North Division: How the Canucks stack up vs. the Maple Leafs

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Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks battles for the puck. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks are one of seven teams filling out the all-Canadian division, but how will they manage against the Toronto Maple Leafs?

For the first time ever, the Vancouver Canucks are set to play their entire regular season inside an all-Canadian division, meaning they’ll be getting up close and personal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The so-called, “centre of the hockey universe” will have a head-on collision with arguably the country’s second most passionate fan base, which should make for some entertaining hockey between not only the players but the fanbase as well.

Two elite cores will face off in what could quickly become the best back and forth hockey in Canada. Each team has a deadly top-six filled with talented youth, which should make for some high-scoring, fast-paced puck.

How the offence stacks up

The Canucks enjoyed putting the puck in the net last season as they scored 224 times and averaged 3.25 goals per game across 69 total contests. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, finished third in goals per game (3.39) and scored a total of 237 times.

With their core still fully intact, Vancouver should set a similar pace in 2021. But with the loss of Tyler Toffoli, Josh Leivo and more, the Leafs could come out on top as the better team at even strength.

This could very well come down to one-on-one matchups with the winner being whatever player comes out on top. Elias Pettersson versus Auston Mattews. Bo Horvat versus John Tavares. J.T. Miller versus Mitch Marner. Brock Boeser versus William Nylander. Quinn Hughes versus Morgan Reilly. Thatcher Demko versus Fredrik Andersson.

Vancouver should remain a top-10 NHL scoring threat, but knocking the Leafs down a couple of notches could be their biggest mountain to overcome. This battle is all about offensive power and which core of gifted players can outshine the other. This could very well be the most talent-filled head-to-head Canadian matchup of the 2021 season.

If both cores manage to live up to expectations the difference-maker in this season series could come down to the supporting cast. The Leafs are turning to veteran experience in Joe Thorton and Jason Spezza, as the Canucks have a veteran bottom-six, but have made several suggestions that point towards giving their youth an opportunity to earn roster spots.

The Maple Leafs should have a slight offensive advantage at even strength.

How the defence stacks up

Last season the Maple Leafs were a top-3 powerhouse in terms of offence, but they definitely needed to be. Toronto placed seventh for most goals against (222), which was barely better than losing teams like Detroit (265), Ottawa (238) and New Jersey (224).

The Canucks, on the other hand, were a middle of the pack team. They finished 16th in goals against (214), but that was largely because of MVP goaltending in Jacob Markstrom, who they lost in free agency this offseason. On top of that, Vancouver faced the fourth-most amount of shots per game (33.3), as Toronto faced the 13th (31.9).

Clearly, both squads think offence first, but each team made tweaking their blueline an offseason priority. The Canucks lost Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher, but believe they improved with the addition of two-way defenceman Nate Schmidt, as well as the arrival of NHL-ready prospects Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone.

The Maple Leafs moved on from Tyson Barrie but added T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian. Timothy Liljegren — a 2017 first-round pick who played 11 games last season — could also see a rise in ice time on the blueline.

As much as the Leafs tried to improve their defence, Hughes and the Canucks take the cake offensively from the back end. But in terms of pure defensive play, this matchup could be a toss-up.

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