With the Canucks in the midst of another development cycle, the question of elite talent has once again been raised. While the Canucks have picked up a bevy of talented young prospects, very few of those prospects are of the “elite” variety. This has led some Canucks fans to fret that the rebuilding process will not be successful unless some more bluechip talent can be obtained.
However, a look at Canucks history paints a different picture. If we look at players from teams past, we can see that elite talent is actually pretty rare when it comes to Vancouver hockey. The Canucks have existed for over 45 years, and the amount of truly elite talent that has played on the team has been quite sparse. Let’s take a look, position by position.
For the purposes of this article, “elite” will mean a player that is in or near the top-ten for their position during any given NHL season. For goalies, that is reduced to top-five.
Henrik Sedin (Reigned 2006-2013)- No surprises here. Henrik is the greatest player in Canucks history, and had a seven season run as an undisputed elite talent, including a Hart Trophy.
Daniel Sedin (Reigned 2006-2013)- Wherever Henrik has gone, Daniel has followed. Daniel may not have reached the highest heights of his twin brother, but he was elite for exactly as long as Henrik was, and picked up an Art Ross.
Pavel Bure (Reigned 1992-1998)- The most dynamic player in Canucks’ history was a top-ten winger from his sophomore season on. When he wasn’t injured, Bure dominated opponents with an unprecedented blend of skating and scoring prowess, including two 60 goal seasons.
Markus Naslund (Reigned 2000-2006)- Naslund had an explosive peak where he challenged for the league scoring title, but he remained a top-ten winger for multiple seasons surrounding that peak. Although his prime included the full lockout season, Naslund managed to put up impressive totals throughout.
Todd Bertuzzi (Reigned 2001-2003)- Naslund and Bertuzzi shared their best years together, but Bertuzzi had a much shorter prime. Bertuzzi’s point totals were already dropping before his attack on Steve Moore, which firmly signalled the end of his status as an elite talent.
Alex Mogilny (Reigned 1995-1998)- Mogilny had a short stint as an elite winger for the Canucks compared to the rest, but his point totals were too ridiculous to not be considered elite. He was a goal-scoring machine for awhile.
Ed Jovanovski (Reigned 2001-2003)- Jovanovski is the best of Vancouver’s defensive history, but that’s not saying much. Jovocop might not be considered an elite talent by all, but his presence on the 2002 Gold Medal-winning Canadian Olympic Team says otherwise.
Roberto Luongo (Reigned 2006-2012)- Luongo is indisputably the greatest goalie in Canucks’ history, and the Canucks were lucky enough to have him throughout his entire prime. Luongo never won the Vezina, but was consistently in the running, and was in contention for the Hart on multiple occasions.
Andre Boudrias- Boudrias put up some impressive point totals on some dismal Canucks teams, but never approached the league scoring leaders.
Thomas Gradin- Gradin put up some big seasons for the Canucks, but it was during the 1980s when everyone was scoring. Gradin didn’t come close to any scoring titles.
Trevor Linden- The most inspirational leader in Canuck history never quite had elite talent, but he made the most of what he had. There were no seasons where Linden was a top-ten center, but in 1994 he definitely played better than almost anyone in the playoffs.
Patrik Sundstrom- Came later in the 1980s than the other two centers, but shares a similar story of decent point totals amongst the highest-flying decade of hockey. An extremely skilled player.
Tony Tanti- Like Gradin, Tanti’s point totals look nice, but aren’t that noticeable within the context of the 80s. When people are regularly putting up 100 points, just cracking a point-per-game isn’t elite.
Doug Lidster- The current Canucks coach put up the most points in any one season by a Canucks defenseman, but wasn’t considered a top-ten guy.
Mattias Ohlund- Ohlund had some great seasons, but injuries held him back from being truly elite. He was a top-pairing defenseman, but never a true #1 guy.
Jyrkki Lumme- Lumme put up some impressive point totals, but there were plenty of contemporary defenders better than him in the league.
Prime Alex Edler- Before back injuries completely changed his game, Edler could have been considered a borderline elite player, or at least on the way to becoming one. Things have sadly changed since then.
Christian Ehrhoff- For 2011 and 2011 alone, Ehrhoff was a top-ten defenseman in the league. His synergy with the Sedins was a major part of the Canucks’ trip to the finals.
Kirk McLean- Kirk McLean backstopped the Canucks to the 1994 Finals, and was probably a top-ten goalie for that season and a few surrounding it.
Richard Brodeur- Brodeur played in an era when there were many superior goalies, but his consistent play helped keep the hapless Canucks in games that they shouldn’t have been in. Also took the team to the Finals in 1982.
Conclusions: In over 45 years of playing hockey, the Vancouver Canucks have only iced eight truly elite players, which averages out to one every five years or so. As well, most of these players have played the easier-to-obtain position of wing, and not the more important roles of center, defense, or goalie. All in all, this should hopefully put a bit of a damper on Canuck fans’ expectations when it comes to drafting and developing multiple elite talents in the next few years.