It’s decision time for the Vancouver Canucks — which players will make the final cut?
Preseason is over, and the Vancouver Canucks have until Tuesday to reduce their roster.
Currently, the Canucks have 29 players, which means they will have to let six players go to reach the 23-man limit.
Let’s start with the players who are obviously going to make the Canucks:
- Henrik Sedin
- Daniel Sedin
- Loui Eriksson
- Brandon Sutter
- Jannik Hansen
- Bo Horvat
- Sven Baertschi
- Alexandre Burrows
- Derek Dorsett
- Anton Rodin
All in all, there are 10 forwards and five defensemen who are locks for the roster. That leaves three open spots up front and three on the back end.
Of the remaining players, who should stay and who should go?
On the Bubble: Forwards
Markus Granlund: Stay
Granlund’s place on the Canucks was far from secure when training camp opened. The “other guy” in the Hunter Shinkaruk trade had to earn his spot — and he did.
Granlund has looked good both at center and on the wing. He will likely play more minutes on the wing with Brandon Sutter than he will centering the fourth line. For a player with 15 career assists, Granlund is a surprisingly adept passer, and could help get the puck to the shoot-first Sutter.
Brendan Gaunce: Stay
Gaunce barely missed joining the Canucks last preseason. This year, he will not be denied.
Carrying both Granlund and Gaunce on the roster will give the Canucks flexibility in the bottom six. What Gaunce brings that Granlund does not is size and physicality, which will be valuable in a division where most teams are massive down the middle.
Jake Virtanen: Stay
Manager and coach have both said that Virtanen could start the year in the AHL. Don’t let the talk fool you. Virtanen will make the Canucks, and it’s not even close.
This team needs speed, it needs physicality and it needs scoring help. Virtanen brings all three. He is far too important to the Canucks’ success to left behind.
Tuomo Ruutu: Go
Ruutu has shown well in his tryout, even scoring a shorthanded goal. But the Canucks have others players who can duplicate his skills, and Ruutu’s recent history in the NHL is far from glowing.
He certainly deserves to get another NHL contract — he just won’t get it with the Canucks.
Jack Skille: Go
Skille will suffer the same fate as Ruutu: he showed he is still good enough to play in the NHL, but there is not enough room for him to make the Canucks.
Emerson Etem: Already gone. Already forgotten.
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The good news is that Etem has played so badly that the Canucks don’t have to worry about another team taking him on waivers.
That’s also the bad news. Etem needed a good training camp to earn a roster spot. Instead, he was virtually invisible. Willie D couldn’t even find a single “real good” to send Etem’s way.
This may not be his last chance with the Canucks. He can rebuild his value with the Utica Comets and become the first call-up in case of injury. At this point, that’s the best he can hope for.
On the Bubble: Defensemen
Troy Stecher: Stay
Stecher is Ben Hutton 2.0. The Canucks blueline needs to be more dynamic and contribute more offensively.
Troy fits the bill. He is small for an NHL player but he compensates with good positioning and excellent footspeed. Best of all, Stecher never passes up an opportunity to shoot the puck.
Stecher doesn’t need to play every game, but when he does, he will make the Canucks’ defense corps better.
Philip Larsen: Stay
It’s true, Larsen is hardly a star in his own end. He is going to have challenges in his own end.
At the same time, he has played as advertised through the preseason. With Larsen manning the point, the power play should see some improvement.
For that reason alone the Canucks should give Larsen a shot. The power play was bad last year, and improving it is priority — even if it means playing a defenseman who is below average in his own end. The Canucks have travelled this road before with Yannick Weber, but in the short run, it is a risk worth taking.
Nikita Tryamkin: Go (but hopefully not to Russia)
Tryamkin might remind fans of Zdeno Chara, but don’t award him the Norris trophy just yet. He may become a great NHL defenseman eventually, but that will take time.
Unfortunately, Tryamkin seems to lack the patience to spend development time in the AHL.
Really, though, it’s worth it for the Canucks to try to send him there. The worst-case scenario is that he bolts back to Russia, but that really isn’t terrible. Tryamkin doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, so they won’t lose him to another NHL team — at least not right away. And since he is a Canucks draft pick, they spent nothing to get him.
If Tryamkin decides he’d rather play in the KHL than in Utica, that’s just the way it goes. He wouldn’t be the first prospect to not make it.
Alex Biega: Go
Andrey Pedan already cleared waivers. Biega is smaller, older and has a one-way contract — is there any doubt that he will clear waivers too?
There is a reason to play Biega in the NHL this season, as he can be exposed in the expansion draft. But in the opening day roster? No.
Biega is useful enough as a depth option in case of injury, but the Canucks don’t need to make room for him right now, especially with the emergence of Troy Stecher.
The Starting Lineup
What does the lineup look like with these players? Here is an idea:
Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi — Bo Horvat — Jake Virtanen
Markus Granlund — Brandon Sutter — Jannik Hansen
Alex Burrows — Brendan Gaunce — Derek Dorsett
Rodin’s knee is not 100 percent ready. As head coach Willie Desjardins said before the final preseason game, Rodin’s knee is still “healing and this day off was needed.” So, he may benefit from being scratched or from reduced playing time to start the year.
Beyond that, it looks like the Canucks will have four definite left-wing/center pairings, with moving pieces on the right side. Hansen might replace Eriksson on the top line. Virtanen might play with Sutter. Dorsett might be scratched. Rodin could slot in on any of the lines.
Edler — Tanev
Hutton — Gudbranson
Sbisa — Larsen/Stecher
Are the top two pairings inseparable? Hard to say. Edler and Stecher looked very good playing together for most of the preseason. If Stecher draws in, the Canucks could try this instead:
Edler — Stecher
Sbisa — Tanev
Hutton — Gudbranson
These pairings would mean big responsibilities for Troy Stecher and Luca Sbisa. But Willie D does like to roll his lines, so with roughly equal playing time, this combination might get the most out of every player.
Like last season, the Canucks could have multiple rookies make the team out of training camp. Last year’s “younger, faster” Vancouver team could become younger and faster still.
Hopefully, this year’s roster will also be entertaining — and maybe even competitive.