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Canucks season preview: Pettersson, offense looking to score more

Vancouver adds Ferland, Miller for depth; Markstrom hoping to build on strong second half

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Vancouver Canucks.

 

Coach: Travis Green (third season)

Last season: 35-36-11; fifth place Pacific Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Better balance, more goals

After scoring 801 goals over the past four seasons, the fewest in the NHL not counting the Vegas Golden Knights, who began play in 2017-18, the Canucks are counting on their offseason additions to bolster a top-six forward group anchored by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. Micheal Ferland, who signed a four-year contract on July 10, is expected to play with Pettersson and Boeser, and J.T. Miller, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 22, is expected to play on the second line with Horvat and Tanner Pearson. That pushes Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo and Loui Eriksson, who each played in the top-six last season, down the lineup as the Canucks shift toward a more balanced, top-nine philosophy. It's a change after a distinct split between the top six and bottom six last season that stressed shutdown defensive roles for the third and fourth lines to free up the top two offensively.

Video: Expectations for Elias Pettersson in 2019-20

 

2. Pettersson stronger down stretch

Pettersson won the Calder Trophy voted NHL rookie of the year last season after scoring 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) in 71 games. The center was held to 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his final 19 games and said he felt tired playing more than he had any season prior. Pettersson spent the offseason focusing on his conditioning to get more power in his legs and said he believes he is better prepared to play a full season at the level he showed early last season, when he had 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in his first 10 NHL games.

 

3. Revamped defensemen

The Canucks will have three new defensemen this season, with Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn each signing as a free agent on July 1, and Quinn Hughes penciled into a top-four role as a rookie. They will be counted on to not only to improve the defense, which allowed 248 goals last season, tied with the Washington Capitals for 17th in the NHL, but to drive scoring, something Vancouver's defensemen have struggled to do in each of the past four seasons.

Video: Several young defensemen could crack the list soon

 

4. Consistent Markstrom

After going 8-9-3 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in his first 20 games last season, Jacob Markstrom was 20-14-6 with 2.49 GAA and .921 save percentage in his final 40 games, and the Canucks are counting on him to pick up where he left off. He should benefit from a second season with goaltending coach Ian Clark and an offseason refining changes they made to his technique, with a few new concepts he wasn't able to manage physically before.

 

5. Depth on power play

Vancouver's power play was tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for 22nd in the NHL at 17.1 percent last season after finishing tied for ninth in 2017-18 at 21.4 percent. The second power-play unit scored 11 of Vancouver's 53 goals last season, and three of those came after Hughes signed and played the point in the final five games. Hughes and Horvat, a fixture on the top unit last season, each played on the second unit in preseason.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

There are six players battling for the four wing spots on the bottom two lines, with at least one destined for waivers before being sent to the American Hockey League. Tim Schaller, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin, Tyler Motte, Baertschi and Eriksson are competing to play with centers Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle, with the ability to kill penalties giving Motte and Eriksson an advantage. Goldobin, who was seventh on the Canucks with 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 63 games last season but was a healthy scratch for nine of the final 10 games, along with Schaller, who was scratched 35 times and had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 47 games last season, are the leading candidates to get cut. Center Adam Gaudette, who had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 56 NHL games as a rookie last season, had a strong preseason with five points (four goals, one assist) in five games but appears destined for the AHL in part because he doesn't have to clear waivers like the other forwards mentioned.

 

Most intriguing addition

General manager Jim Benning talked about Myers playing a shutdown role, but the defenseman could make a bigger impact on offense. Myers had 67 points (15 goals, 52 assists) the past two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, one fewer than Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler. After being mostly relegated to the third pair with the Jets, Myers will get more of an opportunity to contribute on the top pair with Edler.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Pearson, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, scored seven goals in his final nine games playing with Horvat and is penciled into that spot on the second line with the addition of Miller on right wing.

 

Ready to break through

Hughes had three assists in five games at the end of last season after leading the University of Michigan with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) in 32 games. Hughes, who will turn 20 on Oct. 14, is being counted on to make an impact like Pettersson did last season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Markstrom (average draft position: 156.3) had 28 wins in 60 games last season and is obtainable in late rounds with a higher ceiling in his contract year (potential 2020 unrestricted free agent) after Vancouver's offseason improvements. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Micheal Ferland -- Elias Pettersson -- Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson -- Bo Horvat -- J.T. Miller

Sven Baertschi -- Brandon Sutter -- Josh Leivo

Loui Eriksson -- Jay Beagle -- Jake Virtanen

Alexander Edler -- Tyler Myers

Quinn Hughes -- Christopher Tanev

Jordie Benn -- Troy Stecher

Jacob Markstrom

Thatcher Demko

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