Vancouver Canucks: The silver lining of many injuries

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 2: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena November 2, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 2: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena November 2, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

Despite the wave of injuries, the Vancouver Canucks are still winning hockey games while being fun to watch. The young guns are getting the opportunity of a lifetime, but what happens when everybody is healed?

The Vancouver Canucks are currently a fun team. The jury is still out if they are actually good. That should be a T-shirt. Too bad Jeff Veillette had that going for the Leafs already. Call it the Elias Pettersson effect. Give credit to Travis Green for embracing a faster style of play. Whatever you want to use to label it, the team is getting results.

Consider that this is all done with injuries up and down their lineup. At the moment, we have Alex Edler, Sven Baertschi, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle and Anders Nilsson who will continue to miss significant time. Brock Boeser headed back to Vancouver to see a specialist.

Before the Boeser news, the other players being out of the lineup revealed something interesting. One of my biggest complaints of the offseason was having a veteran-laden team that would deny the younger players chances.

Jim Benning is currently showcasing the youth on his team (out of necessity and not by choice). The team is holding strong and can outscore their problems thanks to Swedish Gretzky. Or is it Orr? Lemieux? At this rate, we are going to run out of players to compare against Pettersson.

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This season, we are seeing Ben Hutton take on a much larger role and succeeding. Michael Del Zotto is only playing because Edler is out and when Eagle is back, the team’s anti-Fortnite DJ will be back in the press box. He has been awful since returning. Derrick Pouliot is another disaster out there and I hope Olli Juolevi‘s progress is quick so we have a good reason to ditch Pouliot from the lineup.

But the most interesting part is the forward group. The team currently has 13 of them of the roster and assuming they keep the seven defencemen they had to start the year, they could carry 14 when everyone is healthy.

These injuries are the best thing that could have happened for Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette. The former is tearing things up early on and the latter wasn’t even on the team at the start of the season. Virtanen is playing legitimate top six minutes and is not buried on the third line as expected. Gaudette still needs some development, but can definitely stick in this league.

Bo Horvat has had to shoulder the responsibilities of two players, taking on the tougher defensive matchups. So far, he is thriving at both ends of the ice as long as it’s not the penalty kill. For Horvat, his job gets a little easier when Sutter returns. However, the other returns may change things.

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Once Baertschi and Boeser are back, that leaves two spots for wingers in the top six. One will go to Nikolay Goldobin and I have good feeling that Loui “Little Things” Eriksson will claim that spot. I would like to see Loui back with a healthy Brandon Sutter and Green did try a line of Pettersson with Goldy and Virtanen, something I thought I would not see this season. Shout out to Chris Faber for seeing his dreams come true.

So, I’m bracing myself for Virtanen’s potential return to the bottom six. A healthy Jay Beagle sends Adam Gaudette back to Utica, which is a shame. Brendan Gaunce is playing very well, but he is likely waived despite being better than Beagle in every way so far. The shine on Tyler Motte is gone, so I hope the team chooses Gaunce over him. Last, but not least, Darren Archibald will likely be sent down despite being one of the better players in the bottom six.

Carrying 14 forwards means four re-assignments. My best guess would be Alex Biega, Adam Gaudette, Tyler Motte and Darren Archibald. A lot can happen in the next month since the injured players are not returning tomorrow. But it’s something to think about. Opportunity is huge. The Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals based on that principle.

Maybe you can see why people like me were not thrilled with the Beagle signing. It was expensive, unnecessary and blocks out a prospect that is showing his stuff in the NHL. The Capitals don’t miss him and Nic Dowd is doing the same thing for much less. It’s almost like bottom six forwards grow on NHL trees. And with the team winning without him in the lineup, what exactly is he teaching the kids?

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Like I said, these injuries are a silver lining. They provide a grand opportunity for the team’s youth movement. The problem is, some of that youth will be pushed down and out of the lineup. And it won’t be due to playing ability. Benning’s Canucks can’t seem to do the right thing unless something external forces their hand. But hey, if we can see one vet waived, maybe a trade or two is on the one. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it beats shipping out that youth for short term help.