Though the Vancouver Canucks started their rebuild way too late, the pieces are falling in for this team to start contending much sooner than expected.
In fact, team president Trevor Linden finally had to come clean about using the “R” word that he so avoided all these years:
"“So to get alignment with our fans and our media I used the rebuild word today, which everyone can get their head around. If that word makes everyone happier then I’m more than happy to use it.”"
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Vancouver tried a rebuild-on-the-fly approach from 2014 to 2016. While veterans Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo moved out over the years, Vancouver chose to sign other experienced players like Radim Vrbata and Loui Eriksson.
The latter carries one of the worst contracts in hockey, courtesy of Benning and Linden wanting to remain a competitive team.News flash:
Rebuilding on the fly hasn’t worked. Vancouver finished 28th in NHL standings in 2016 and 29th this past season.
But yet, many may overlook the fact that Vancouver’s rebuild/retool has gone very well. As such, they may be competitive sooner than you expect.
Allow me to explain…
Great depth of young forwards
The Canucks offence will be led by 22-year-old Bo Horvat, who led the team in scoring with 20 goals and 52 points. He’s gotten better every season in the NHL, and having some young line mates means he’s bound to score more.
Furthermore, wingers Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund look to build upon great years that saw each of them come near 20 goals — a mark they would have both reached if they didn’t each miss double-digit games.
Fans also have to get excited about Brock Boeser — one of the NHL’s elite prospects who scored four goals in nine games this past season.. It remains to be said if Jake Virtanen can finally find his game under new head coach Travis Green.. Can I mention newcomer and 50-point man Sam Gagner, too? He’ll be a great top-six fit for this team.
It’s also worth mentioning that centres Adam Gaudette and Elias Pettersson aren’t even NHL-ready. They’re both two of the Canucks better prospects, and also give fans plenty to be excited about in the long term.
Blue line looks promising
The Canucks don’t have a true No. 1 or 2 defenceman…yet.
But the play of Ben Hutton (24), and Troy Stecher (23), was thrilling, to say the least. Both guys are speedy and move the puck extremely well. Those two should form a nice back-end pairing for years to come.
Olli Juolevi is one of the golden prospects. He’s not quite ready for the NHL, but when he is, he’ll emerge as one of the best blueliners of this era. And hey, Chris Tanev is one of the best defensive players in the game. 6-foot-5 Erik Gudbranson could also turn into a solid shutdown defenceman if he finds his groove in Vancouver.
All of the sudden, Vancouver’s fairly weak blue line could be one of the NHL’s best — as long as some of these young defencemen reach their full potentials. Can I throw in elite goalie prospect Thatcher Demko, even though it’s not relevant to the defence?
Rebuild is almost over
You can only call it a “rebuild” if the team isn’t producing on the ice. But with so much depth at forward and some young blueliners in the fold, the Canucks may not be far off in competing for a playoff spot.
Realistically, this team needs to find one or two more gems over the next two drafts before they can be a Cup contender. That would mean two more years of rebuilding, which means this whole project would only take about three years.
There will simply be too much young talent on this Canucks team to the point where they won’t be tanking, but instead competing for a playoff spot.
You may think it’ll be a while, but the Vancouver Canucks may soon be handing out the white towels in April sooner than expected.