By: Brayden Fengler / October 1, 2022
We’re nearly halfway through the Canucks’ pre-season, and the regular season is now just around the corner. Still, the Canucks have four pre-season games left to play, and their initial outings haven’t exactly been great. This is when it’s important to remember that pre-season is a learning experience for the whole organization. Not all the heavy hitters are in place or playing on their battle-tested lines. So of course results may vary… and vary they have for the Canucks.
Seasoned fans know not to overreact to a few pre-season losses, and it’s more than likely that the Canucks organization on the whole has that same head space. But what can these past few games tell the organization and fans about their 22-23 Canucks so far? What’s been promising, and what’s been concerning?
Pre-Season Point Leaders
As mentioned before, it’s only pre-season and it’s important not to get too worried or too excited with the results of these games. With that said, it’s reassuring to know that one of the newest members of the Canucks, Andrei Kuzmenko, is leading the team in points after his two games played. Against Calgary, Kuzmenko walked away with one assist, and improved on his efforts in the Canucks’ loss to the Seattle Kraken.
Although the team couldn’t get the job done on the whole, Kuzmenko gave the club about as much help as he possibly could, scoring two of the three goals for Vancouver and assisting on the other against Seattle. Kuzmenko has wasted little time showcasing why there was so much hype surrounding him over the summer when he was being wined and dined by multiple NHL teams competing for his services.
There was little question that Kuzmenko would be an effective player on this Canucks team. Although these are pre-season games, where the calibre of competition is not at an all-time high, it’s comforting to see Kuzmenko jelling immediately with Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and the rest of his teammates.
Aside from Kuzmenko, it’s also been good to see that Pettersson is getting on the scoresheet, with a more than a point per game pace this pre-season. Pettersson earned himself two assists in the Canucks latest outing against the Kraken and tallied one assist in the Canucks first game against the Flames.
Again “grain of salt” is the name of the game here when evaluating pre-season triumphs and tribulations. Nevertheless, it’s extremely encouraging to see Pettersson, a player who has shown the need for a long runway to return to form, get his reps in early and get himself up on the scoreboard. Hopefully, he can add a few goals before the pre-season is over as well.
Minute Muncher Hughes
Being that the Canucks haven’t won a game yet this pre-season, it stands to reason that perhaps their defence could’ve been stronger. Pre-season or not, this is a fact about the Canucks depth chart that is already well known. Regardless of the larger defensive issues facing this team though, none of them have been on display with Quinn Hughes this pre-season.
Hughes has dominated the TOI per games played category for the Canucks. Quinn has been skating for an average of 27:43 minutes a game, three minutes more than the next most utilized Canuck, Bo Horvat.
While on the ice, Hughes is making his presence known. He earned an assist in the Canucks latest contest, and has shown no signs of regressing to the Quinn Hughes of a few years ago, when his defensive game was sorely lacking.
I feel that this may be the last time I’ll need to mention that lackluster defensive season from Hughes in 2020-21. When he ended the season with a team worst plus-minus of -24, Hughes made it a point to work on his defensive game that off-season, a game which drastically improved last year.
Hughes finished last season with a plus-minus of +10, a stat that Hughes himself was extremely happy with. If Hughes maintains this course from last season, and keeps himself on the scoreboard while doing so, then the Hughes we all saw two years ago is going to turn into barely an afterthought in the eyes of many fans and media.
State of the Team
Even though the pre-season is just the pre-season, it’s still NHL hockey and with that comes the real possibility of injury. Ilya Mikheyev suffered a lower-body injury in the second period of the team’s pre-season opener, and although the injury was initially speculated to be more serious, the current word is that Mikheyev could be back on the ice soon. The Canucks may have a chance to open the season with the former Toronto Maple Leaf speedster on their roster.
It’s too bad that fans and coaches won’t get a better look at Mikheyev before the games start to matter, but there’s little doubt that Mikheyev won’t find a way to carve out a meaningful role on this team regardless of his presence during pre-season.
One injury that is going to be a bigger concern for the Canucks is that of Brock Boeser. After training camp, it was announced that Brock Boeser will be out 3-4 weeks from hand surgery, which at this point in his career, unfortunately seems to be par for the course.
Similar to Mikheyev, there was no concern here that Boeser wouldn’t make this Canucks team, so his absence doesn’t affect any major decision making. However, being that Brock is such a key part of this club and that there are many other key parts this year that are new, it’s unfortunate that while the games don’t matter, coach Bruce can’t see what his lines look like with Brock in them.
Brock it seems will miss the start of the season, and he is no doubt a big piece of Vancouver’s puzzle, but it could be worse for the Canucks. They could be Boston, missing Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, or Toronto, missing John Taveres for an extended period of time. The Canucks have new talent to help them kick off this season and their current core of Pettersson, Miller, Horvat and Hughes look to be there from the start as well.
The Takeaway so far
As far as three losses go, it’s hard to look at these ones and see anything overwhelmingly negative. If anything, it’s good to see that other than a few key injuries, there hasn’t been much cause for alarm with the current way that this Canucks team is handling themselves on the ice.
It’s great to see Garland bouncing back and being an offensive factor in these first few games, it’s great to see Dickinson winning a majority of his faceoffs, and it’s great to see the whole suite of Canucks goalies maintaining respectable save percentages despite the team’s inability to walk away with a win this pre-season.
Above all, this time of year is a process. The Canucks are at a stage where they’re working out some chinks in their new armour. They should consider themselves lucky that they look to be positioned to go into the regular season with close to their full set.
There are still four games to play this pre-season. Now that the team has put their golf clubs firmly in storage, we’re looking forward to seeing how these remaining games pan out.