Canucks roundtable: Predictions for the 2021 season

VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 4: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulates teammate Elias Pettersson #40 during their NHL game against the New York Rangers at Rogers Arena January 4, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 4: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulates teammate Elias Pettersson #40 during their NHL game against the New York Rangers at Rogers Arena January 4, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Vancouver Canucks Bo Horvat (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks Bo Horvat (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images) /

Lucas’ predictions

Points leader – At only 22 years of age, Pettersson will be leading the charge for this young and exhilarating Canucks core for the upcoming season and beyond. It seems as though every time more expectations are put on him, he’s able to exceed them with ease. His talent is undeniable at both ends of the ice, but the 2020-21 season is when I feel his offensive output will especially shine. Will another year now under his belt, I expect him to be the team’s leading point-getter and hover around the top 15 in league-wide scoring.

Most goals – In his first season with the Canucks, J.T. Miller managed to smash his career-high in points with 72 in 69 games and added 18 in the playoffs. He also established himself as a well-respected leader in the locker room. His strong veteran presence has done wonders for an inexperienced group of players, so much so that I feel an A would be suitable on his sweater in the upcoming year. If he’s kept in his spot on Pettersson’s wing and on the first power-play unit (which he should), there’s no reason to believe he can’t repeat his production from last season and lead the team in goals this time.

Most assists – Hughes finished with an astounding 45 assists in his first season – the most of any rookie in the NHL that year and most of any rookie in franchise history. With a full season of pro hockey and a playoff run to build off of, the expectation is that he will only get better and grow more into the no.1 defenceman role that this organization has desperately needed for its prolonged history. To nobody’s surprise, he’ll be racking up the assists again and I expect him to be at the top of this category for the Canucks.

Best goalie – This may come across as a bold statement, but let me clarify one thing: this is Demko’s crease. He’ll be expected to fill in the starting goaltender role for years to come and hopefully flourish into an elite netminder. But if you feel that he’s going to go through his first full season as a no.1 goaltender with no bumps in the road, then you’re a very wishful thinker. That’s where someone like Holtby comes in. As a cup-winner and 10-year veteran who’s been through plenty of ups and downs himself, Holtby will step in as the 1B goalie to provide mentorship and shoulder the load when Demko is unable to. I believe he has all the tools to succeed in that role. I don’t think he’ll be the team’s best goalie so maybe I’m cheating a little bit with this pick, but his re-emergence as a quality starter with be crucial.

Best rookie – All the signs point toward a bottom-pairing role for Juolevi after a strong showing in training camp in July and a “short-but-sweet-enough-since-no-glaring-mistakes-were-made” appearance in the postseason. General Manager Jim Benning has put a lot of time and faith into the polarizing 2016 draft pick, and I predict that Juolevi will fit in as a dependable defender in the Canucks’s top six. For Benning’s sake, I hope my prediction is right.

Most improved – I would have liked to see Adam Gaudette extended for longer than a measly one-year, $950,000 deal, but it looks as though this season will be a prove-it year for the 24-year-old. He’s improved his point totals every season since entering the league, jumping up to 33 points after a 12-point rookie campaign the year before. If Gaudette wants to solidify his spot as a third-line centre and cement his place as an important member of the Canucks’ long-term plans, he’ll have to make significant strides in all areas of his game this season. I believe that by the 2020-21 season’s end we’ll have our answer: yes.

Nate’s predictions

Leading scorer – Pettersson is a fiercely competitive athlete. So, when the dust of a pandemic induced layoff settled, you can bet that Pettersson noticed he finished second in team scoring to linemate J.T. Miller. It would not be beyond Miller, a noted hype man and human who expresses emotion, to playfully rub that fact in. I predict that Mad Petey will take this years’ team scoring crown.

Most goals – One of the trickle-down effects of Tyler Toffoli signing with the Montreal Canadiens is that the Lotto 6/40/9 line will likely be reunited. In over 400 minutes together, Boeser, Miller, and Pettersson were stellar, outscoring opponents by a two to one margin. If Boeser can feed off the chemistry of his linemates and evolve his offensive in-zone movement, I think the Minnesota native will meet or exceed 30 goals for the first time in his career.

Most assists – In his first NHL season, Hughes registered 45 assists and tied with Miller for the team lead. Unlike last season, Hughes will play on the first powerplay unit from day one. Look for Hughes to pile up even gaudier assist totals in year two.

Best goalie – While there are only two options to choose from, (sorry Mikey D.) Demko is the superior goaltender at the moment. Demko just authored a playoff goaltending performance for the ages against the Vegas Golden Knights, a performance that made many Canuck fans more willing to part with Jacob Markstrom. Since he was drafted, Demko has held the mantel of ‘goalie of the future’. In 2021 he will be the Canucks’ goalie of the present.

Best defenceman – This one is easy. With no disrespect to Nate Schmidt or Alex Edler, this category won’t be close. As Huggy Bear would say at Cactus Club, “Check, please!”.

Best rookie – Nils Höglander signed a standard ELC with the Canucks in April 2020. This means the teenage left-winger could be playing in the NHL as soon as the 2021 season. Given the lack of high-end talent amongst Vancouver’s sea of bottom nine forwards, expect Höglander to have every opportunity to earn a spot in the Canucks’ lineup. However, if he does make the team, there should be no surprise in the market when Travis Green scratches Höglander for the first few games of the season.

Most improved – I felt that this category was the toughest to predict. Would any Canucks observer be surprised if Quinn Hughes or Elias Pettersson took a dynamic leap forward in their development? No. Or at least they shouldn’t be. But my money is on Demko. I like the signing of Brayden Holtby as a veteran backup who will play a significant number of games and give Demko substantial time to rest. I also like Demko getting another offseason to refine and adjust his game with Ian Clark, using tape from NHL games in which he faced elite players. If his performance against Vegas teaches us anything, it’s that this sort of preparation is invaluable for a goaltender.

Joshua’s predictions

Leading scorer – I will go Pettersson here. His playmaking skills are only going to get better and I expect a lot of goals and assists from the creative Swedish centre.

Most goals – Pettersson’s shot will continue to improve especially the one-timer.  He is my pick as the man who will lead the Canucks in goals.

Most assists – Miller displayed great two skills and playmaking last season and I expect that to continue. He has been a great addition to the top line and will continue to lead it next season.

Best goalie – Holtby hasn’t been at his best the last few years but with a new team and Ian Clark as his goaltending coach, Holtby will be the best Canucks goalie in 2021.

Best defenceman – After a stellar rookie season, Quinn Hughes is the obvious choice. Hughes will continue with his smooth skating and quarterbacking the power play.

Most Improved – Jake Virtanen now has the opportunity to play in the Canucks top six and with a new deal and Toffoli gone. It’s a bold one but I’ll say Virtanen will have a better season than last year with Pettersson or Bo Horvat as his centre.

Best rookie – This is a tough one. I think I will go with Juolevi here. He’s had a long road to the NHL with his numerous injuries and he could potentially make the team next season. His defensive IQ with his stretch passes could help out the bottom pair. The only question is if he will stay healthy.