It’s going to feel different watching the Vancouver Canucks next season – the first not to feature Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 19 years.
While much of the talk recently has surrounded who will succeed Henrik as team captain, let’s focus on who will actually fill the space vacated by the two greatest players in franchise history.
Canucks management appears ready (at long last) to head into next season with a youthful lineup.
“I think it’s very likely we could be several million dollars below the cap,” said team president Trevor Linden at the Canucks year-end media availability.
While there’s still time to blow through that money on July 1 on players like Tyler Bozak and Paul Stastny, anything short of spending money on Jonathan Tavares would likely be a mistake for the rebuilding Canucks.
Players like Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin need a chance to prove themselves, something that becomes more challenging when a dependable veteran option is at the coach’s disposal.
But beyond the existing group that we saw in Travis Green’s first year in charge is a group of new players that could break into the lineup as soon as next season.
Here’s a look at five rookies with a chance to crack the Canucks’ opening night lineup next season.
Position: Centre / Right wing
2017-18 team: Vaxjo (Swedish Hockey League)
2017-18 stats: 44 GP, 24 G, 32 A, 56 PTS
Size: 6-foot-2, 165 pounds
Elias Pettersson will make the move to North America next season, just as his countryman, Henrik Sedin, has vacated a centre ice spot. So just swap one Swede in for the other, right?
Not so fast.
While the fifth-overall pick from the 2017 draft had a phenomenal season in Sweden – leading the SHL in scoring while setting a new points record for a U20 player – he played primarily on the wing last season.
It’s likely too much to ask the rail-thin 19-year-old to step into the physically demanding position right away at the NHL level. That means if the supremely talented forward makes the team, it’s likely as a winger.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) January 16, 2018
While Pettersson may not be a candidate to replace the team’s all-time leading scorer at centre, he might be able to capably take over Henrik’s spot on the power play.
Position: Left wing
2017-18 teams: Timra IK (Allsvenskan), Utica Comets (AHL)
2017-18 stats (Timra): 44 GP, 23 G, 21 A, 44 PTS
Size: 5-foot-11, 176 pounds
Speaking of talented Swedes vying for a spot on the wing next season, Jonathan Dahlen could earn a spot – maybe even ahead of Pettersson.
In Dahlen’s favour is his age (he’s one year older than Pettersson), size (he’s 15 pounds heavier), and the fact that he’s getting a head start on the North American game this season.
The second-leading scorer in the Swedish second division, Dahlen helped earn Timra IK a promotion to the first division this season. He made the move to North America at season’s end, joining the Utica Comets, where he’s currently getting ready for the AHL playoffs.
— x – Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 15, 2018
He’s off to a good start too, with a goal and an assist in his first two regular season games.
2017-18 teams: Northeastern University (NCAA), Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2017-18 stats (Northeastern): 38 GP, 30 G, 30 A, 60 PTS
Size: 6-foot-1, 183 pounds
Canucks fans already got a sampling of what Adam Gaudette can do, as the Hobey Baker Award winner finished the season in Vancouver.
While he didn’t score any points in five games with the Canucks, he also didn’t look out of place.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) April 8, 2018
That’s a compliment for a young player, particularly one trying to cut his teeth as a raw rookie playing centre. Given Gaudette’s reputation as a strong two-way player, he could conceivably crack the Canucks’ lineup as a third or fourth line centre next season.
2017-18 team: TPS (Liiga)
2017-18 stats: 38 GP, 7 G, 12 A, 19 PTS
Size: 6-foot-3, 198 pounds
Seen by many as a disappointment given where he was drafted, Olli Juolevi needs to play NHL games next season to quiet his critics. The fifth overall pick by the Canucks in 2016 hasn’t had the immediate success that others in his draft class have enjoyed, though it’s important to note that there’s still time for him.
#Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi's PP goal from the first period – pick tips off defender and goes top corner
Primary assist for fellow prospect Petrus Palmu pic.twitter.com/9cblrcQhQU
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) January 23, 2018
Still just 19 years old, the smooth-skating defenceman is expected to be a Dan Hamhuis type, providing dependability more than flashy play from the back end.
The Canucks would be thrilled if he made the team out of camp, but there’s a few bodies in the way at the moment, with the entire defence corps either under contract or expected to re-sign.
2017-18 teams: Utica Comets (AHL), Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2017-18 stats (Utica): 46 GP, 25-13-4, 2.44 GAA, .922 SV%
Size: 6-foot-4, 192 pounds
The plan for Thatcher Demko was to play next season in Utica, before likely graduating to the NHL for the 2019-20 season.
But plans can change.
— x – Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 14, 2018
Demko has had an excellent season with the Comets, compiling a winning record and a .922 save percentage in 46 AHL games. Compare those numbers with those from his backup, Richard Bachman (13-13-0, 2.98 GAA, .902 SV%) and you get a sense of how good he’s been between the pipes.
The 22-year-old San Diego native got just once look in Vancouver, winning despite letting in four goals, so it’s difficult to say if he’ll be ready to be Jacob Markstrom’s backup in October.
The safe decision is to keep Demko in Utica next season, though if he continues to excel, you should expect to see him in spot duty with the Canucks throughout the season.
It’s unlikely more than a couple of the players above make the team out of training camp, so the challenge for the guys listed as honourable mentions is even greater.
Let’s take a look anyway: