NHL.com is looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by examining five of the biggest questions facing each of the 24 remaining teams. Today, we look at the Vancouver Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks were 36-27-6 (.565 points percentage) and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. They will play the No. 10 seed, the Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, .558 points percentage), in one of eight best-of-5 series. The start date and hub city have not yet been determined.
Here are 5 questions facing the Canucks:
1. Can Jacob Markstrom continue his strong play?
Markstrom has been arguably one of the most valuable goalies over the past two seasons, making 103 starts (tied for ninth in the NHL) with a .915 save percentage. This season, Markstrom was named to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time, and his NHL career-high .918 save percentage ranked fourth in the NHL among goalies to play at least 40 games. Markstrom, who has never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game, missed the final eight games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus because of a knee injury (Vancouver went 3-5-0), but he said in April he is fully healthy and ready to play in the qualifiers.
Video: BOS@VAN: Markstrom turns away Krug, Pastrnak
2. Will their top six overwhelm the Wild?
Five of Vancouver's top-six forwards scored at least 45 points this season, and the only one who didn't was Tyler Toffoli, who scored 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 68 games, including 10 (six goals, four assists) in 10 games after he was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 17. The Canucks, who were eighth in the NHL in goals per game (3.25), have the centers capable of presenting a mismatch against the Wild in Elias Pettersson (66 points in 68 games) and captain Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games).
3. Will their power play give the Wild problems?
The Canucks were fourth on the power play at 24.2 percent, and the Wild struggled on the penalty kill (77.2 percent, 25th in NHL), although after Dean Evason replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach on Feb. 14, Minnesota was fourth in the NHL at 91.2 percent. Minnesota will have to contain one of the most potent first power-play units in the League, featuring Pettersson, Horvat, left wing J.T. Miller, rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes and either Toffoli or right wing Brock Boeser. Hughes led all rookies and was tied for fourth among NHL defensemen with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) this season, and he was tied for third among defensemen with 25 power-play points (three goals, 22 assists). Miller tied Hughes for the Canucks lead in power-play points, with Pettersson (24) right behind them, and Horvat was tied for sixth in the NHL with 12 power-play goals.
Video: NYI@VAN: Horvat finishes slick sequence with PPG
4. Will Tyler Toffoli be a difference-maker?
Vancouver acquired Toffoli from Los Angeles for forward Tim Schaller, forward prospect Tyler Madden, a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Toffoli, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, has played mostly on the top line with Pettersson and Miller, and he provides the Canucks with valuable experience after helping the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2014. He can also give Vancouver flexibility and play on the second line with left wing Tanner Pearson, who was his linemate during Los Angeles' championship run.
5. Is their young core ready for the big stage?
Vancouver has a high ceiling because of its youth. If Boeser (23 years old; third full NHL season), whose shooting percentage has declined in each of the past two seasons (16.2 percent as rookie, 12.4 in 2018-19, 9.5 this season), can bounce back, and Pettersson (21; second season) and Hughes (20; first season) continue to perform at an elite level, Vancouver could qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2015.