Onto the Vancouver Canucks in our 2023 fantasy hockey team preview series.
From a fantasy perspective, there is a lot to like about the Canucks. From a fan perspective, it should be another frustrating year floating in mediocrity.
The biggest splash came with the buyout of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, talk about a fall from grace. His value plummeted with Arizona, only to drop further upon arrival in Vancouver. They receive almost full cap savings this year but will be on the hook with a cap penalty until 2028-2029.
The Canucks opted to steer clear from the main free agency frenzy. Instead, they added quality depth pieces in an attempt to fill out key weaknesses in their lineup. Teddy Bleuger and Pius Suter provide solid bottom-six depth. Bleuger specifically is a borderline elite penalty killer. Carson Soucy and Ian Cole provide much-needed depth to a blue line that has been beyond thin for several years.
Even with these pieces, the Canucks remain thin at most positions. If key players suffer a significant injury, their lack of depth will become apparent.
Let’s take a look at what the Canucks have to offer.
2023 Fantasy Hockey Team Preview
The Canucks boast two early-round selections at forward, Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.
We’ll start with last year’s breakout, Pettersson. With a previous career high of 69 points, Pettersson finally lived up to the ‘Golden Boy’ hype (reference to 2018 & the SHL tradition of painting playoff MVP Gold) and busted out for 102 points, setting career highs in almost every major offensive category.
This isn’t a surprise to anyone. The talent has always been there. Several injuries have derailed productive seasons in the past. Finally, everything clicked. Get used to 90-plus point seasons. Pettersson is electric and his production finally reflects his skill level. Buckle up, he should surpass the century mark in points several more times.
J.T. Miller might have had the most criticized point-per-game season in NHL history last year. His passion and frustration on the ice were interpreted as being a poor teammate. Regardless of how he was portrayed over the last year, he is a bonafide multi-cat stud. Few players give a season line of 80-plus points, 200 plus shots, and 150 plus hits. At 30, he has a few years of this level of production left.
Andrei Kuzmenko will be an interesting one to watch this year. His chemistry with Pettersson is undeniable. It should leave him locked on his wing for the season. Yet, regression is coming, it has to.
Kuzmenko scored 39 goals on 143 shots. that’s a 27.3% shooting percentage. Consider for a second, McDavid scored 64 on 352 shots, that’s an 18.2% shooting percentage. It is unsustainable. An 18% shooting percentage would have resulted in 25 goals. This is the best owners can hope for this coming year in that regard. There is an opportunity for him to offset the oncoming regression – shoot more. Averaging under two shots per game, we could easily see Kuzmenko increase his shot totals to 200. Rick Tocchet should be emphasizing him to do just that all camp. If he hits 30 goals this year, it will be due to a sizeable increase in shots on goal.
Then there’s Brock Boeser. Once a highly thought of prospect, he has become a very strong complimentary player and is good for 20 goals and 55 points. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from what owners had hoped Boeser would be producing. There’s still hope he can put together a larger offensive season. As time passes, that hope fades.
From here things slide another couple tiers to Conor Garland and Anthony Beauvillier. Garland as I discussed here, as a sleeper/breakout candidate could be a nice late-round pick-up. There’s a chance for an under-the-radar 60-point season. Beauvillier is a decent option for deeper leagues and could set career highs by pushing 50 points in the right role.
What is left is hope and a prayer, otherwise known as Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin. Let me explain. They are two highly touted prospects that appear to be fading as potential impact players. This should surprise no one and frustrate everyone.
Fun fact, the Canucks have not drafted and developed a top-six forward since Ryan Kessler. I know what you’re thinking, what about Pettersson, Horvat, and Boeser? The answer, the Canucks did not develop them. All three walked onto the Canucks. The only AHL games any of them played were injury assignments. Playing for Manitoba, Utica, and now Abbotsford has been a curse to every forward prospect the Canucks have drafted since 2003.
If the Canucks are ever going to improve and become a legitimate threat in the division they need to develop players within the system. Until this happens they will continue to lag.
Plain and simple, Quinn Hughes is a stud. The sky is the limit. Coming off a 76-point season we have yet to see the best of him. He’s a slight notch behind Cale Makar in the fantasy realm. There’s no reason Hughes can’t surpass 80 points several times over the next decade. His skating, edgework, and vision are elite. He sees things on the ice and makes plays few can replicate.
He’s in the discussion with the top fantasy defensemen. If he’s not a top 5 defenseman right now, he could be by season’s end. He’s not the greatest multi-cat option. Hits are all but non-existent and he doesn’t block. I’d also like to see his shot totals increase to 2.5 per game. Having a 70-plus point defenseman with 200 shots makes no peripherals a little easier to swallow.
The Filip Hronek trade was widely criticized. Yet, how else was Vancouver supposed to obtain a top-four defenseman to bolster the blue line? He provides the Canucks with a solid 1-2 punch, with Hughes. He has 50 50-point upside and has shown, in Detroit, that he can run a power play with efficiency.
After Hronek, we get back into the prospect development conundrum. Jack Rathbone’s development stalled a bit last year. A lot of dynasty pools hoped he would step into an offensive role and man the second power play. He has yet to play a full AHL season, perhaps any hopes he will provide a meaningful contribution should be put on hold for another year. At least until the new year. He needs ice time. The additions of Cole and Soucy severely limit that opportunity.
Tyler Myers remains a strong multi-cat contributor – hits, blocks, penalty minutes. He should only be considered in deeper pools or pools where these categories hold significant value. One more year until he is off the books.
The season depends on Thatcher Demko. He was dreadful before his injury last year and average afterward. He has turned in solid seasons with the Canucks before last year. This leaves hope that he can return to that high-end form and steal some games.
Demko should play as many games as he can handle and be one of the few goalies to push 60 starts. The defense in front of him is better and the structure Tocchet introduced should limit high-danger changes, to a degree. Still, this is not a strong defensive team. The Canucks will give up a lot of shots and a lot of chances. Demko will be a catalyst in determining the success of the season.
With the recent trade for Casey DeSmith, it’s clear management didn’t feel comfortable with Spencer Martin or Artur Silovs as Demko’s backup. We’ve seen DeSmith provide solid starts when called upon in the past with Pittsburgh. His addition is a solid improvement to the Canucks backup situation. This could allow Tocchet to rest Demko a few extra games through the season and keep his starts closer to 55.
In summary, the Canucks have three legitimate high-end fantasy options Pettersson, Miller, and Hughes. Demko provides a strong middle-tier goalie option, with some risk after last season’s shaky performance. Kuzmenko is a strong bet for 70-plus points. From here, the fantasy options begin to decline in quality and impact quickly. An injury to Pettersson or Hughes will leave a gaping hole in their lineup that they don’t have the depth to endure long-term.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @doylelb4; where you’ll find as many hiking musings as you will fantasy hockey.
Make sure to check out all of our Fantasy Hockey Team Previews as they roll out over the coming weeks!
Looking for more great fantasy hockey analysis? Check out our 2023 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit for team previews, rankings, and all the sleepers you can shake a stick at.