Canucks Best Bet For Cup's Return to Canada

The Vancouver Canucks had big expectations last season which were not met after falling meekly in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

However, despite some key subtractions to the lineup, the team has high hopes again for this coming year.

They’ve brought back their best offensive contributors in the twins, re-signed their top player long term in Luongo and have an excellent mix of veterans and youth to take a good run at a championship in the next few years.

Coaching:

Expectations are high in Vancouver and thus, that means coach Alain Vigneault will be on the hotseat. If he cannot exceed the results from last year, it would surprise no one if a change is made behind the bench.

The team seemed to lose its way as the 2nd round series with Chicago moved on and that is a cause for concern. But there is enough talent and smarts, plus a great goalie, to rectify whatever that went wrong.

It will be up to Vigneault to continue to make strides in getting this team to be more than a two player attack while keeping a strong defensive posture. With a player like Luongo in goal, he has allowed his team to open up a bit to generate more offence. It seemed to work as the team improved by almost a half a goal a game offensively.

Lineup:
C: Sedin, Wellwood, Johnson
RW: Burrows, Kesler, Samuelsson, Bernier, Rypien
LW: Sedin, Demitra, Raymond, Hordichuk
D: Bieska, Mitchell, Edler, OBrien, Salo, Ehrloff, Lukowich, Schnieder
G: Luongo, Raycroft

Forwards:

The return of the twins, Hendrik and Daniel Sedin will provide the Canucks with a couple of legitimate top line players for years to come. They are the backbone of the team’s offence and engine that drives the team’s scoring. The chemistry the twins have is unmatched and they should once again pick up 80-90 points each for the team.

It looks like the Canucks will have some options in terms of a linemate to round out the Sedin line. It may be Alex Burrows who went from walk-on player to key top line playoff performer. He showed scoring ability last year to go with his grit and character type play.

Another option is Samuelsson. The veteran Swede has good size and is a smart two way player with decent skill and championship experience. They may also turn to big Bernier who has played with the twins on powerplays.

No matter who ends up with the twins, the end result will be some quality forwards manning the 2nd and 3rd units providing the team with excellent depth. Their most important player may be Kesler who seems to be involved in every situation and is emerging as one of the best two way players in the league. He isnt a natural offensive player, but his grit certainly helps him battle for scoring chances.

Hopefully Demitra can stay healthy. He offers the most dangerous weapon in terms of offence outside of the twins. And if Raymond, Bernier and other youngsters, perhaps even Cody Hodgson improve and/or emerge as big contributors, the Canucks will be laughing. Wellwood offers depth, a skilled PP specialist type and a sound faceoff man.

The question is consistency as it really seemed in the playoffs that the Sedin line was the only one who could consistently put forth an attack. They will need consistent balanced scoring for the team to take the next step.

There is lots of size and grit with Samuelsson, Kesler and Bernier to go with a grind line of Rypien, Johnson and Hordichuk.

Defence:

The blueline is solid, and the added depth has made them quite strong despite the loss of Ohlund. Bieska and Mitchell are one of the league’s better tandems. Their expertise is in a shutdown role but Bieska can put up some points. They are a physical duo and the heart and character they show leads teammates by the example they set.

Salo will be all that more important this season with Ohlund gone. He will be asked to pick up some of those minutes lost and be a real anchor on the 2nd pairing. The question is health as Salo seems to be often injured.

Edler is an quality young blueliner who seems to be getting better each year out. They are going to need him to continue to improve, especially in running the PP where the team could use a presence on the point.

Helping offensively will be young Ehrloff and veteran Schnieder. Both are good puck moving blueliners, despite Schneider being almost 40. Ehrloff may put up bigger numbers here in Van after being more a secondary player in San Jose behind Boyle and Blake. Schnieder rejuvenated his career in Montreal and can still produce offensively.

O’Brien is a solid veteran guy who brings toughness, while Lukowich is a good depth player with championship experience.

