The 7 biggest questions for the Canucks heading into the 2019 preseason

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks’ preseason kicks off in earnest Monday night with two split-squad games against the Calgary Flames. For the first time in months, NHL hockey, or at least a reasonable facsimile, will be on TV.

The preseason will be key for the Canucks as they acclimate new additions to the roster and look to find some chemistry in their lines and pairings. This is a team that has legitimate aspirations of making the playoffs, and that begins with getting the season off to a strong start. The preseason plays a big role in that process.

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As the Canucks head into the preseason, there are some big questions facing the management and coaching staff that will need answers before the start of the regular season. Here are seven of them.

1 | When will Brock Boeser sign?

As big questions go, this one is Brobdingnagian. A few other RFA dominoes have already toppled, including Mitch Marner, who re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for six years at $10.893 million per year.

Boeser, however, remains unsigned. On the one hand, this has actually been a good thing. Instead of reporting to Canucks training camp, Boeser has been able to spend more time with his family as his father, Duke, recovers from heart failure triggered by lung cancer. Duke has been regaining strength and it’s been important for Brock to be by his side.

At the same time, preseason is beginning and Boeser still doesn’t have a contract. That has to be a concern. The Canucks can’t afford to be missing their best winger to start the season, not if they want to make the playoffs. Ideally, Boeser would sign early in the preseason, giving him a chance to get up to speed and maybe even play in a preseason game or two so he can hit the ground running on opening night.

2 | Will Loui Eriksson get waived?

Loui Eriksson is not a popular player in Vancouver right now. Not only has he failed to play up to his contract over the past three seasons and courted controversy with a quote about his coach, but now his elevated cap hit is limiting the Canucks cap space, perhaps making it more difficult to re-sign Brock Boeser.

The Canucks have a few different options when it comes to Eriksson, but the least popular and most likely option is to play him. He’s a great penalty killer and can be a contributor in a depth role, but when you’re a $6 million man, people expect more.

The question is whether anyone can push hard enough in the preseason to cost Eriksson his job, similar to how Sam Gagner got waived last year. Waiving Eriksson wouldn’t save that much off the cap, as there’s a limit of $1.075 million that can be buried in the AHL, but if he’s replaced by a player making, say, $847,500, that does make a little bit more cap space to, perhaps, make a Boeser contract work.

3 | Can Tyler Motte hang onto his hard-won fourth-line role?

Tyler Motte was one of the stand-out performers from the 2018 preseason. While the Canucks as a whole struggled to hit their stride during the preseason, Motte made a name for himself with his hard-working shifts, showcasing his speed and willingness to make and take contact. He made such an impression that the Canucks were willing to waive Sam Gagner to make room for Motte on the roster.

How, however, it’s hard to see where Motte fits in the lineup. The additions of J.T. Miller, Micheal Ferland, Tanner Pearson, and Josh Leivo over the last year have crowded the wings. For Motte to make the lineup, the team would likely have to cut Nikolay Goldobin or Loui Eriksson. That’s not mentioning Tim Schaller, who would have to have already been waived in this scenario.

Then you have to add in prospects like Zack MacEwen and Francis Perron, who are also aiming to make the Canucks roster. If MacEwen excels in the preseason and the Canucks decide to make room for him, Motte could see himself in the same situation he put Gagner in one year ago.

4 | Can Adam Gaudette make the Canucks roster out of camp?

One of the players pushing to make the Canucks out of camp is Adam Gaudette, who played 56 NHL games in his rookie season. Part of the reason he played so many games, however, was that the Canucks had limited options at centre. When Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle were injured, Gaudette got the call.

To Gaudette’s credit, he was fantastic in the AHL for the Utica Comets, tallying 11 points in 14 games. He earned his call-ups ahead of someone like Tanner Kero.

