What the Vancouver Canucks have and what is still missing

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 06: Vancouver Canucks Center Elias Pettersson (40) and fans celebrate after he scored on a penalty shot during their NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena on December 6, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 5-3. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 06: Vancouver Canucks Center Elias Pettersson (40) and fans celebrate after he scored on a penalty shot during their NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena on December 6, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 5-3. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Vancouver Canucks fans may feel we are set with the aptly named “Fantastic Four.” However, I think we are just looking at the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to navigate and much more needed to succeed.

The Fantastic Four. For some, it is a franchise of mediocre superhero movies that couldn’t get on the MCU train at the right time. However, for Vancouver Canucks fans, it represents the foundation of our future. Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

Honestly, that’s a pretty good place to start from. The key word here being start. Those four don’t mean that the team is done with rebuilding. They are the makings of a good core, but they need support. It’s not the first time I mentioned this, but we should take a good look at the roster and see what we have and what is still needed.

NHL lineups have changed over the years. Thanks to the salary cap, teams need to bring in elite talent that is largely extracted from the draft. Those players will command the most money and the smartest managers figure out how to fill out the rest of the roster with cheap, but exceptional players.

It’s a very nuanced skill that requires critical assessments of your current roster and what you would like it to look like in the future. Getting tunnel vision for one particular aspect such as toughness, speed or character can lead to pitfalls and cap trouble.

For me, the modern NHL roster looks like this. In your forward group, your top nine provides you three lines of scoring depth with your fourth line being an effective checking line. If your third line can do both, that’s an enviable position to be in. The best teams in this league have what I like to call three-headed monsters. Those scoring lines can make or break a team. In theory, another team’s checking line takes one of the three, the top defensive pairing takes the second, leaving the third to score with ease.

It’s not hard to see examples now. Winnipeg has so much talent down the middle and on the wings. It use to be only in video games where Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Nazem Kadri are your top three centres in the lineup. Nashville has an incredible amount of depth. They are playing this well despite losing four key players to injuries.

Tampa Bay is just frightening to look at and the list goes on and on. Even when injuries hit, it doesn’t matter because they have depth and this scoring punch. And we’re just looking at the forwards. Defencemen are prime pieces and most teams are pretty stubborn about getting rid of the good ones. Some teams are also stubborn in thinking that they have a good defenceman when they don’t.

The forwards

More from The Canuck Way

But the point here is to see what the Canucks have and positions that need to be filled. Three quarters of the Fantastic Four make up 50% of our future top six. Pettersson is the 1C, Horvat is the 2C (playing like a 1C at the moment) and Boeser has a spot on either centre’s wing.

I don’t think anyone else in the lineup has secured one of those spots in the distant future. However, I do think Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen are nice middle six options that can fill in during injuries. Not permanent fixtures in the top six, but certainly the right age to stick around for a while. Although, I am more than willing to hear the argument to keep Goldy on the second line three years down the road.

That would mean the Canucks need at least one more exceptional centre and a couple of scoring wingers. One of those wingers has to produce like an elite first line player. The 2019 draft can provide the Canucks with a lot of options. Getting someone who can step into the league next year could raise expectations around winning.

Unfortunately, one player won’t solve all the problems. I think we could use three or four more offensive players to be confident with the forward lineup. Maybe there is an answer in the prospect pool, but judging by the progress on the farm, they aren’t arriving right away. And I think it’s a fool’s errand to pencil in prospects that aren’t excelling at lower levels of play.

The goalies

This is something I’ve talked about before, but the team is in a decent position with goaltenders. Thatcher Demko had an unlucky start with a concussion and yet another new goalie coach in three years. It was odd to see how quickly some fans turned on him after training camp, especially when you see the defence in front of him, but I digress.

Demko is certainly closer to the NHL than Michael DiPietro, but potential tends to skew what we want to see from what we actually see. Don’t get me wrong, I think DiPietro is a great prospect, but he hasn’t played any professional games yet. Matthiew Thiessen started off well, but is now struggling in the USHL. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say we are set in goal, but I would say it’s less of a concern compared to the forwards or the elephant in the room that is up next.

The defence

So, the final member of the Fantastic Four is one of our only hopes on defence. That’s a lot to ask for from a 19-year-old kid, but when you’re blue line has been this bad for the last four years, this is what happens. We can’t say the Hughes has arrived since he hasn’t played an NHL game yet, but he is an exciting prospect for a defence that is offensively challenged to say the least.

Just remember, teams dress six defencemen and looking at how NHL teams are loading up the blue line, we are going to need at least one more Quinn Hughes. Some fans hoped that would be Olli Juolevi. I’m not so sure. Juolevi will be an NHL player, but if we’re being honest here, I don’t think he has anywhere close to the same effect on the ice that Hughes has.

I don’t even view Juolevi as a top four defenceman anymore. He may just peak as a second-pairing player and for those comparing him to Chris Tanev or Dan Hamhuis, Juolevi lacks the skating ability or the desire to engage physically to play like those two. I still think he plays like fellow countryman Olli Maatta, who is a solid defender, but isn’t leading the charge on Pittsburgh’s blue line.

After those two, it’s a far drop. Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield will likely get chances, but will they offer more than Alex Biega? I like Ashton Sautner a lot, but I throw him in that boat as well. We have a lot more defensive prospects in Jett Woo, Jack Rathbone, Matt Brassard and Toni Utunen, but none of them really scream elite to me. Utunen has already been loaned out to a team in Mestis (Finland’s second tier league). Woo is playing well, but I don’t know if he has that top four ceiling so many people are projecting. The Canucks need more defencemen than this.

I don’t know if the team sees Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher as long term options, but I only see them as 4th or 5th defencemen. Vancouver needs another game breaker on the blue line because outside of Hughes, I don’t see anyone else.


It’s something I keep coming back to, but Botch is right. The Canucks need a whole bunch of players and as much as many don’t want to accept, this team is likely three to four years away. Trevor Linden was right, just simply too late. You have to wonder what kind of rope Benning will get when the team’s owner can be very two-faced with what he says and what he does.

One draft can’t turn this all around and I honestly don’t want to keep losing, but it seems inevitable when we are just going through the motions, repeating the same mistakes with different players. Benning has several opportunities to move on from players on expiring deals and he may get a few picks from moving certain players.

Although, if we’re being honest, these players might be considered damaged goods, playing on a terrible team for this long. There’s some house cleaning to be done next summer and with rumours going around about the Canucks being in on free agent targets, it just feels like the team isn’t learning the right lessons.

dark. Next. Canucks ranked sixth in The Athletics future rankings

I want this team to get multiple chances at winning a Stanley Cup. Not just once when their core is 32 years old. They should be taking advantage of their core’s prime years, but instead, they will be spending those years slowly collecting assets. It just feels like a team run by Jim Benning will never get past the second round, which is a damn shame for the budding young players on this team. So, I have one final need for this team: new management.