John Tortorella, it’s time to examine who will put the puck in the net for the Canucks this season.
Last season, the Canucks finished 19th in the National Hockey League with 122 goals in 48 games (an average of 2.54 per outing). Not surprisingly, the Canucks were also 19th in the league in shots per game averaging 28.2 shots on goal each time out last season.
That’s an area Tortorella has urged his players to improve in. On a number of occasions during training camp and practices, the coach has been heard pleading with his players to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. And with good reason. Alex Burrows led the Canucks with 140 shots and 13 goals in last year’s lockout shortened season. Neither were particularly lofty totals. And Burrows and Daniel Sedin were the only Canucks forwards to put more than 100 pucks on net a year ago. That has to change.
And it should with a healthy Ryan Kesler back in the line-up and David Booth desperately trying to regain the form that saw him finish 12th in the league in shots on goal (280) in 2010-11 when he scored 23 times.
So it starts with getting pucks to the net and obviously some of those shots have to find their way in. That’s a combination of quantity of shots, quality of those shots and an ability on the part of all Canucks to get to the net to make life more difficult on opposition goaltenders.
All of this is a preamble while I wait for my crystal ball to warm up. It’s been in need of repair for a while now based on past prediction columns, but it’s hard to find a decent crystal ball fix-it shop these days. Everyone just wants to sell you a brand new one. But I’m going to put my faith in the trusty old model at least one more time. So here it goes:
Ryan Kesler will lead the Canucks with 31 goals this season. Kesler scored just four times in a frustrating injury-riddled season that saw him dress for only 17 of the Canucks 48 games. He’s healthy and has vowed to get his offensive game back on track. It’s an Olympic year and Kesler wants to be a leader for Team USA in Sochi and will use the first half of the season to showcase his talents.
Daniel Sedin will finish the year with 29 goals. The area to watch here is power play output. Daniel led the NHL in power play goals (18) three years ago and last season managed to strike just three times with the man-advantage. Daniel is one of the guys who has to get his shot totals moving in the right direction again after a considerable drop-off last season. He had just nine shots on goal in four preseason games. He has to find a way to bump that total in the regular season.
Alex Burrows will score 26 goals this season. That doubles his output from last year’s lockout-shortened season. Based on preseason indications, Burrows looks like he will spend much of this season paired with old friend Ryan Kesler rather than on the wing with the Sedins. That may take some adjusting, but Burrows has shown an ability to adapt in all situations. Burrows has never scored more than four power play goals in an NHL season, but could see that total jump as the net-front presence on the second power play unit this year.
Henrik Sedin is in line for a 20-goal season. For much of last season, Henrik was ahead of his brother in the goal-scoring department and finished the year with 11. Over a 48-game schedule, that put him on pace for 19 over the course of a full season. We’ll throw in one more for good measure and think the Canucks captain will reach the 20-goal plateau for the third time in his career.
Jannik Hansen will contribute 16 goals for the Canucks this season. That was his goal total in 2011-12 and the hard-working winger will find his way to get back there this year. Helping Hansen’s goal-projection is the fact that his versatility makes him the first option for a promotion into the top six in the event of an injury elsewhere in the line-up.
David Booth will match Hansen’s 16 goals. Booth represents the biggest wildcard in the Canucks line-up. He scored just once (an empty netter) in a forgettable season that saw him limited to just 12 games. If – and that’s the big question – if he can stay healthy, he should be able to contribute 16 goals for the Canucks. He’s big, strong and isn’t afraid to take the puck to the net. Now he has to find a way to put it in the net.
Chris Higgins will go about his business of banging and crashing and relentlessly pursuing the puck. And that hard work will yield 15 goals for the Canucks this season. There is certainly potential for more there because, like Hansen, Higgins could find himself moving through the line-up and being placed in more scoring situations. But we’ll peg Higgins for a 15-goal season.
Zack Kassian is in line to score 14 goals this season. That doubles his total from last season and represents more goals than he has produced in the parts of three seasons he has spent in the NHL so far. Starting the season on the suspended list puts him behind the 8-ball a little, but there is a plum assignment waiting for him on the wing with the Sedins when he gets back in the line-up. Kassian has to make the most of that opportunity.
Jason Garrison will reach double-digits for the second time in his career. He shoots the puck too well not to score 11 goals this season. He had eight in 47 games in his first season with the Canucks and it looks like John Tortorella wants to feature his cannon on the power play.
Alex Edler will chip in with 10 goals this season. The big Swede had a strong preseason and will look to carry that forward into the games that count. Edler has scored five power play goals in each of the past three seasons. He’ll still be a prominent part of the power play, but Garrison’s big blast may eat into Edler’s goal total.
Those are the Canucks I have pegged to score 10 or more goals this season. There’s some smoke coming out of my crystal ball, which means I have to shut it down for now so that’s going to be it for predictions. Obviously the Canucks would welcome additional offensive contributions from the likes of Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Jordan Schroeder, Dale Weise and anyone else that gets a chance to suit up on a regular basis.
The scoring has to start on Thursday night in San Jose. File this column away and we’ll revisit it in April.