VANCOUVER – After a quick exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and an offseason of hand-wringing after two popular players were traded, Vancouver Canucks fans could use some good news.
Look no further than 20-year-old center Bo Horvat and several promising prospects set to soon follow him into the NHL. Of course, there's also Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.
Here are four reasons to be optimistic about the Canucks:
Bo Horvat's second half: Coach Willie Desjardins wasn't comfortable starting last season with a 19-year-old center in his lineup, but by the time Horvat turned 20 on April 5, he was a key part of it.
After earning the trust of his coach with responsible defensive play and by winning faceoffs against tough competition in the first half of the season, Horvat gained confidence offensively in the second. He scored 10 of his 13 goals and had 17 of his 25 points after the All-Star break, then had a goal and three assists in six playoff games. After starting the season playing fewer than 10 minutes a game, he averaged almost 14 after March 1 and 12:40 his first NHL playoff series.
"After the All-Star break I started hanging on to the puck a little more instead of wanting to give it away right away and being afraid to make a mistake," Horvat said. "Playing well defensively opened a lot of eyes, and I think I gained Willie's trust even quicker when he knew I could play well defensively."
Prospect depth: There isn't necessarily a lot of can't-miss, top-pick talent outside of forward Jake Virtanen, but the Canucks have more prospects who are likely NHL players than at any point in recent memory.
Virtanen, who was the sixth pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, will be given a real chance to make the Canucks as a 19-year-old after finishing last season with Utica of the American Hockey League during its run to the Calder Cup Finals. Virtanen, who projects as a power forward with a good shot, had one assist in 10 playoff games, but he proved he was ready to handle the physicality of the professional game, landing several big hits and establishing himself on the forecheck.
Sven Baertschi, acquired from the Calgary Flames last season, is being counted on to play a top-six role at 22, and defenseman Frank Corrado, 22, is in line for minutes opened by the trade of Kevin Bieksa.
It's also not out of the question that 20-year-old center Cole Cassels could see some time with the Canucks in his first pro season, and skilled wing Hunter Shinkaruk could be a scoring option in his second.
The list of prospects behind them is bright, led by center Jared McCann and goalie Thatcher Demko, who should be even better after hip surgery this offseason improved his mobility and flexibility.
Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin aren't done: Written off by some after their worst season in a decade under one-year coach John Tortorella in 2013-14, each Sedin twin bounced back to finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring last season. Daniel went from 47 points in 73 games two seasons ago to 76 (tied for eighth in the League) in 82 last season, and Henrik improved from 50 points in 70 games under Tortorella to 73 (10th) in 82 last season. Although a lot of that bounce-back was driven by a power play that tied for eighth in the NHL (19.3 percent), bolstered by free agent addition and one-shot scorer Radim Vrbata, the Sedins showed their patient, pass-happy style of play might allow them to be productive in the final stage of their career. That's important; the twins turn 35 in September.
Alexander Edler's bounce-back season: The plus-minus statistic is far from perfect, but the fact Edler, who is the Canucks' top defenseman, was an NHL-worst minus-39 two seasons ago had to be concerning, if not alarming. After wilting under the fiery demands of Tortorella, the soft-spoken Swede bounced back last season, benefitting from a better fit with steady partner Christopher Tanev to finish plus-13 despite being matched against the opposition's top forwards most games.
Edler's offense has regressed since he had an NHL career-high 49 points in 2011-12, and he probably won't ever win the Norris Trophy, as some predicted after an impressive first few seasons in the League, but at least the Canucks can count on him for something other than fishing the puck out of his net.
Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent