Noah Dolinajec The Hockey Writers
New Year In Vancouver Means New Blood For Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks were once a force to be reckoned with. After almost a decade of dominance the club finally succumbed to the natural cycle that seems to plague almost every franchise…except for the Detroit Red Wings, those pesky buggers. Having had a whirlwind of a year in 2015, we will look over some Canucks predictions for 2016. Before we rocket into the new year in Vancouver, let’s look back at the year past.
Phew…2015 Is Coming To a Close…What a Year
At the very outset of 2015 things were looking surprisingly positive for the Canucks. They were firmly in the playoff picture and competing at a respectable level. With Ryan Miller out long term due to an injury, back up goalie Eddie Lack stepped up and carried Vancouver into first round home-ice advantage for the 2015 NHL playoffs. Unfortunately the Canucks forgot their focus and were upset by the streaking Calgary Flames. Uh Oh. Big things would come after that.
In the off season of 2015 the Canucks made some significant changes to the landscape of their roster. Longtime fan favorite and internally developed defender Kevin Bieksa was sent packing to reunite with old Canucks buddy Ryan Kesler in Anaheim. Funny guy and goalie of the future Eddie Lack was given a pink slip of some sorts and sent to Carolina for a few measly draft picks. The team saw no future with young troubled Zack Kassian and sent him to Montreal for Brandon Prust and come training camp the Canucks elected to move forward with four rookies under the age of 23.
But the most shocking statistic that has come out of the Vancouver Canucks organization over the past year is this:
In 2015 the Vancouver Canucks have featured eleven players in their NHL debuts (Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat, Brandon Defazio, Jake Virtanen, Ben Hutton, Ronalds Kenins, Alex Biega, Brendan Gaunce, Andrey Pedan, Alexandre Grenier and Jared McCann).
So the future has been on display for the last year and all we can ask is what does that mean for the coming calendar year?
Ringing In The New Year in Vancouver With New Blood
So there’s the obvious elephant in the room… the Canucks are struggling to compete on consistent basis and it’s becoming more and more of a viable possibility that Vancouver will miss the playoffs. Okay now that we have that in the open let’s continue.
When the puck dropped for the first shift of the Canucks 2015-16 regular season there was both excitement about the handful of new young faces and the worry that this team would be far from competitive in the Pacific Division. Some irregular parity in the Pacific Division has given the Canucks a realistic shot at a playoff position. After 38 games played they are just one point removed from a second seed in the Pacific Division and tied for the third seed. That’s impressive when you take into account that the Canucks have won just eight of their last 26 games.
A struggling Anaheim Ducks squad and the relatively low risk of Edmonton getting into the playoffs have given the Canucks a gift from the heavens.
But if the Canucks do end up missing the post season it’s not the end of the world, which some fans in Vancouver would have you believe. In fact, it’s an opportunity to truly test out the depth of the Canucks prospect pool. Not that the team hasn’t already done that by testing out eleven new NHL players in the last year.
But if the team misses the playoffs it’s likely that a few long time veterans will be seeking a relocation come trade deadline day: Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins…possibly Ryan Miller as his stats have been depressingly bad in fact by that point Miller might not even have a starting job in Vancouver. And although it hurts to admit Alexandre Burrows might be seeking a shot at a championship as his career enters its last leg.
Can The New Year In Vancouver Revive The Franchise?
It could very well be that in the first part of 2016 Canucks fans will get their last glimpse of what was and the first glimpse of what will be. The new year in Vancouver will be welcomed with open arms. Maybe Markstrom will finally prove himself as the young touted goalie he once was. Maybe Virtanen will regain his scoring confidence and be the power forward he was drafted to be. Might McCann leapfrog Horvat in the Canucks depth chart?
If nothing else – including the lack of wins – changes in 2016 there is one thing that Canucks fans can be sure of: the infusion of youth is in full force and it’s creating some exciting moments and even more exciting predictions. Which one of the youngsters will rise from the pack as a star? Who will fall by the wayside?
So as the new year in Vancouver kicks off, have no fear that the Canucks are rebuilding what collapsed right in front of them.
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