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Season Preview

Season Preview: Vancouver Canucks

Pressure on Eric Gudbranson to provide defensive depth

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 31-38-13, 75 points, 6th in Pacific Division, 13th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Loui Eriksson, Anton Rodin; D Erik Gudbranson

Subtractions: F: Chris Higgins, Jared McCann, Linden Vey, Radim Vrbata; D: Matt Bartkowski, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber

 

 
Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Loui Eriksson

Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexandre Burrows - Brandon Sutter - Anton Rodin

Emerson Etem - Markus Granlund - Derek Dorsett

Jake Virtanen

Defensemen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Ben Hutton - Erik Gudbranson

Luca Sbisa - Philip Larsen

Nikita Tryamkin

Goalies

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

Richard Bachman

 

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

 

The Vancouver Canucks are coming off their worst season in 17 years and need significant improvements at both ends of the ice to make up the gap that separated them from a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Canucks made a bid to rebuild the roster during the offseason by acquiring rugged defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Florida Panthers for center Jared McCann and two draft picks, and signed 31-year-old free agent forward Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million contract.

Following a season that ended with some players wondering if the focus of the Canucks was developing young talent or making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Benning and coach Willie Desjardins have made it clear: The focus is now on winning.

On defense, the Canucks need their top pair of Christopher Tanev and Alexander Edler to stay healthy after Edler missed 30 games last season with a fractured leg. Vancouver also needs its second pair of Ben Hutton and Gudbranson, who play with different styles, to jell quickly, and a third pair with Luca Sbisa and incoming power-play specialist Philip Larsen to at least tread water at even strength.

The Canucks are counting on 36-year-old twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin to stay healthy and keep driving offense on the top line and power play, with Eriksson almost certain to start the season on their right side but likely to move around to spark other lines as needed.

Vancouver needs its interchangeable middle two lines to provide offense, with Brandon Sutter likely to shoulder tougher defensive matchups on one line in the hopes it frees up Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi to build off their second-half scoring from last season on another line. The Canucks also believe Anton Rodin, who was the Swedish League MVP last season, can chip in as a top-nine forward for a team that scored the second fewest goals in the NHL last season.

Add in steady goaltending from 36-year-old No. 1 Ryan Miller and a push from backup Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks management believes it has enough on the roster to prove last season's precipitous fall to 28th in the NHL was a blip, and not a sign of things to come.

Video: VAN@NSH: Sedin brothers team up for a power-play goal

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

If the Canucks stay healthy, the Sedins continue to carry the offense, and newcomers Eriksson and Larsen can spark a power play that finished in the bottom third of the NHL three of the past four seasons.

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Even if Gudbranson helps the Canucks in front of their own net, Vancouver appears short on puck-moving defensemen who can help break out cleanly and contribute offensively. Though the defensive depth has improved with Nikita Tryamkin, few seem suited to fill in for any injuries among the top four.

 

Breakout candidate

Defenseman Philip Larsen. He hasn't played in the NHL since 2013-14 and has eight goals and 23 assists in 125 games over five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars, but the Canucks are hoping the right-shot defenseman, 26, can help a top power play anchored by Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin up front. Larsen has to prove he can handle regular third-pair minutes 5-on-5, but he should get a chance to prove the 11 goals and 25 points he scored in 52 Kontinental Hockey League games last season can translate on the power play.

 

 

On the hot seat

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson. He has value as a physical top-four defenseman whose leadership, toughness and intangibles make up for an apparent lack of offensive upside. The Canucks are counting on him to control the front of their net but will need him to control play better than his NHL possession numbers, including a 46.43 shot attempt percentage last season, indicate.

 

Trophy candidates

Henrik Sedin (Art Ross Trophy)

 

Quotable

"The things management did in the offseason to make us better now is something that really sent a message to our dressing room about what we're about: We're here to win." -- center Brandon Sutter

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