Goal

What more can be said about Luongo other than he’s pretty good. Ok he is very good but did perform horribly in his final appearance last season. He got blitz in the elimination game vs Chicago and looked nothing like the world class stopper he is known to be.

The Captain though has a terrific mental makeup and he should bounce back, perhaps stronger than ever, and that could mean bad news for the NHL. The team locked up Luongo long term and with that distraction out of the way, look for perhaps an even stronger Luongo in goal. He too is motivated by the Olympics being here in Van and him maybe being Canada’s go to netminder.

The team picked up Raycroft for depth, but look for rookie Corey Schnieder to get another look with the Nucks this season.

Special Teams:

The Sedins are tremendously dangerous down low with the man advantage. They are terrific around the net and are masters at the cycle. Their presence opens the point for big shooting Salo. With Samuelsson and Bernier they have a net presence up front, while players like Wellwood and Demitra are skilled secondary options. Schneider, Edler, Ehrloff, Salo and Bieska are all options at the point.

The Canucks were middle of the pack on the PK. But nevertheless, they should be very solid. Johnson is a terrific PK forward and one of the most courageous at blocking shots. Kesler as well is a warrior. They will sometimes even throw out the Sedins on the PK to threaten offensively. The shutdown pair of Mitchell and Bieska will carry a heavier workload on the PK with Ohlund gone. Their shotblocking ability is terrific. But without a 2nd pairing that is as solid, they could be in some trouble using the 2nd and 3rd PK units.

Of course, the best penalty killer is the goaltender and Luongo is as good as they come.

Depth
F: Bolduc, Desbiens, Sawada, Labrie, Pope, Genoway, Glass
D: Fortunus, McIver, Rome, Nycholat, Oberg, Funk
G: Mensator

What’s Left:
Payroll: 59.6 mil
UFA: Sundin, Baumgartner, Pyatt, Ouellet, Cowan, Ellis
RFA:


The Canucks appear set at every position and lots of kudos go to GM Mike Gillis for addressing all the issues. He kept the twins and Luongo, he addressed the void on D and if some youngsters emerge, he will not have to worry about losing Sundin.

Draft Picks
R1/22 J. Schroeder (C)
R2/53 A. Rodin (W)
R3/83 K. Connauton (D)
R4/113 J. Price (D)
R5/143 P. Andersson (D)
R6/173 J. Cannata (G)
R7/187 S. Anthony (LW)

The Canucks perhaps got the biggest draft steal for 2009 ending up with Schroeder. A consensus top 10 pick at the beginning of the year, he slipped all the way out of the top 20 and into the Canucks hands. While small, he is highly skilled, fast and has tremendous hockey sense. The post lockout rules, if enforced, should allow for players like Schroeder to thrive and survive the rigors of the NHL. There will be no need for the team to rush the Minnesota product but he may leave school early to start his pro career.

Top Prospects:
F: Matt Butcher, Taylor Matson, Cody Hodgson, Ilja Kablukov, Sergei Shirokov, Prab Rai, Jannik Hansen, Michael
Grabner, Juraj Simek, Dan Gendur,
D: Taylor Ellington, Yann Sauve
G: Cory Schneider

There are a couple of prospects in Hodgson and Schneider who are NHL ready. Hodgson made the team last year but was wisely sent back to Junior where he excelled and was named CHL player of the year. While he is a teenager, he thinks the game like a veteran and has a great set of hands. He should have a very solid NHL career as a scorer, checker and leader.

Schnieder has been one of the best goalies in the AHL but with Luongo ahead of him on the depth chart, it has been best to give him a ton of games on the farm. He may win the backup job from Raycroft this season, but if all else fails, he is a solid safety net if the team cannot lock up Luongo beyond this season.

A player to watch is Grabner who has apprenticed the last couple of years on the farm netting back to back 20 goal seasons, including 30 last year. The natural goal scorer may finally get a shot this year with the big club.

Outlook: The Canucks have arguably one of the league’s best goalies so that alone gives them a chance. They have a nice mix up front, including two world class scorers in the Twins. They have depth on D now and hopefully that is enough to pull the Canucks further along.


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