There are some who think Gaudette should be on the Canucks roster to start the season, perhaps even starting at third-line centre instead of Brandon Sutter. There are just a couple issues: one is that there’s no room for him in the lineup without making some big changes at the NHL level. The other is that Gaudette really struggled to create offence in his rookie season, which is something the team badly needs out of their third line.

“I think [Gaudette] is going to be a good player for us,” said Travis Green. “We need to make sure that we put him in a position to succeed, but also, what has he done over the summer to make the jump?”

“I thought he had a decent rookie year,” he added. “He found his way, but now we want more out of Adam Gaudette and he wants more out of himself. But we'll see in the next couple weeks where Adam Gaudette is at.”

In these next couple weeks, can Gaudette prove to Green and Canucks management that he deserves to be on the opening night roster? And, if so, what does that mean for the rest of the roster?

5 | Who will play on the first power play unit?

The Canucks’ power play was one of their biggest issues last season. Despite some elite shooting talent in Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, the Canucks just couldn’t get the puck in the back of the net with any consistency.

Coach Newell Brown has some new options to work with, however, and it remains to be seen who will get prime opportunities on the power play alongside Pettersson and Boeser.

Will Bo Horvat remain on the first unit or get bumped to anchor a more effective second unit?

Who will be the Canucks’ net-front presence in the middle: J.T. Miller or Micheal Ferland?

Is there room for Sven Baertschi on the first power play unit given his effectiveness with the man advantage?

Most importantly, who will play the point? The incumbent Alex Edler? Free agent signing Tyler Myers, who has the right-hand shot and puck-distribution to be effective on the first unit? Or Quinn Hughes, the rookie with incredible skill and high expectations?

6 | Where will all the wingers fit?

The Canucks have a wealth of wingers this season and lots of options for how they can be arranged. How they fit into the lineup could determine how effective the team’s scoring depth is this season, which could determine whether the Canucks make the playoffs.

Is Micheal Ferland the right fit for the first line or should that spot go to J.T. Miller? What about a wild card option like Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, Tanner Pearson, or Josh Leivo?

Out of whoever doesn’t skate on the top line, can the Canucks find a pair of consistent wingers for Horvat? Pearson fit on his side for a spell last season, but Baertschi has been a mainstay on Horvat’s wing as well. Is there room for Jake Virtanen to get top-six ice time with Horvat or will he be pushed further down the lineup by the likes of Ferland and Miller?

Finally, there’s the third line: can chemistry be found with Brandon Sutter to create some secondary scoring with whatever wingers remain?

7 | Is there room for another young defenceman to make the roster?

The Canucks’ top six defencemen are pretty much set in stone. On the left side, the Canucks have their longest-tenured player, Alex Edler, along with new arrivals Quinn Hughes and Jordie Benn. On the right, newcomer Tyler Myers will join Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher.

That doesn’t leave much room for a young defenceman to impress in the preseason and make the team’s lineup out of camp. There is, however, a little room on the roster, as long as a defenceman doesn’t mind a little time in the press box.

The presumed seventh and eighth defencemen for the Canucks are Oscar Fantenberg and Alex Biega, but there’s potentially an opportunity for a younger defenceman to supplant one of them. Biega has plenty of experience in a seventh defenceman role, spending long stretches in the press box, then stepping into the lineup to make an impact on the ice. Green likes him and there’s something to be said for have a veteran defenceman, from whom you know what you’re going to get every time he’s in the lineup.

Fantenberg is a little more unknown, however. He’s got NHL experience, with 88 games over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames, but perhaps there’s room for someone like Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty, or Josh Teves to take his spot.

I didn’t mention Olli Juolevi, as he’s almost certainly starting the season in the AHL. Not only is Juolevi is coming off a knee surgery last season, but he’s a top prospect that needs ice time, not the press box. He’ll be on the top pairing in Utica to start the season, perhaps with Rafferty on his right side.

Sautner has a shot, however, of beating Fantenberg for the spot on the left side with a good preseason. This is the first year he’s waiver eligible, so that may play a role in the Canucks’ decision.
 

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