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 Adam Gaudette (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports)
Vancouver Canucks Adam Gaudette (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports) /

Zaahid’s predictions

Leading scorer – This one was pretty easy. Pettersson, who is coming off a 66-point season, has proven that he’s a legitimate franchise center with explosive speed and a cannon of a slapshot. The 22-year-old Swedish forward is entering the last year of his entry-level contract and, like most rookies in the league, is ready for a big pay-day. If last year’s playoff run was any indication, it’s safe to say that he’s only scratched the surface of his offensive prowess, and that should be reflected on the scoresheet next year.

Most goals – It’s hard to believe that it was only three years ago that Boeser was lighting the lamp in his rookie season, scoring 29 goals in just 62 games. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued his career since then, and Canucks fans haven’t been treated to the same dynamic scoring touch as a result. Could this be the year that Boeser regains his form? With an opening spot on both the top-line and on the first powerplay unit, it’s not a far cry to predict that Boeser could hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.

Most assists  – Last season, Hughes racked up an impressive 45 assists, and was well on his way to surpassing 50 before the league was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. There aren’t many defensemen who can walk the line like Hughes, and his play-making vision was on full display throughout the entire year. Even though he won’t be playing with Chris Tanev this upcoming season, Hughes has proven, time and time again, that he can be a true offensive threat anywhere on the ice, no matter who his defensive partner is.

Best defenceman – This was another easy one. Most fans would agree that Hughes is the franchise defenseman that this team has been looking for, and there’s no doubt that the sky is still the limit for the 21-year-old blueliner. Like Pettersson, Hughes is also entering the last year of his entry-level contract, and he wants to prove to management why he’s one of the best young players in the league. Even though he didn’t win the Calder Trophy, many will agree that a Norris Trophy is well within his sights for the near future.

Best goalie – When Jacob Markstrom signed his 6-year, $36 million dollar contract with the Calgary Flames, many fans expected Thatcher Demko to take over between the pipes. Enter Braden Holtby. Even though the former-Vezina winner had a subpar season last year with the Washington Capitals, his .916 SV % and 2.53 GAA indicate that he can still be an effective number 1 netminder. He’s only 31 years old, which means he has a few more years of hockey left in him, and most fans are hopeful that Ian Clark, one of the most highly regarded goalie coaches in the league, can help rejuvenate Holtby’s game. Don’t be surprised if Holtby takes on the 1A role and leads the Canucks to a successful season.

Most improved – This one is a gamble. Virtanen, who inked a 2-year, $5.1 million dollar contract during the offseason, has had his fair share of criticism from Canucks fans and management alike. Despite his defensive inconsistencies, the 24-year-old Abbotsford native has shown flashes of speed, size and scoring in the past, and this might be the year that Virtanen is able to round out his game for the better. He seemed to fit quite nicely on the top line with Pettersson and J.T. Miller during last year’s playoff run, and he has a great chance at solidifying that spot for the upcoming season.

Best rookie – It’s Olli time. Juolevi, who was selected by the Canucks in the 2016 draft, has spent the majority of his professional career playing for the Utica Comets. Unfortunately, Juolevi has battled numerous injuries in the past and, as a result, was never able to crack the roster. Until now. After losing Troy Stecher and Oscar Fantenberg this past offseason, the 3rd defensive pairing is up for grabs, and many fans would like to see the former 5th overall pick fill one of those slots. The Canucks have had great success drafting defensemen over the years, so don’t be surprised if Juolevi establishes himself as one of the top rookies in the league next season.

Matthew’s predictions

Leading scorer – Pettersson will take an even larger step forward in 2020-21 and lead the team in scoring. It will be a tight race with JT Miller, but I believe his determination and drive will ultimately push him over the edge. He’s already working out and skating in Vancouver, so he clearly isn’t satisfied with how 2019-20 ended.

Most goals – Miller will prove that last season’s career-high of 27 goals and 72 points was no fluke. He will once again lead the team in goals and continue to cement his legacy in Vancouver. His chemistry with Pettersson was unmatched, so I see him just continuing to build on the success he had in 2019-20.

Most assists – If you thought Hughes was good last season, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Even though he struggled at times in the playoffs, he still finished with two goals and 16 points in 17 games, which was just two off of Pettersson and Miller’s 18 points. The fact that he was able to adjust his game shows me that he has a lot more in the tank. Expect him to rack up the assists next season, as he continues to gain more confidence in the NHL.

Best goalie – It has to be Demko, right? He will probably split the duties with newcomer Holtby, but he will prove that his performance in the 2020 bubble playoffs was not a flash in the pan. He may be the 1A on paper, but I see him as the full-blown starter by the end of the season. He’s just too good for it not to happen.

Best defenceman – As I said before, Hughes is an exceptional defenceman that is only going to get better. He will continue to be head coach Travis Green’s number one option five-on-five and on the power play and as a result, avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. If he’s partnered with another talented puck mover in Schmidt, the sky’s the limit for this kid. Heck, he will dominate even without him by his side.

Best rookie – I have said it multiple times in the mailbag, Nils Hoglander will make the team and be a factor alongside Gaudette and either MacEwen, Tyler Motte or Jayce Hawryluk. He will also spend time on the second power-play unit and finish the season with 15-20 goals.

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Most improved – After what Motte did in the playoffs, I think he has a lot more to give points-wise in the regular season. If he’s able to elevate himself onto the third line with Gaudette, he could see more opportunities offensively, and maybe become a player like Jannik Hansen or Alex Burrows in 2020-21. I am going to make a bold prediction here and say he’s going to score at least 10 goals.

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What do you think Canucks Nation? What are your predictions for 2021?