Vancouver Canucks: Sep 18 2018 postgame re-cap + season preview
By: Ryan Aceman & Connor Jung
With the Vancouver Canucks’ (pre) season officially underway, we can all finally take a deep breath – hockey is back. And while practical fans of the squad know that real success is still years away for one of the NHL’s youngest teams (an average age of just 26 years), the future is certainly bright.
But, some things haven’t changed. Loui Eriksson is a playmaking-blackhole whose durability and semi-advanced age are in always in question. Jake Virtanen possesses elite speed and strength, but his decision-making is questionable more often than not. Hutton seems to be playing beyond his means, perhaps a function of the team’s lack of depth on the back end, or maybe he’s been type-casted into a role he simply can’t excel in. Sound familiar?
Yes, some things still look eerily familiar to the 2017-2018 season Canucks fans tolerated. But there were also some great developments for the Canucks last year that all of us remember fondly.
An almost “Youngstar Edition” of the Edmonton Oilers took the game to the Canucks early on. Players like Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan McLeod, Caleb Jones and Drake Caggiula played with pace that pinned the Canucks for most of the 1st period, causing turnover after turnover as the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
The Oilers benefited from playing their first pre-season game Monday, so the good guys get a pass for the sluggish first period. As the game settled in, so did the Canucks and their play. The Canucks and Oilers traded goals in the middle frame and the game was close till the end. Goaltending was a soft point last night – Nilsson gave up an early first goal, and later in the game, let the lead grow back to 2 when the Ty Rattie doubled the lead in the 3rd.
It was a good – not great – opener for the Canucks. Evaluating the team’s play isn’t necessarily the goal of training camp and the Pre-Season, so let’s look at some individual performances.
The first taste of Canucks hockey this season wasn’t all bad. Those who you expected to stand out, who had something to prove, found ways to do so on Tuesday night.
Takeaway #1: Elias Pettersson is very talented.
He was excellent at times on Tuesday. He was arguably the most dangerous player on the ice, playing with a deliberateness that I love and is rare for a 19-year old. He shows an exceptional understanding of the game and wants to make a play every time he touches the puck. He has an amazing ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces (Ryan Strome is still searching for his jock). We even got a chance to see EP40 in his familiar right-wall power-play spot, where he looked very comfortable and threatening.
Check out this nifty heads-up play to try the back door to Goldobin, who was stoned by Cam Talbot:
Sven Baerstchi displayed his craftiness on various occasions, including a beautiful through-the-legs-goal, while finding open space consistently, and Bo Horvat created chances and controlled possession of the puck like the excellent two-way centre he is.
These are all good signs from players who we all assume will be NHL regulars, and it’s nice to see some of the Canucks’ top players continue to improve.
Virtanen’s toolbox is full of elite measurables and the discernible edge of a prototypical power forward, but he needs to start stopping on pucks more consistently. Too often Virtanen finds himself out of control – and out of position – while the opponent pounces on a counter attack following an ill-advised burst through traffic.
Even so, The Gagner-Leipsic-Virtanen line made an impact through playing a fast-paced, gritty game that gave a young Edmonton Oilers squad trouble both on the rush and in the cycle.
And to be fully objective, we should discuss some of the less-encouraging events from last night’s game. Fan-favourite Troy Stetcher started off slow, looking out of place at times even at a pre-season pace – one example of this was his gamble on a 2 on 1 on the power play. But he got stronger as the game went on, displaying effective gap control and defensive positioning, ahead of a year where many fans expect him to be thrust into a top-4 role.
Winger Jonathan Dahlen didn’t jump off the screen, but appears capable of keeping up with the pace while being able to find space and make plays on the smaller ice. He just needs some time to fully adjust and I have no doubt he will be a solid NHL player in the near future.
One major question I have is Benning’s consistent preaching of the “speed and skill” mantra. And while Tim Schaller didn’t stand out much, there was one glaring note: he is slow – very slow. It’s hard to envision a lineup that emphasizes speed and skill with him as a regular cog.
Overall, Tuesday night’s game in Vancouver was a noteworthy preview for the 2018-2019 season. While an injection of youth, speed, and skill is inevitable given the team’s array of prospects, many of the same frustrations we endured last year are likely to linger through the season and perhaps beyond.
But as Canucks fans, no one finds the silver lining in a crappy situation with more accuracy and necessity. This season should be approached from a long-term perspective; each game will be an opportunity for our elite prospects to get their feet wet and learn on the fly. This is what they need to develop into effective NHL players. EP40 looks to be the real deal.
It will also serve as a chance for our top players to expand on past successes. And with the consistent growth of players like Horvat, Baertschi, Boeser, Demko, etc., it may not be long before the Canucks regain a spot amongst the NHL’s most exciting teams.
It’s early, Canucks fans. This season is destined for many ups and downs, which would be something very familiar. But if Tuesday’s game vs. Edmonton is any indication, there will be plenty of highlights and much to look forward to, as our roster-of-the-future begins to take shape right before our very eyes.