Vancouver Canucks hockey is right around the corner.
While there should be some excitement heading into the 2023-24 season, there’s definitely pressure on the Canucks to prove that this year won’t be like the last three seasons.
Maybe that’s why Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet keeps talking about pressure.
“This is my tag line for me, and for our team, it’s meet pressure with pressure,” Tocchet said recently.
Hopefully, his players have been listening.
Here are seven of the biggest questions facing the Canucks ahead of training camp, which kicks off on Thursday, September 21 in Victoria.
1. Who will get first crack playing on Canucks’ top line?
It has to be one of the best available jobs in the NHL.
Heading into the season, it’s a relatively safe assumption that Andrei Kuzmenko and Elias Pettersson will team up on the Canucks’ top line.
But, the third member of that line remains a complete mystery.
Ilya Mikheyev was a staple there last season, but he doesn’t appear to be ready for training camp. Under Tocchet, Anthony Beauvillier had a prolonged stretch there, while Dakota Joshua earned some reps on the top line towards the end of the season.
One player that probably deserves a look on the top line is Brock Boeser. The Burnsville, Minnesota native needs to have a big season for the Canucks, and he’s traditionally had his best NHL success alongside Pettersson.
2. Who will be Quinn Hughes’ partner?
Remember during last year’s training camp when all the talk was about Quinn Hughes partnering with Oliver Ekman-Larsson?
Life moves fast.
Entering this season, it looks one of the new blue line additions, Ian Cole or Carson Soucy, will partner up with the Canucks captain.
Partnering Hughes with Cole might be the safer option based on the 34-year-old’s experience. However, the Canucks might be best off giving Filip Hronek the safe option on the Canucks’ second pair, while the physical Soucy can fill more of Luke Schenn-esque role alongside Hughes.
3. Who will be the surprise players of this year’s camp?
There’s always one, isn’t there?
Last year, it was Andrei Kuzmenko who was electric from the preseason onwards.
While his situation was unique, there will likely be at least one surprise Canuck who steps up in September.
It could be a young forward like Aidan McDonough, an older prospect who is nearly 24. The Canucks also hope that a depth defender will step up, like Christian Wolanin, Akito Hirose, or Jack Rathbone, and prove that they are worthy of a full-time NHL role.
4. Can Hoglander or Podkolzin bounce back?
Last season can be described as a disappointment for both Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin.
Both players have shown flashes at the NHL level, however both took a step back last year with early-season AHL demotions.
Höglander and Podkolzin face an uphill battle to carve out meaningful roles on the Canucks roster for opening night. Podkolzin might have a leg up since he spent time playing under Tocchet late in the season, however Höglander is on a one-way contract and would require waivers to be sent to the AHL.
5. How will injuries affect the Canucks roster plans?
We’ve seen how injuries can alter a team’s plans before the season even begins.
This time last year, defenceman Travis Dermott suffered a training camp concussion that derailed his entire season. Mikheyev tore his ACL in the first period of the team’s first preseason game. He played through the injury until he elected to have surgery in January.
CHEK TV’s Rick Dhaliwal reported last week that Mikheyev is 3-4 weeks away from returning to full health.
In terms of the two players who spent most of last season on long term injured reserve, it’s been reported that defenceman Tucker Poolman won’t be at training camp, while Tanner Pearson has been joining informal skates and appears good to go for camp.
6. Who will win the Canucks’ back-up goalie battle?
Make no mistake, this is Spencer Martin’s job to lose.
However, young Latvian Arturs Silovs certainly could win the backup job.
Martin looked great in a backup role before Thatcher Demko’s injury, but was statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL once he was thrust into the starter’s role. He finished his season strong in the AHL after being demoted late last season.
Silovs doesn’t have much pro experience, but was named MVP of the Abbotsford Canucks last season. He also was named MVP of the World Hockey Championship, where he helped Latvia win their first ever medal. The 22-year-old can’t be ruled out of making this team.
7. Can they avoid another putrid start?
This is a must for the Canucks, especially after last season’s debacle.
Six games into last season, the Canucks were 0-4-2, which prompted team president Jim Rutherford to rip his coach on national TV.
Most of the Canucks arrived in Vancouver 2-3 weeks before camp. giving fans hope that this season will be different.
And, after three straight years of bad starts which cratered their hopes of making the playoffs, this year better be different.