Plenty has gone wrong for the Vancouver Canucks as of late, but it’s important for fans to remember the positives from an up-and-down 2018-19 season.
Barring an incredible late surge and a handful of collapses from Western Conference playoff hopefuls, the Vancouver Canucks will miss out on the postseason for the fourth straight year.
The Canucks were right in the playoff race at the beginning of February, where they stood at 24-22-6 following a convincing 5-1 road victory over the Colorado Avalanche. But the injuries piled up, the star players endured scoring slumps at the worst possible and goalie Jacob Markstrom inevitably stopped stealing games that this team had little business winning.
Vancouver has won just four games dating back to Feb. 4 now, and they’re 10 points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They stand little chance of getting into the postseason at this point.
Now, it’s easy to understand why some fans and pundits are only focusing on the recent negatives — such as Elias Pettersson‘s scoring slump, Markstrom’s regression and all the breakdowns in the defensive zone. And yes, we know many fans would like the team to move on from general manager Jim Benning.
But as the Canucks continue a very slow and frustrating rebuild, it’s crucial that we also focus on the positives from this group in 2018-19. There wasn’t a whole lot to like about 2015-16, 2016-17 or 2017-18 (minus Brock Boeser‘s excellent rookie season), but it’s a much different story this season.
Pettersson and Markstrom
For starters, the new franchise face has already arrived. Pettersson has 58 points in as many games, and he’s a shoe-in to win the Calder Trophy.
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Just imagine how much better his totals would be if the 20-year-old didn’t miss 11 games. He’s four tallies away from being this team’s first 30-goal scorer since Radim Vrbata had 31 in 2014-15.
Pettersson — the No. 5 selection from a fairly underwhelming 2017 draft class thus far — will only get better next year.
He’s going to bulk up, gain more experience and eventually form the right chemistry with his teammates. We’ve got a future superstar in town for Benning and co. to build around.
Though he’s unlikely to be the long-term goalie here on the west coast, it’s nice to see Markstrom finally endure success throughout an entire regular season after struggling aplenty over the last three years.
Markstrom has already set a career high in wins (24), with a solid save percentage of .912 and a goals against average of 2.78. Given the poor defensive play in front of him, it’s remarkable how Markstrom has stayed fairly consistent while stealing a handful of games for Vancouver. You have to think he’ll be even better next year, especially if Benning addresses a leaky blue line.
Bo Horvat’s progression, more impact forwards
The Canucks decided to play out the season without a captain, but it felt more like an audition for Bo Horvat to eventually earn the “C” for next year. Well, it’s safe to say that the 23-year-old will indeed be the new captain for 2019-20.
Horvat has passed the captaincy test with flying colours and has led by example throughout the season. He’s been excellent with the media, offering excellent insight and giving them the honest answers. This is what Daniel and Henrik Sedin did so well together, and it’s evident that No. 53 learned how to be a leader through the twins.
On top of that, Horvat has assumed a more responsible two-way role under head coach Travis Green. Even though he’s produced well offensively (24 goals and 49 points), Horvat has also been tasked with playing a more defensive role, which he’s excelled in. Horvat looks more than ready to be the captain. The torch has been passed.
Although Pettersson, Boeser and Horvat have done most of the scoring throughout the season, the Canucks can at least be pleased with how two newcomers have progressed as well.
Antoine Roussell — signed to a four-year deal worth $12 million this offseason — has contributed more than anybody could have expected. He’s up to nine goals and 30 points on the season, has played well defensively and is a great mentor for the young Canucks. His salary might be a bit much, but Roussel will be a big part of this team’s youth transition over the coming seasons.
And finally, Josh Leivo — whom Benning acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Michael Carcone — has benefited from a change of scenery. Leivo has nine goals in 37 games with the Canucks, and he looks capable of being a 20-goal scorer next season. Leivo shuold play a prominent role in the top six, especially as his chemistry with the team grows.
So there you have it. The Canucks have seen some newcomers make big-time impacts, while the young stars and Markstrom continue to get better. Add it all up, and it’s not crazy to say that the good has outweighed the bad for the Canucks this season.