Weekly Canucks Report: Week of November 28-December 4
Who Had a Good Week:
Bo Horvat- Horvat: Origins continues. Fans are going to look back on this season with reverence as the year Bo Horvat truly proved himself as a franchise cornerstone. I would love to see the stats on Horvat jersey sales this year.
Troy Stecher- Stecher is currently playing as the number one defenseman on the team, and doing so quite ably. His goal-line save in Saturday’s game was the highlight of the week, but Stecher put in three solid games. Stecher is an undrafted rookie pro fresh out of the NCAA, and it is hard to find any real precedents for what he has already accomplished. These are very exciting times for Canuck fans.
Sven Baertschi- Baertschi is starting to get on a goal-scoring role now, but he has looked like a capable top-six forward for most of the season. Baertschi and Horvat clearly have chemistry, and it will be fun to see what heights the pair can drive each other to.
Sedins+Sutter- Last week saw many questioning the decision to play Sutter with the Sedins, but it seemed to pay off this week. Both Sedins put up over a point per game, and Sutter played a direct role in it. Ultimately, the team might be better off with Sutter at center, but it’s nice to know that this line can always be thrown together when the Twins need a spark.
Alex Burrows- What a rebound season for Burrows. He isn’t just a passenger on the Horvat line, but an integral part of their success. Burrows’ production will probably cool off, but he’s playing with the energy and enthusiasm that used to define his game. Burrows has gone from potential buyout in the summer to likely getting a new contract at the end of the year.
Who Had a Rough Week:
Philip Larsen- Larsen got back into the lineup after recovering from his mysterious illness, but he was clearly the weak link on the blueline. Despite suddenly becoming the elder statesmen on defense due to injuries to Edler and Tanev, Larsen somehow came out looking lost on the ice on multiple occasions.
Ryan Miller- Miller played a great game against Toronto, but he struggled against Anaheim and Minnesota, which brings into question why he played three straight games in the first place. It is understandable that the team wants to boost Miller’s trade value before the deadline, but overplaying him is only going to diminish his already middling results.
Jack Skille and Jayson Megna- Neither of these players seem to be doing enough to maintain a spot in the lineup. Brendan Gaunce is carrying the fourth line right now, and it would be nice to give him some more capable wingers.
Loui Eriksson’s place in lineup is becoming a tricky and contentious roster topic. Now that Eriksson’s play has picked up, it behooves the Canucks to find him more scoring opportunities. This seems like the perfect time to try him out again with the Sedins. If that fails, he could fill in on Horvat’s wing whenever Burrows’ hot streak cools off.
The CBC panel mentioned Ryan Spooner as a potential trade target for the Canucks, but I have to disagree. Assuming Sutter doesn’t stick with the Sedins forever, the Canucks already have three great centers, so Spooner isn’t filling an area of need. As well, the price the Bruins will ask for him is sure to be high and centered around future assets, which is not something the Canucks can afford.
I do wonder if the Canucks can pawn off Philip Larsen for a minor return at some point. He can provide offense from the point, and a team suffering from a few injuries on the blueline might take a look. A project prospect would be a nice return.
The Florida Panthers seem to have fallen apart internally, and it has been claimed that the Gudbranson trade played a significant factor in the drama and tension within the team. Head coach Gerard Gallant was given the heave-ho in a somewhat embarrassing fashion that Don Cherry referred to as “the worst firing ever.” It was implied there was disagreement between Gallant and management and/or ownership, and that the trading of Gudbranson was a major sticking point for Gallant. Makes the trade look even better from a Canucks perspective.
Pierre-Luc Dubois was the name most Canucks fans wanted in the 2016 Draft, before he was stolen away by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dubois then turned in a disappointing training camp, and hasn’t exactly been lighting up the QMJHL, and is barely outscoring actual Canuck draft pick Olli Juolevi, a defenseman playing in the tougher OHL.
Utica faced off yet again with the Rochester Americans on Wednesday, dropping the game 2-1. Thatcher Demko picked up the loss, meaning his win streak will just have to start up all over again. Evan McEneny finally got some playing time and scored the Comets’ only goal, assisted by Curtis Valk and Darren Archibald, both of whom have been red hot of late. Former Canuck Pascal Pelletier is a notable addition to the Utica lineup.
The Comets spent the weekend in a classic back-to-back home-and-home with the Albany Devils. Jake Virtanen finally scored, and it was an unassisted game winner, giving the Comets a 2-1 victory. Andrey Pedan got the other goal, with Michael Carcone and Cody Kunyk getting the assists. Pedan is finally starting to show his offensive side again. Demko only had to put up 24 saves to get the win.
