Canucks: Who could be replaced in Return-to-Play Phase 4?

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 08: Jordie Benn #4 of the Vancouver Canucks skaters on to the ice prior to the start of NHL action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 08: Jordie Benn #4 of the Vancouver Canucks skaters on to the ice prior to the start of NHL action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

It’s been a long time since the Vancouver Canucks have played a competitive hockey game, but that could be opening an opportunity for some players.

When the Vancouver Canucks stepped off the ice after beating the New York Islanders on March 10, players were expecting they would all be back for the next game.

127 days later, that “next game” hasn’t happened, and won’t happen for another 14. With that long split between games, and a pre-postseason training camp interspersed, it’s leaving the Canucks with questions that would’ve otherwise gone unasked.

While the return-to-play plans are filled with concerns,  It’s been a while since anyone has skated, so some players will be fitter than others, and others may finally suffer the feat of their dismal play.

That brings us to the epitome of the question: Who will be on the Canucks play-in roster?

Players such as Elias Petterson, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat are locks for the team. Don’t ask any questions, if these three remain healthy, they’ll be there. However, glancing at the bottom of the March 10 roster, you start to wonder how many guys will be replaced.

What do you remember of Oscar Fantenberg, Jordie Benn, Tyler Motte and Loui Eriksson? These are four players that come to mind when thinking of those at a replacement level. If they are to lose their spot in the lineup, their replacement is skating among them at the TD Summer Training Camp. 

The NHL has allowed teams to expand their rosters for the playoff training camps, and the Canucks have brought in some players who didn’t see 2019-20 NHL ice, as well as some who were far from regular contributors through the season. These names include Kole Lind, Olli Juolevi, Justin Bailey, Guillaume Brisebois, Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty and Ashton Sautner.

Who of these guys could prove to be better than what the Canucks last left the ice with? It’s unlikely Brisebois, who has been with the organization since 2017, the same goes for Chatfield and Sautner, who are half-decent AHL players but not NHL calibre.

Subtracting the aforementioned trio, it leaves us with Lind, Rafferty and Bailey, three players who have vexed Canuck fans throughout the year. Bailey is the only one who played NHL games this season and the other two are closer to the NHL than some may think. However, if they’re going to earn a spot on the roster, they’ll have to be better than their incumbent counterparts.

On defence, Jordie Benn was scratched on March 10, making him the easiest player to replace, however, he does have NHL playoff experience, as much importance as that may hold. On the other hand, Oscar Fanteberg has little playoff experience and has been mediocre all season, and these two facts are making the “who to cut” decision difficult.

Rafferty is the most tantalizing player to bring into the lineup and his offensive skillets from the blueline are relatable to Fantenberg’s. He’s no NHL powerplay quarterback just yet, but the 45-point AHL defenseman could help the Canucks through the playoffs.

Back in November, Rafferty spoke to The Canuck Way saying “I’m happy to be in the AHL now, and when I earn my spot in the NHL that I’ll get that chance.” He’s earned it in Utica, now it’s time for him to get his chance on the biggest of stages — the NHL postseason.

The Quinnipiac grad has impressed throughout the year, whereas Fantenberg and Benn have disappointed. At the bottom of the lineup, there isn’t much to lose, and Rafferty could reinvigorate the defence-core through a potentially tedious playoff run.

For the forwards, the only player who could realistically impact an NHL playoff game is Bailey. In his limited NHL appliances this season, the physical forward showed that he could contribute as much as other bottom-six forwards, and outplay many fourth-liners. He could replace Motte or even big-money Erikson since cap space isn’t a concern for the playoffs. Although his NHL experience is limited, Bailey is the gruelling, “blue-collar” forward general manager Jim Benning is fond of, and his skills could prove valuable in a physical playoff series.

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Although depth adjustments can only improve the team so much replacing Fantenberg with Rafferty, and Motte/Erikson with Bailey could aid the Vancouver club in their Stanley Cup pursuit. It’s been a long time since anyone showed their worth in a competitive game, opening the door for players to prove themselves ahead of the penultimate portion of the season.