The playoff hopes may be looking bleak for the Vancouver Canucks as we approach the final full month of the season — but fans will still have reasons to watch and things to look forward to in the month of March.
Allow me to begin this article by saying it really ain’t over till’ it’s over. But the Vancouver Canucks dug their graves a little bit deeper as they wrapped up their last two games of February — losing both games to teams that they are trailing in the Western Conference standings.
But until an “E” accompanies the Canucks’ name in the standings, there’s still a chance the Canucks could squeak into a wild card spot. Albeit a slim chance, but still a chance. As per Sports Club Stats, the Canucks — at the time of this writing — currently have a 3.9% chance of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Playoffs aside, however, let’s take a look at a couple of things Canucks fans can look forward to in the month of March.
The team will continue to entertain
Listen, at the start of the year, the Canucks were predicted to be one of the worst teams in the NHL. They shattered all expectations set out for them this year, and that in itself is something we as fans should be proud of. It’s only going to get better from here.
The team found themselves in a playoff race and have believed in themselves and one another since day one. Although things are looking bleak right now, the guys in that dressing room aren’t going to roll over and go down easy for the rest of the season.
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If we’ve learned anything about this year’s team, it’s that their compete and effort level is one of the highest we have seen from a Canucks team in recent memory. They are going to show up to each game and do everything in their power to win.
We are quickly learning more and more about the team as the season progresses. This final stretch will show us who wants to win the most out of anyone. Who knew Antoine Roussel would be the warrior he’s been for the Canucks this season? Who knew Bo Horvat would set a career-high in goals despite having a seemingly endless carousel of wingers on his line? Who knew Jacob Markstrom would consistently play like a true number one goaltender? And although he’s slowed down a bit as of late, who knew Elias Pettersson would be this good?
Canucks fans have lots to be excited about for the future, that’s for sure, but this season, Canucks fans can look forward to seeing the key players I mentioned continue to battle hard and play entertaining hockey down the final stretch.
The arrival of Quinn Hughes
This is where the real excitement lies in the month of March. Perhaps the most anticipated debut since Pettersson this year is Quinn Hughes. Hughes was selected at last year’s draft with the seventh overall pick by the Canucks and had fans excited right from the moment he put on the Canucks’ uniform and ball-cap on the stage in Dallas back in June of last year.
After a forgettable season for the University of Michigan men’s team that Hughes was a part of this year, he will likely make his NHL debut early-mid March. When Hughes does debut for the Canucks, however, there will be a slight learning curve for Hughes to overcome and ultimately — learn from. You can read my article on that here.
Hughes, at just 19 years old, is an exciting player who will be a nice addition to the Canucks blueline immediately. At least, that’s what general manager Jim Benning thinks, who went on the record saying that, “If he [Hughes] wants to turn pro, he will be on the next plane out here.”
The rules to make Hughes exempt from requiring protection at the Seattle expansion draft in 2021 are the same as they were Vegas. Any first or second year professional is safe from being selected, without their team needing to use a protection spot on them.
Remember folks, the magic number to avoid Hughes being labelled as a first-year professional thus year and requiring protection at the Seattle expansion draft is ten. This definition as per General Fanager, explains exactly what is meant by the term first and second-year professional:
"“A player aged 18 or 19 earns a year of professional experience by playing 10 or more NHL games in a given NHL season. A player aged 20 or older (based on age on December 31 of calendar year in which the season starts) earns a year of professional experience by playing 10 or more Professional Games under a standard player contract in a given League Year.”"
So there you have it, folks. Hughes will need to play less than ten games to avoid requiring protection from being picked by Seattle in June 2021. That being said, let’s take a look at the Canucks’ schedule for the month of March.
Hughes may make his debut as early as the Wednesday, March 13th game against the New York Rangers. Or he could debut as late as the Tuesday, March 26th game against the Anaheim Ducks — if Michigan makes it to the Big Ten Final, which is on March 24th. Since that is highly unlikely, Hughes will likely make his NHL debut on March 13th. You can view the Michigan men’s team schedule here if you like, included is a layout of the Big Ten playoffs with dates and start times included.
So March 13th. Let’s say Hughes makes the flight out to Vancouver and makes his debut at home against the New York Rangers. If he plays that game, and every one after it, he will hit the ten game mark on March 30th against the Dallas Stars and require protection at the draft.
While it would surely benefit the Canucks to not have to use a spot on Hughes at the expansion draft, Benning has said that he is not worried about it at all. Whether that means he and head coach Travis Green have a plan in place to sit Hughes for a few games is unknown, but I doubt it.
So those are the two big things I am looking forward to in March as the team’s playoff chances continue to become slimmer and slimmer. But remember, there’s still a chance. What are you most excited to see from the Canucks in the final stretch of the season? Let me know in the comments section.