The Comets made it two-for-two on Saturday by beating the Devils 3-1 on home ice, and captain Carter Bancks was the hero of the day, scoring twice. Colby Robak, who has been playing well since joining the team, got assists on both goals, and Pelletier got his first point of the year. Darren Archibald scored the other goal, which was unassisted. The game was full of minor penalties, and every goal scored was either shorthanded or on the powerplay. Demko was an apt penalty-killer, making 28 saves for the win.
Bits and Bobs:
-With the partial let down in regards to physical play against Toronto, it’s worth noting that this is something that would likely change it the team ever switched from Willie Desjardins to Travis Green. The Utica Comets play a much heavier game than the Canucks, and end up crunching several opponents per game.
-I’ll play the party-pooper on Jake Virtanen’s AHL goal. While it was a coast-to-coast effort that ended in a nice shot, it was also the result of some absolutely terrible defensive play. Virtanen got to skate the entire length of the ice unchallenged, and was given plenty of room to shoot, despite two defenders being back. Not really anything to get too excited about from Virtanen’s perspective.
-The Toronto game was a thrilling win, but it’s hard not to feel emotionally let down after all the buildup. Still, better to see nothing really happen than something terrible.
-The background of the Gudbranson vs Martin fight was plenty of visual evidence that fans still appreciate the role of fighting in the game. For the record, hockeyfights.com has Gudbranson as the clear winner.
-Might it be time to freshen up the call-ups, by sending down who they’ve had up and trying out some new faces like Alex Grenier, Borna Rendulic, or Curtis Valk (who they would need to sign first)?
-With Reid Boucher on waivers, and snagged by Nashville, it would have been nice to see the Canucks put in a claim. Surely, he’d be a more interesting addition to the lineup than Megna.
-Expect more and more media discussion surrounding the potential signings of Horvat and Gudbranson in the near future. These are important contracts, and a real test for Jim Benning, which the media is fully aware of and will look to play on for as long as possible.
-Are the Canucks truly in a rebuild? I say, young players entering lineup and thriving, so who cares what label you slap on it? The Canucks are doing what they need to do to be competitive in the future. Horvat, Baertschi, Granlund, Gaunce, Hutton, Stecher, and Tryamkin will all be a part of that.
-Young defense, reminder that defensemen develop as oddly as goalies
-Speaking of goalies, don’t look now, but Thatcher Demko is a bonafide AHL starter all of a sudden. No matter how you slice it, that’s impressive for a goalie fresh out of college, and tells us that his development curve is still right on target.
-Back to defensemen, Carl Neill deserves a shoutout. He has an amazing 7 goals and 26 assists in 26 games for Sherbrooke in the QMJHL. A defenseman averaging an assist per game is quite impressive, even if he is in his fifth junior season.
-Matthew Benning is playing important minutes for the Edmonton Oilers right now. In the summer, uncle Jim Benning was accused of nepotism when pursuing his nephew’s free agent rights, but it looks like he would have been a fine addition to the team’s depth.
-Drake Caggiula scored his first NHL goal Saturday against Anaheim. The Canucks have been very lucky with Troy Stecher, but imagine what could have been if the Canucks signed all three of Stecher, Caggiula, and Benning.
-The upside of this? There’s ample reason to get excited about Benning’s future NCAA free agents, especially now that Vancouver looks like a better location for easy ice-time than Edmonton.
-Looking at forwards now, Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, William Lockwood, and Brett McKenzie also continue their offensive rolls in their respective leagues. Things are good in prospectville.
-The 2019 World Juniors will be held in Vancouver and Victoria, and there’s a good chance the Canucks will have great prospects playing in the tournament. Both their 2017 and 2018 first round picks should be eligible, along with any late-round gems.
-It sounds like the Canucks will play a game in China next season. The best part of this will probably be having a Canuck game on in the middle of the night, a truly unique experience.
-Am I the only one who thinks Bo Horvat is an absolute slam-dunk for the All Star Game? Every team needs a representative, and who else would you send? Horvat has been the team’s best player and is a young face that the NHL will want to promote. No voting campaigns necessary, he’s going.
-Speaking of Horvat, his faceoffs have continued to drastically improve, with him winning 75% of them Saturday against the Leafs. Major kudos to Manny Malhotra for doing exactly what he was hired for.