To get some insider info on the Canucks, we caught up with Janik Beichler, the site expert at our fellow FanSided site, The Canuck Way. He shared some interesting insight about the direction the Canucks franchise is going:
AA: First of all, in a Pacific Division that seems to be turning really competitive really quickly, do you think the Canucks have enough all-around talent to contend with teams like the Sharks and Ducks this season?
JB: The Sharks should be the favorites to win the Pacific Division. But while the Ducks and Kings decided to go into the new season without any big additions, the Canucks added a 30-goal scorer in Loui Eriksson and made several other changes to their roster. So, I actually think Vancouver got a little closer to the top teams. But even after that, the road to the playoffs will be extremely difficult. Edmonton and Calgary have decent playoff chances as well — almost anything can happen.
AA: Obviously most Blues fans don’t have the greatest opinion of Ryan Miller after the performance he delivered down the stretch here in 2014. Now that Miller’s spent two-plus seasons in Vancouver, is there still any real belief among Canucks fans that he can be a guy who is capable of starting during a deep playoff run?
JB: To start during a deep playoff run, the Canucks would have to make the playoffs first, which is difficult enough. If they get there, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jacob Markstrom starting instead. In 2015-16, Miller was able to prove he can be an NHL starter, but he was at his best when he was rested. Playing every game in the playoffs would probably wear him down rather quickly.
AA: The Sedin twins have been two of the toughest players for the Blues to go up against for a generation now. One would think that they’d have slowed down quite a bit now that they’re 36, but it sure looks like they’re both still capable of making strong contributions. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Sedins?
JB: The Sedins are closer to 50-point seasons than they are to 100-point years. But that doesn’t mean they can’t lead a successful offense anymore. Especially with the addition of Eriksson, the Canucks are hoping for a little Sedin renaissance. As of today, it looks like they are still capable of playing on the first line. But it’s no secret that the Canucks are hoping to find a new No. 1 center in the draft sooner rather than later.
AA: What are your early impressions of the three forwards 22 and younger on Vancouver’s roster — Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, and Jake Virtanen?
JB: Virtanen was an interesting topic throughout the year. After a rather unfortunate showing at the 2016 World Junior Championship, many fans agreed he wasn’t ready for the NHL and wanted him to be sent back to juniors. The Canucks, on the other hand, always valued him and kept him around, and Virtanen turned into a strong two-way player. The only issue is his goal scoring, which needs to improve soon. The jury is still out on the decision to keep him in the NHL to start the year.
The same goes for Gaunce. His time is now, and if he doesn’t stick around for good this season, it won’t be easy for him to make it in the future. He is still young, but it seems like his time is now. Like Virtanen, Gaunce is a strong defensive player who needs to improve offensively.
Horvat is already one of Vancouver’s top players. He is the team’s top scorer in 2016 and could develop into a strong second-line player this year. He had a bit of a tough 2015-16 season because Brandon Sutter missed most of the year and Horvat had to play tough defensive match-ups and penalty-killing minutes, but he could technically be in a position to succeed now — if it wasn’t for a head coach who seems to want Horvat on the fourth line…
AA: Even as someone who watches Colton Parayko play all the time, Nikita Tryamkin’s size really jumped out at me while I was looking over the Canucks’ roster. What kind of player do you think he’s capable of becoming, and does he have enough athletic ability to make a real impact in today’s NHL?
JB: This is another tough question. Tryamkin got a lot of hype late last season, mostly for two reasons: his size and the fact that Vancouver had nothing else to be excited about. Now that everyone has settled down, things don’t look as bright anymore. Tryamkin is surprisingly mobile for his size, and athletic ability won’t be the problem. He has all the tools to become a strong NHL shutdown player one day, but he probably needs a few more years. His European assignment clause prevents the Canucks from sending him to the AHL, but that is where he should be right now.
Thanks to Janik for discussing the Canucks with us, and be sure to check out his work at The Canuck Way. Here’s how the Blues’ lineup is expected to look on Tuesday: