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31 in 31

Inside look at Vancouver Canucks

Experienced players added to remain competitive during rebuild

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three of the past four seasons, but instead of a complete youth movement, they supplemented a mix of aging veterans and young players with five 20-something additions this offseason.

 

[CANUCKS 31 in 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

Vancouver signed centers Sam Gagner (28; three years, $9.45 million) and Alexander Burmistrov (25; one year, $900,000), defensemen Michael Del Zotto (27; two years, $6 million) and Patrick Wiercioch (26; one year, $650,000), and goaltender Anders Nilsson (27; two years, $5 million) on the opening day of free agency. None of those moves was as bold as the six-year, $36 million contract the Canucks gave free agent forward Loui Eriksson in 2016, but combined they sent a similar message: We are trying to be competitive during our rebuild.

"I said all along we need to try to develop our good young players in a competitive environment so they learn how to do things the right way that lead to winning," general manager Jim Benning said.

Vancouver also re-signed forward Anton Rodin, who was limited to three NHL games last season by a knee injury. Assuming the Canucks also re-sign restricted free agent center Bo Horvat, who led them with 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) last season, before training camp, none of the promising younger players will get a job by default, forcing Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen to earn a spot on the roster.

Video: 31 in 31: Vancouver Canucks 2017-18 season preview

"We want to create a culture where everything is earned," said coach Travis Green, who was hired April 26 to replace Willie Desjardins.

The additions also provide better depth, something required to play the up-tempo style Green wants to play.

"I want energy in our game," said Green, who coached the Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate for the past four seasons. "Anyone that watches hockey closely sees how fast the game is now, and when you talk about playing fast, players just don't skate fast and not get tired. It takes a lot of energy to play that way, and teams that play the fastest have quite a bit of depth. You need to have a fourth line you can play and not hide and just play six or seven minutes."

Vancouver tied for 24th in goals against last season (2.94) and scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL during the past two seasons (two ahead of the New Jersey Devils).

It is counting on bounce-back seasons from Daniel Sedin (44 points; 15 goals, 29 assists) and Henrik Sedin (50 points; 15 goals, 35 assists). But with a 37th birthday before the season, even the twins know their days of winning scoring titles have passed, so Vancouver also needs more from Eriksson, who had 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 65 games, his lowest output since his rookie season of 2006-07 with the Dallas Stars.

Video: VAN@CHI: Sedin brothers connect to open scoring

Green said the key will be a balanced attack with interchangeable parts and improving a power play that ranked last in the NHL during the past two seasons (15 percent).

Gagner should help after scoring 18 of his NHL career-high 50 points on the power play with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. He gives them more options because of his ability to move up and down the lineup and play either wing or at center.

"You might have a tough time saying who the first line is and who the fourth line is, but as a coach that's what you want," Green said. "You want to have a team that you can make changes to your lineup, be able to change your lines from game to game, or during the game."

The Canucks are counting on Del Zotto and Wiercioch to make up for defenseman Nikita Tryamkin going to the Kontinental Hockey League and the loss of Luca Sbisa to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. The return of Erik Gudbranson, who was limited to 30 games last season because of a wrist injury, should help.

Video: VAN@TBL: Gudbranson shoots wide, scores off Bishop

The tandem of 6-foot-6 goalies Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom will try to replace reliable veteran Ryan Miller, who signed with the Anaheim Ducks as a free agent. Each has shown signs he may be capable of a bigger role, but neither has been a No. 1 in the NHL.

"They're both at a stage where they need to prove they can take that step," Green said.

Editor's note: Horvat signed a six-year, $33 million contract Sept. 8.

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