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5 Questions: Vancouver Canucks

Loui Eriksson's chemistry with Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin key to increased scoring

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Vancouver Canucks:

 

Are there enough goals in this lineup?

To bolster the second-worst offense in the NHL last season, the Canucks signed 31-year-old free agent forward Loui Eriksson, who scored 30 goals for the Boston Bruins last season. The Canucks are counting on Erickson's history of playing with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin on Sweden's national team to pay off in Vancouver. The Canucks also are counting on a full season from center Brandon Sutter, who scored 21 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014-15 but was limited to 20 games for the Canucks last season because of injuries. That may not be enough for a team that scored 186 non-shootout goals last season, ahead of only the New Jersey Devils (182) in the NHL and had 27 fewer than the Minnesota Wild, who were the lowest-scoring team to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

 

Will systems simplifications help this defense?

Defensive improvements are equally important after the Canucks allowed 239 non-shootout goals, 23rd in the NHL.

Veteran Dan Hamhuis, the only Vancouver defenseman with a shot-attempt percentage above 50 last season, signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent. But the Canucks are bigger and presumably better in front of their own net with the addition of 6-foot-5, 216-pound defenseman Erik Gudbranson in a trade with the Florida Panthers. They are also counting on subtle system tweaks from new assistant coach Doug Jarvis to cut down on goals against by creating simpler reads for a less-experienced team. As for transitioning out of their end more effectively, the Canucks plan to match a puck-moving defenseman with a stay-at-home type on each pair; second-year pro Ben Hutton and Gudbranson, who has 43 points in 309 NHL games, will be paired the second unit.

Video: EDM@VAN: Gudbranson pads lead with empty-net goal

 

Can they stay healthy?

Injuries were a big reason the Canucks finished last season with 75 points, their lowest full-season total since 1998-99. Sutter, who was being counted on to center the second line, missed most of the season, but the bigger injury impact was on defense. Alexander Edler missed 30 games with a fractured fibula, and his top-pair partner, Christopher Tanev, missed 13. Defensemen Luca Sbisa missed 41 games and Hamhuis missed 24. The Canucks used 11 defensemen, marking the seventh straight season they reached double digits in defensemen used. That includes 6-foot-7, 228-pound Nikita Tryamkin, who came over from Russia late in the season. Vancouver plans to carry eight defensemen this season, but it doesn't appear any more ready to handle significant injuries among its top four.

 

Can Bo Horvat start season as well as he usually finishes?

As a rookie in 2014-15, Horvat scored 10 of his 13 goals in the second half. Last season, with Sutter out early, Horvat struggled with tougher defensive assignments and carried a 27-game goal drought into early January. He had 10 points in his first 42 games, then 30 points in his final 40 games to finish with 16 goals and 40 points. The Canucks hope Horvat will be helped by the return of Sutter and by skating on a line with Sven Baertschi, who scored 13 of his 15 goals in the final 42 games after being moved onto Horvat's line.

Video: VAN@CGY: Horvat rips one by Ortio for power-play goal

 

Will young players like Jake Virtanen get to play through mistakes?

Coach Willie Desjardins has talked about the struggle of trying win last season while attempting to develop young players. The Canucks kept 19-year-old forwards Virtanen and Jared McCann last season, and gave ice time to Tryamkin. McCann was traded to Florida for Gudbranson, and Virtanen is 20, meaning the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft can be sent to the American Hockey League if he struggles. Desjardins has made it clear the focus this season is on winning.

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