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 will enter this season focused on improving rather than trying to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015.
"It's all about our young players," general manager Jim Benning said. "A successful year for us looks like the continuation of the development of our young players."
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The Canucks will rely on young, skilled forwards Bo Horvat, 23, Brock Boeser, 21, and promising rookie Elias Pettersson, 19, to deliver offensively after Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who spent their entire 17-year NHL careers in Vancouver, retired after last season. The additions of veteran free agent forwards Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller should help the penalty kill, which ranked 21st (78.3 percent) in the NHL last season, and create tougher matchups, something they missed after forward Derek Dorsett retired Nov. 30 because of health reasons.
"We were looking to bring guys in that are going to do some heavy lifting," Benning said. "And in the dressing room, for younger guys rubbing elbows with a Jay Beagle, who just won a Stanley Cup (with the Washington Capitals), we felt that was important to the development of our kids. These guys are going to hold our young players accountable as they find their way in the League."
Vancouver's focus for signing veteran forwards was to provide support and help its younger players grow in the long term, even if it might mean fewer roster spots available to them in the short term.
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"When it comes right down to it for us this season, it's about the process and culture we create in our locker room," Benning said. "If you just have a whole team of young guys and don't have enough of those glue guys in the room, young players start losing confidence and doubting their ability, and that's not good for their development. When we get to where want to get to, these young players are going to be a big part of it, so we want them to develop properly."
For some, including rookie forwards Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen, and waiver-eligible forwards Nikolay Goldobin, Brendan Leipsic and Brendan Gaunce, that could mean beginning the season with Utica of the American Hockey League.
"If one of them comes in and is like Brock Boeser was last year and we think it's best for him to be playing in the League, then we'll make room," Benning said. "We're going to have six to eight guys down in the American League that we think are going to be part of our future. We have to make sure they develop properly, are physically strong enough and mentally tough enough, and when they are ready, we are going to give them an opportunity."
Another area Vancouver needs to address is its defense. Last season, the Canucks allowed 259 goals, sixth most in the NHL, and dealt with a number of injuries, including to defensemen Christopher Tanev (40 games missed), Erik Gudbranson (30 games) and Alexander Edler (12 games).
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"I felt at the start of last year when we were healthy back there, our defense was good," Benning said. "We moved the puck, we had a couple guys that were physical, and so I thought we had a good blend.
"Now going into this year, health is one thing, but it's also going to be the improvement from young defensemen Ben Hutton, Derrick Pouliot and Troy Stecher. Like with all our younger players, it's going to be about them coming in and being better."
Although the focus may be on the future, Beagle doesn't see any reason the Canucks can't compete right now.
"I didn't come here to lose," Beagle said. "We are going to find ways to be a team that is in contention, and that is going to be our mindset even though media or even the GM and management think they could still be rebuilding. I am here to bring a winning mindset. I'm looking forward to the challenge."