Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, the Canucks are 12 points back of the second wild card spot with 13 games left to play. While not mathematically eliminated yet, for all intents and purposes the club is already looking ahead to next season.
General manager Jim Benning admitted as much when he recently stated that he had spoken to head coach Willie Desjardins about giving the younger players more ice time. Better late than never, I suppose.
This season, and the last two months in particular, haven’t been very fun for Canucks fans. It’s been filled with a lot of negativity, and rightfully so.
So how about a little pick-me-up?
It’s not all doom and gloom for Canucks fans, especially if you can put the past two seasons behind you and look at the future with a long view.
Here are six non-depressing Canucks things to watch for down the stretch.
1. Playing the kids
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 7, 2017
If Desjardins indeed follows Benning’s directive, then Canucks fans can look forward to seeing a lot more of newcomers Nikolay Goldobin (once he’s healthy), Reid Boucher, and even Drew Shore.
Goldobin has had a slow start to his Canucks career: visa issues held him out initially, and he’s missed the last few games with a respiratory infection. In the three games he’s played, he’s scored a goal and given fans enough to get excited about. He looks to be a big part of the team going forward.
Boucher has been in and out of the lineup since joining the team earlier this year. There is a lot of intrigue around what he can do with regular minutes alongside regular linemates. He works hard, has good hockey sense, and has a decent shot.
One can look at this last month of the season as an “early training camp” in that it will give the players some valuable experience and it will give management a sense of what they have. The 13 games that Nikita Tryamkin played at the end of last season undoubtedly sped up his development and helped make him more pro-ready.
Speaking of which…
2. Brock Boeser
There’s a chance that the Canucks’ 2015 first-round pick could join the Canucks if his North Dakota team doesn’t advance to next month’s Division 1 College Hockey Frozen Four tournament. The Canucks are willing to “burn” the first year of Boeser’s three-year entry level contract to give him a taste of the pros.
Of all Canucks prospects, Boeser seems to be the fans’ greatest hope right now.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) January 7, 2017
Boeser brings everything the Canucks need more of: power down low, great hands, a quick release, and strong puck skills.
3. A new scoring champ?
Bo Horvat is on pace to be the first non-Sedin to win the club scoring race since Markus Naslund’s 79 points topped Henrik Sedin’s 75 points in the 2005-06 season. It would be a fitting ending to a season in which Horvat’s made substantial leaps in his play in earning his first All-Star nod.
But it’s not over yet. Henrik is only four points behind Horvat – all it would take is the first power play unit to heat up and the gap could close very quickly.
Then again, we’re talking about the Canucks power play here.
4. Vegas watch and the Draft
Luca Sbisa on playing for Las Vegas: "I’ve thought about it, but now I’m here. After the season, it’s something I’ll take a look at."
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) March 11, 2017
June will be an intriguing month – not just for the Canucks but for all NHL teams. The Vegas Golden Knights will be choosing players for their roster on June 20.
As Rob explained in his piece from yesterday, the Canucks likely stand to lose either defenceman Luca Sbisa or forward Brendan Gaunce in the expansion draft. It would be an end to a rather underwhelming Canucks career for either of them.
Then, just three days later, the 2017 NHL Draft will take place on June 23 and 24 from Chicago. Currently, the Canucks sit in 25th place in the standings, and they will likely finish anywhere between 22nd and 28th by season’s end.
After last season’s disappointing lottery result (which saw the Canucks drop from the third to fifth overall pick), it would be great to see them move up the draft this year.
5. Go Sharks!
Hopefully you’ve labeled the San Jose Sharks as your playoff team of choice. That’s because of the unique condition put into last month’s trade of Jannik Hansen to the Sharks.
Along with Nikolay Goldobin, the Canucks received the Sharks’ fourth round pick in this June’s draft. However, that fourth-round pick becomes the Sharks’ first round pick if San Jose wins the Stanley Cup.
This isn’t farfetched at all. The Sharks are the Cup finalists from last year and they look to be a lock to win the Pacific Division this season.
6. Be happy for Burrows too
Hansen is not the only ex-Canuck hoping to make a deep playoff run. Alex Burrows and the suddenly surging Ottawa Senators could win the Atlantic Division and make the Eastern Conference final.
The Canucks said farewell to both of these fan favourites at the trade deadline. While almost everyone seems happy at the returns (Goldobin, the Sharks’ draft pick, and prospect Jonathan Dahlen), it was still tough to see them go.
So go ahead and cheer for Hansen’s Sharks to meet Burrows’ Senators in the Stanley Cup Final.
As long as the Sharks win.