The Canuck Way Mailbag: Demko, Edler, defence pairings, jerseys, more

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The dog days of the Vancouver Canucks’ offseason continue as we get questions about Thatcher Demko, reverse retro jerseys, ranking logos, and more.

It’s the middle of November, and everyone is missing Vancouver Canucks hockey now more than ever. COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so we could use something to take our minds off of the chaos that is going on around the world right now.

Hopefully, by the time it is back on our television screens, everything is trending in a positive direction and we can get back to our favourite Canadian pastime without worrying too much about the pandemic.

Until then, we will continue to look towards the NHL’s 2020-21 season which will most likely be played in January in an all-Canadian division. The Canucks still have questions marks in their top-six and defence pairings after free agency gutted both areas.

Fortunately, excitement abounds with the potential additions of youngsters Jack Rathbone, Olli Juolevi, and Nils Hoglander to the roster and of course, the eventual debut of 2019 top prospect Vasili Podkolzin. If all goes well, they should be able to mitigate the departures of Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Toffoli.

This week we got some great questions, so without further ado, let’s get to the mailbag!

We all know that head coach Travis Green loves having his defencemen play their natural positions. In an ideal world, that would happen all the time, but with the rarity of right-handed blueliners in the NHL, he will have to make do with what he has. Currently, Vancouver only has Brogan Rafferty and Tyler Myers as right-handed options, so at least one of Nate Schmidt or Jordie Benn will have to play on his off-side in 2020-21.

Fortunately for Green, they both have experience playing there when they were members of the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens, respectively. Interestingly enough, Benn has performed better defensively when he was placed on his off-side in the past. As for Schmidt, he regularly played with Brayden McNabb in Vegas on the right side and never finished below the 50 percent mark in Corsi For percentage in the three seasons he was there.

So if Rafferty does not make the team, it is a definite possibility that we see both Benn and Schmidt playing the right side come opening night.

I don’t think Green will consider playing a rookie on his top pairing with Quinn Hughes. Rafferty is the only right-handed option in the three you mentioned, so he would be the only player that would even merit consideration. Juolevi and Rathbone would have to play outside their comfort zone on the right side, which I believe is a non-starter in Green’s mind.

Having said that, Green should still experiment a little with his pairings during whatever preseason we get in 2020-21. If one of them looks comfortable playing next to Hughes, then I would not be averse to having Rafferty, Juolevi or Rathbone start next to him on opening night.

However, since Green likes to use Hughes as a matchup defenceman, Schmidt or Benn would be the better choice to take up Tanev’s mantle. As much as I would love to spread out the veterans, I think it is too much of an ask to expect one of the rookies to take on such a massive responsibility in his first season.

Alex Edler is still an important member of the Canucks, and as such, probably won’t see a demotion in 2020-21. Last season, he averaged 22:37 of ice time, blocked 162 shots, and was one of their top penalty killers along with Tanev. With the loss of his long-time shot-blocking partner and the subsequent addition of Schmidt, I still think he will be relied upon to provide that same presence on the second pairing with Myers or the aforementioned Schmidt.

Unless Green decides to have Edler play with Juolevi on the bottom pairing as a mentor to the young defenceman, he will continue to have the same role as last season. But that is unlikely given that both of them are left-hand shots, and Edler has struggled in the past to adjust his game when placed anywhere other than his natural left side.

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