The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin in on Jan 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Vancouver Canucks, who will play in the North Division.
Coach: Travis Green (fourth season)
Last season: 36-27-6 (.565 points percentage); seventh place in Western Conference, lost to Vegas Golden Knights in Western Conference Second Round
1. Holtby-Demko timeshare
Goalie Braden Holtby signed a two-year contract with the Canucks on Oct. 9. Holtby should be part of a timeshare with Thatcher Demko after Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver’s starter each of the past three seasons, signed a six-year contract with the Calgary Flames. The Canucks are counting on Holtby, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018, and Demko to support each other during the condensed season.
2. Elite production from Pettersson, Hughes
The Canucks have one of the best young cores in the NHL with 22-year-old center Elias Pettersson, who leads them with 132 points (55 goals, 77 assists) in 139 games over the past two seasons, and 21-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes, who led NHL rookies in scoring (53 points in 68 games) last season and set records for most assists (14) and most points (16) by a rookie defenseman in a single postseason. If Pettersson, who was tied with left wing J.T. Miller for the Vancouver postseason scoring lead (18 points in 17 games), and Hughes build on their success, the Canucks could make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
3. Overcoming offseason losses
Although they won multiple postseason rounds for the first time since 2011 (defeated Minnesota Wild in four games in best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers), the Canucks lost several key contributors this offseason. In addition to Markstrom, forward Tyler Toffoli (Montreal Canadiens) and defensemen Christopher Tanev (Flames) and Troy Stecher (Detroit Red Wings) left as free agents. The Canucks have multiple candidates to replace Toffoli at right wing in the top six, including forwards Jake Virtanen, Loui Eriksson, Zack MacEwen, Justin Bailey and Jayce Hawryluk (signed one-year contract Oct. 19). They will rely heavily on Nate Schmidt (acquired in trade from Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12) and prospects Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone and/or Brogan Rafferty to help their transition at defenseman.
Making the cut
Juolevi, who has had knee, hip and back injuries since being selected with the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is likely to fill one spot on the third pair. He scored 25 points (two goals, 23 assists) in 45 games for Utica of the American Hockey League last season and made his NHL debut in the postseason for the Canucks against the Wild in the Qualifiers.
Most intriguing addition
Acquiring Schmidt addressed a glaring need at defenseman, landing the Canucks a potential do-it-all player at the position. A left-handed shot, he is the leading candidate to play on the top pair with Hughes given his experience playing on his off side with the Golden Knights and will be crucial to their even-strength defense and penalty kill. Schmidt, who has scored at least 30 points in three straight seasons and played in each of the past five postseasons (two with Capitals, three with Golden Knights), reunites with Holtby; they were teammates with Washington from 2013-17.
Biggest potential surprise
Virtanen saw stretches in the top six last season but also spent plenty of time in the bottom six, especially after Toffoli was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 17. Virtanen had NHL career highs in goals (18), assists (18) and points (36), and he could reach a higher gear if he earns a full-time role on the top line with Pettersson and Miller (led Canucks with 72 points last season) or second line with center Bo Horvat (led Vancouver with 10 goals in 2020 postseason).
Ready to break through
Like Pettersson and Hughes, Demko is entering the final season of his entry-level contract. He was brilliant when Markstrom was unfit to play in the postseason, going 2-1 with a 0.64 goals-against average, a .985 save percentage and one shutout in four games, including three starts facing elimination against Vegas to help Vancouver nearly advance to the Western Conference Final after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. Demko, the backup to Markstrom the past two seasons, will likely split time with Holtby but could emerge as the starter by the end of this season.
Schmidt (average draft position: 146.7) is worth prioritizing late in a standard draft with potential exposure to Hughes. Schmidt’s 0.53 points per game last season were the highest in his seven NHL seasons, and he ranked second on the Golden Knights in shots on goal (66 in 20 games) last postseason behind Shea Theodore (80). — Rob Reese
J.T. Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Jake Virtanen
Antoine Roussel — Adam Gaudette — Brandon Sutter
Tyler Motte — Jay Beagle — Loui Eriksson
Quinn Hughes — Nate Schmidt
Alexander Edler — Tyler Myers
Olli Juolevi — Brogan Rafferty