By: Trent Leith / July 11, 2023
Every season at StadiumChinatown.ca, we project out both the forward lines and defence pairings after the significant moves for the summer have come and gone. To say there has been some turnover on the back end would be a massive understatement. Only a single player under contract was on the opening night lineup, Quinn Hughes. Only two regulars are expected to be regulars again, Hughes and Tyler Myers (who started last season on the injury reserve).
To add to Myers and Hughes, Filip Hronek, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, Christian Wolanin, Jack Rathbone and Akito Hirose will all be in contention for the remaining four defensive spots. So what will the pairings look like once the season starts? Let’s take a look.
Quinn Hughes and Carson Soucy
It is no question that Quinn Hughes is the Canucks number-one defender, that is a title he has earned and will keep for a long time. However, with Luke Schenn singing in Nashville, and Ethan Bear going unqualified, we find ourselves wondering, “Who is going to play with Hughes?”. This year there are a couple of options, Ian Cole and Carson Soucy, and it is a bit of a coin flip. Soucy is a 28-year-old 6’5″ defender who uses his size and speed to be effective at both ends of the ice. While Soucy will never wow with his offensive stats, being a strong, defensively sound player with his size is what makes him a good fit to play in the Canucks top pair.
What gives Soucy the edge over Ian Cole for a spot in the top pair is his age, Soucy is 28, whereas Cole is already 34. Soucy’s three-year deal is a contributing factor as well. If Soucy and Hughes click on a pairing together, that gives the Canucks as many as three full seasons without having to shuffle things around too much on the top end of the defence.
Ian Cole and Filip Hronek
Neither of these two players has played a single game for the Canucks yet so it’s hard to tell exactly how they will fit in the Canucks system. But all signs point to Hronek being the Canucks second powerplay quarterback, and some secondary scoring on the middle pair. There is some speculation that Hronek and Hughes could be a perfect fit on a pair, and while that would be electric, it would be better to have Hronek on a second pair spreading out the offence. Don’t for a second expect Hronek and Hughes to never share the ice, late in games, or when there needs to be a shift in momentum. By spreading Hughes and Hronek out, there will scarcely be a moment in a game without one of these two on the ice driving play up the ice.
Ian Cole is a thirty-four-year-old left-shot defender that can play both sides of the ice. Cole only signed a one-year, $3M deal to act as a stopgap on the Canucks defence. Much like Soucy, Cole’s main role will be to focus on defence to allow for either Hughes or Hronek to jump up in the play and help with the team’s transition game.
Akito Hirose and Tyler Myers
There is still a lot of speculation about whether Myers will be traded before the season starts, but as of writing this, Myers is on the team and projected to make the lineup. Finally, the Canucks can put Myers in a third-pair role full-time for a season. Myers will likely benefit from fewer minutes and more favourable deployment this season. With Cole and Soucy being strong penalty killers, Myers’s defensive shortcomings will not be required on the penalty kill if all goes to plan.
The sixth and final spot is likely the only one up for grabs and I think Akito Hirose has the inside track for the final spot. He may not be an offensive player, but he proved to be very defensively sound in the short sample size we have seen. Many have called Hirose “the next Chris Tanev” which is a high bar to clear, but he didn’t leave anyone saying he couldn’t do it. Christian Wolanin and Jack Rathbone are going to make a big, hard push for that last roster spot too. Training camp should be quite interesting to see the internal battles and how the final pairings shake out.