Don’t look now Canucks fans, but your team is back in a playoff race.
That’s not something I expected to type after Vancouver lost 12 of 13 games not long ago, but here we are. With the Canucks nearing full health, winning five of their last six games, they’ve climbed up the standings.
Sunday’s win against the Edmonton Oilers puts Vancouver just three points back of the last playoff spot in the West, with just one other team to leapfrog.
True, they’ve played 36 games – more than any other team in the NHL thus far – but they’re still in a better spot than most predicted at this point.
The Canucks have more points at the 36-game mark than they’ve had since the last time they made the playoffs in 2014-15. That’s a low bar, to be sure, but it’s significant because the Canucks have had to endure a more difficult-than-normal schedule this season, seeing them play 20 of their first 34 games on the road.
This was also supposed to be a year where the Canucks took a step back without the Sedins. Instead, they’ve shown signs of hope.
Much of the credit for that goes to Elias Pettersson, who somehow has exceeded the already high expectations for him coming into the season. But it goes beyond Vancouver’s super rookie.
Among one of the youngest teams in the league, the Canucks lead the NHL in percentage of goals scored by players 23 years old and under.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 14, 2018
The four Canucks players with double-digits in goals this season are all 23 and under, including Elias Pettersson (20 years old), Bo Horvat (23), Brock Boeser (21), and Jake Virtanen (22).
Pettersson is now the team’s best player, while Horvat has taken a step forward in his development. Boeser is scoring at a point-a-game-clip despite an injury-plague beginning to his season, and is looking as dangerous offensively as ever lately.
This team now belongs to its young players, which includes 23-year-old Nikolay Goldobin, who is fourth in team scoring with 21 points (5-16-21) and 25-year-old Ben Hutton, who is having a resurgent season on the blue line with 14 points (4-10-14).
The Canucks have three home games remaining this week, against Tampa Bay (Tuesday), St Louis (Thursday), and Winnipeg (Saturday) before the Christmas break. With the World Juniors taking over Rogers Arena on Boxing Day, Vancouver will head out on a six-game road trip.
It’s not about to get any easier any time soon.
The playoffs aren’t the goal for the Canucks this year, but if their young players can keep them in the postseason conversation in the second half of the season, it’ll be a great sign for the future.
While that might not be what Tank Nation wants to hear, consider that the Canucks won’t be dragged into the playoffs by 30-somethings like they were in 2014-15.
The Canucks’ leading scorers that year were Daniel Sedin (age 34), Henrik Sedin (34), Radim Vrbata (33), Nick Bonino (26), Chris Higgins (31), and Alex Burrows (34). Their starting goalie was Ryan Miller, who was 34, while defencemen Dan Hamhuis (32) and Kevin Bieksa (33) still played significant roles.
That team was on the verge of collapsing.
Playoff contender or not, fans can now say for the first time in many years, that the Canucks could be on the verge of breaking out.