The affirmation that the worst is over for the Canucks culminated in a 60-minute display against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. All the talk about a rebuild, whether it be capital ‘R’ or lowercase ‘r’ may have just come to rest after the final buzzer at Rogers Arena. This “rebuild” or “restructure” or whatever the heck you want to call it took a monster leap forward when 2015 first round pick Brock Boeser had the game of his life versus the Penguins and assured management, fans, and the media that the Canucks might indeed be ready to rise again.
Canucks management never wanted to admit their team had hit rock bottom and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. They made numerous decisions to try and mask the obvious problem that was in front of them. They threw money at the wrong players, offered lengthy contracts to aging veterans and drafted project players when NHL-ready talent was available.
The official rebuild wasn’t even a thing until just under a year ago. Even with Bo Horvat climbing the ranks to become the team’s eventual top center and Captain, there were other issues the Canucks weren’t addressing.
One of them was former coach Willie Desjardins.
It was pretty evident Willie had checked in the final year of his deal but if he was anticipating signing on somewhere else would he have not wanted to show he can lead a team forward? Desjardins went away from structure, line-matching, and youth when he let the Canucks unravel. Willie continued to use the Sedins as top line players when it was clear they were getting beat on the ice night in and night out.
The power play failed because the coach failed to see what options he actually had. Running an aging Ryan Miller into the ground when fresh, young, talent like Jacob Markstrom was waiting to be tested was just another example of how this team needed to address change immediately.
And it finally did.
Desjardins was let go, Travis Green was brought on and one of the most important parts of the rebuild had been fixed: a coach that knew how to deploy an effective lineup.
The next three things will define this team going forward:
Brock Boeser – He leads the Canucks with 13 points, he’s tied for 41st in league scoring, needing only 3 points to be tied for 11th overall in the league. To add to his impressive rookie campaign, he’s done all this playing two fewer games than his teammates after sitting out the season opener and the next game in the press box. The accolades seem endless having the 9th highest P/GM rank in the league with 1.30, and 2 GWG which has him in a tie for 8th overall.
That’s not taking into account his rookie status compared to his peers vying for the Calder. Boeser is in the top 3 in most of the rookie categories and November just started.
Brock has given the Canucks a weapon they have not possessed in many years: a true sniper. If you asked Markus Naslund who had a deadlier shot between the two of them, he might have a tough time picking himself. Boeser’s shot is accurate, it’s fast, and boy is it heavy! He’s felled a few players this season with just a wrister, something Sami Salo needed a full slap shot to achieve.
In the latest Provies written by Jason Botchford of The Province, we found out just how complex Boeser’s game really is in relation to pushing and pulling shots through traffic and using his linemates to the best of his ability. He’s a star and it’s not even close. Combine that with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi making up the NEW Canucks top line and this team looks like it’s in good hands.
The second thing that will define this team is the commitment to having the right players on the ice in all situations. Willie Desjardins subscribed to essentially rolling four lines and it didn’t work out well for him. Coach Green has seen that matching Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett, two players many thought shouldn’t even be on this team, against opposing team’s top lines has proved effective.
Green has preached a team defense for this year’s Canucks and the proof is in the pudding… err stats. Vancouver currently is tied with San Jose for allowing the least amount of goals in the league with 30. A year ago, somehow Vancouver allowed 27 but they only scored 16 compared to this season’s 35.
Defensive scoring is still a problem but that could get ironed out if the forwards allow the defense to take more chances without paying for it in their own net.
The power play has seen a revamp and still, isn’t perfect but having Brock at the shooter position will get results sooner than later. Last season, there was no visible evidence the team could produce a power play that kept opponents honest. This year, despite the 5th worst PP% in the NHL, the results are starting to build. Again, Boeser is a key cog in this machine and the better he does, so will his team.
Making sure players like Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna aren’t the first callups is a good way to ensure this team progresses.
Finally, the Canucks’ stable of young prospects and early year players will define where this team goes. Rushing Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann into the lineup early on proved to be a bad idea and because of that, McCann was sent packing. Virtanen was given a year to figure out his game and grow in the AHL and he has impressed many so far.
Jake Virtanen just reverse Kronwall’d Niklas Kronwall 😂😡pic.twitter.com/6EfewGxP8d
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) October 23, 2017
This wasn’t a play he would have been confident making a year ago. Jake has progressed and can be groomed to become an effective power forward. Prospect Kole Lind of the Kelowna Rockets is having a season to remember in junior. Lind is averaging 1.64 points per game this year and is getting it done in all situations. He’ll be a name to watch next season and might just get a chance to make it to the big club.
2017 first rounder Elias Pettersson is doing his own damage in the SHL across the Atlantic. With 17 points through 15 games, he too will have a legit shot at making the Canucks next year and many believe he could be the best player from his draft class, bold statement. Ryan Biech from Canucks Army posted this tweet based on Jeremy Davis’ pGPS map and looking at the players being compared, his career might be bright.
Based on Pettersson’s 2017-18 production… there is 100% success rate.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) November 3, 2017
I could go on about Thatcher Demko, Jonathan Dahlin, and even Nikolay Goldobin and I know I’m leaving out a few, but there are players that are going to replace the Sam Gagner/Loui Eriksson/Brandon Sutter group. The Sedins might just be on the way out at the end of the year and Green can truly put his stamp on what this team will achieve.
The rebuild, as far as I’m concerned, is complete. The pieces are in the system so the true definition of what the Canucks are is up for interpretation. Breaking apart the entire organization get to this point was definitely close but some of the unforeseen success has fast-tracked the Canucks to become competitive again.
Apparently, compete IS in their nature.
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Photo – Nucks Misconduct