Remember when this fanbase was giddy about the team’s minuscule playoff odds?
Well, four losses in their last five games has completely robbed fans of that excitement.
Although they aren’t mathematically eliminated, this is a Vancouver Canucks team that’s playing tired, all while missing their best player — Elias Pettersson. Things aren’t’ about to get any easier, with a grueling schedule featuring 12 games in 19 days during the month of May, including six against either Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid.
With the playoffs a fading dream, it’s time for Travis Green to start experimenting with an eye on next season.
Here are six things that the Canucks should implement before the season ends.
1. Pair Hughes with Schmidt
There isn’t much debate about who the Canucks’ two best defencemen are.
Quinn Hughes is obviously a star in the making, but Nate Schmidt has been the Canucks’ most consistent defenceman this season. With this defence in an impending state of transition, why not see how the Canucks two best defencemen play as a duo?
Hughes and Schmidt have a respectable 51.2% Corsi-for while playing together. For a team that has one player above 50% Corsi-for on the season, that has to be considered a minor victory.
At this point, it can’t hurt to see how the Canucks’ two best defenceman play as a pairing. Who knows, they might even be good.
2. Increase Olli Juolevi’s role
When the Canucks traded Jordie Benn, it gave Olli Juolevi a chance to return to the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch for a month.
Despite returning to the lineup, not much has changed in terms of Juolevi’s deployment.
After posting points in two consecutive games against the Senators, the 22-year-old Finn was a healthy scratch against Toronto. Even in his last game against Ottawa, Juolevi had a team-low 14 shifts, and was the only defenceman from either team who didn’t log a single second on special teams.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old Alex Edler leads the Canucks with 3:23 of ice time per game shorthanded.
If the Canucks actually plan on having Juolevi as a part of their future, they need to see how he fares in tougher matchups, and they need to utilize him as a penalty killer.
3. Put Höglander on the first power play unit
Nils Höglander has been a revelation in his rookie season. He currently leads all healthy Canucks (aside from Elias Pettersson) with 1.9 points-per-60 at even-strength.
However, Höglander has been a non-factor on the power play.
That’s largely because he plays on an under-utilized second unit. Meanwhile, Tanner Pearson was picked as Pettersson’s replacement on the power play since the Swedish star exited the lineup in early March.
Pearson hasn’t been overly impressive on the man advantage, with just two power play points since Pettersson’s exit. Meanwhile, every other member of the first unit has at least four points over that timespan.
The power play is also struggling of late with three goals in their last 23 attempts.
Enough of the supposed “safer option” with Pearson, it’s time to let Höglander’s creativity flourish on the first unit.
4. Play Miller with Motte
This is something that Green actually put into action against the Senators on Wednesday. The logic here ties into the idea of having Miller as the third-line centre next season. While that hypothesis has flaws, it is enticing to picture Miller centring a line with Motte and incoming rookie Vasily Podkolzin.
In case this is something the Canucks want to implement in 2021-22, now would be the time to see if Motte and Miller can form some chemistry.
Of course, this hinges on Motte’s health after taking a questionable hit from Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren.
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) April 30, 2021
5. More Kole Lind
Perhaps the bar has been lowered after a plethora of mediocre performances from depth players, but Kole Lind actually looked fairly competent in his NHL debut.
Solid first NHL game for Kole Lind. Played 17:07, 2 shots on goal, 7th among #Canucks in CF%. Thought he had good jump and didn't look out of place.
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) April 30, 2021
Lind made some crisp passes and some nice defensive break-ups during his debut. He also was tied for the team lead with three scoring chances against the Leafs.
The 22-year-old was bounced around the line-up, but posted positive underlying numbers with Pearson and Horvat, as the trio played together in the latter half of the game.
At the very least, he looked better than the barrage of other depth forwards that are playing for the Canucks right now. Lind should be playing in a majority of the Canucks remaining games.
6. A Jack Rathbone debut
One prospect debut down, one to go.
Defenceman Jack Rathbone is currently on the Canucks taxi squad, and it would be a shame if Green didn’t get him into some game action before the end of the season.
When you think about tired players on the Canucks right now, the defence comes to mind first. There’s no reason, with this team’s playoff hopes dwindling, that you need to play the likes of Edler and Hamonic every night for the rest of the season. Heck, even Hughes looks like he could use a night off.
I think Quinn Hughes is done with this game already pic.twitter.com/8FQWvwGE6P
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 29, 2021
Rathbone is Vancouver’s most exciting prospect on defence, and that hype has only increased after he posted nine points in eight games for the Utica Comets. This is a player who has the potential to be a full-time NHLer next season, so the Canucks need to find out now if he’s ready before then.