Hockey is back!
The Vancouver Canucks kick off their season against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. For the first time since the 1999-00 season, they will do so without Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
The two best players in franchise history retired after last season, leaving some big holes to fill on a team that finished 25th in the NHL last season.
The Canucks will hope some new additions can help right the ship. That process began last season, when Brendan Leipsic and Tyler Motte were brought in at the trade deadline, and Nikolay Goldobin was called up from Utica to end the year.
Now, more reinforcements are on the way. The 2018-19 Canucks lineup features four new players – one rookie and three free agent signings.
So… who are they?
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1. Elias Pettersson
No player on this list is more important to the Canucks’ success than Elias Pettersson.
Heck, the 19-year-old might be the most important player on the entire roster. Since being selected fifth overall by the Canucks in 2017, Pettersson has blossomed into one of the top prospects in the world.
Pettersson played in the Swedish Hockey League last season, and absolutely dominated.
His 56 points in 44 games not only led the entire league, but also set an SHL scoring record for U-20 players, outdoing former greats like Kent Nilsson, Peter Forsberg, and the Sedin twins. That was enough to net him several SHL awards, including Rookie of the Year, Top Forward, and MVP.
His regular season domination carried into the playoffs, where he scored 19 points in 13 games en route to winning the SHL Championship.
Oh, and he also won a silver medal at the World Juniors with Sweden, posting five goals and seven points in seven games.
Pettersson showed Canucks fans glimpses of his skill in the preseason, and led the team with six points in five games.
Safe to say, Pettersson is ready to make his mark on the NHL. In fact, he’s the odds-on favourite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
If line rushes are any indication, he’ll start the season as the team’s second-line centre, playing between Goldobin and Loui Eriksson.
2. Jay Beagle
With the Sedins retired, it’s clear GM Jim Benning was looking to add some experience and leadership to the Canucks locker room. He got that in Jay Beagle.
“Jay is a detailed player with championship experience, who can handle a big defensive workload,” Benning said after the signing. “We’re excited to add a player with his calibre of character and experience to our team.”
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound centreman is the only member of the Canucks with a Stanley Cup ring, having just won with the Washington Capitals this past year.
Beagle will turn 33 this month, making him the second-oldest player on the roster behind Loui Eriksson.
There are concerns about how he’ll hold up over the duration of his four-year, $3 million contract, but in the short term Beagle should help improve the Canucks’ faceoffs, penalty-killing, and overall defensive play in a bottom-six role.
3. Antoine Roussel
Another free agent signed to a four year, $3 million deal, Antoine Roussel appears to essentially be a replacement for the now-retired Derek Dorsett.
After being undrafted, Roussel eventually signed with the Dallas Stars. He played six seasons there, collecting 141 points in 413 games.
Roussel plays a style of game that gets under the opposition’s skin, and he’s never one to shy away from dropping the gloves. His 806 career penalty minutes is evidence of that.
We’ll have to wait a little longer to see Roussel in action due to a concussion he suffered while training this summer. When he returns, look for him to slot into one of the checking lines centred by either Beagle or Brandon Sutter.
4. Tim Schaller
See a pattern here?
Tim Schaller represents the third forward signed by Benning this past offseason in an attempt to improve the team’s depth up front. Interestingly, all three signings are also players that were never drafted.
The 27-year-old from New Hampshire is coming off his first full NHL season, where he had 22 points in 82 games playing primarily on Boston’s fourth line.
Schaller offers some versatility by being able to play both wing and centre, which should be handy when the inevitable injury bug hits the Canucks. We’ll likely see him playing left wing on the fourth line to start the season.