Canucks offseason depth chart 2.0: How do the new additions fit into Vancouver's lineup?

It’s been a busy week of hockey news.

Since the start of the league year, the NHL’s 32 clubs have combined to sign 244 standard player contracts totalling 483 years with nearly $1.4 billion committed.

The Vancouver Canucks have prudently found their way into the mix. Over the past two weeks, they have extended a variety of key players, shed an inefficient cap commitment in a complex deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and signed seven free agents when the market opened.

The Canucks still have a few loose ends to tie up before the season begins. Backup goaltender Arturs Silovs remains without a contract, and the club could potentially utilize up to $3.5 million in additional cap flexibility if it decided — against its preferred plans — to dip into long-term injured reserve with the Tucker Poolman contract. Mostly, however, Vancouver has a roster that looks full and relatively complete 97 days out from opening night.

So, where do the Canucks currently stand? How do the new additions fit into the lineup? Is there any unfinished business they should be focused on over the remainder of the offseason?

Let’s take a look at their updated depth chart and break it down.

(Note: Unsigned restricted free agents are shaded blue.)

Vancouver entered the offseason with a lack of impact left-wingers locked up. Six weeks later, the front office has completed a successful renovation.

Jake DeBrusk is this summer’s prized acquisition, a surefire top-six option at the top of the lineup. He’ll get the first crack to play with Elias Pettersson. All of the attention has been on how much this will benefit Pettersson, and while that’s important, can DeBrusk also unlock a higher offensive gear playing alongside an elite centre? DeBrusk’s most common centre last season was Charlie Coyle, who isn’t anywhere near Pettersson’s calibre. The last time DeBrusk played with an elite centre was 2022-23 when he was the third wheel on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, which led to a career-best 27 goals and 50 points in 64 games.

Vancouver’s decision to re-sign Dakota Joshua to a four-year, $3.25 million AAV contract is already aging well. This offseason was a reminder that teams will pay a significant premium for physical, big-bodied wingers — Yakov Trenin inked a $3.5 million AAV, four-year contract with the Minnesota Wild despite only scoring 12 goals and five assists in 76 games last season and the Los Angeles Kings paid a hefty price to acquire Tanner Jeannot from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Pius Suter likely shifting to a bottom-six centre role, the Canucks needed a versatile, low-maintenance player to replace his contributions as a complementary winger. Enter Danton Heinen. Heinen is a different player than Suter stylistically but the idea is similar: Both players can chip in with 15+ goals, offer reliable defensive play and hang with skilled players as the third wheel on a line even though they aren’t dynamic play-drivers.

Phil Di Giuseppe looks far removed from the days of riding shotgun with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. He’ll still be in contention for a fourth-line role because coach Rick Tocchet adores his work rate and forechecking, but it’ll be a stiff battle with younger players like Arshdeep Bains and Vasily Podkolzin.

The Canucks were the only team besides Edmonton to boast two centres who ranked top 20 in the NHL’s scoring race last season. The flashy point totals are headline-worthy, but another massive factor behind Vancouver’s excellent one-two punch down the middle was Miller’s two-way resurgence. Miller went from being a turnover-prone whipping boy in 2022-23 under Bruce Boudreau to driving above-average two-way results despite taking on the toughest matchups of all Canucks forwards. It was one of the most dramatic year-over-year glow-ups of last season.

It’s totally fine if Miller doesn’t repeat his 103-point offensive output, but the Canucks need him to carry over his play-driving impact and continue decisively winning matchups in a top-line role, especially if he gets fewer bounces (he rode a 105.8 PDO last season).

All eyes are going to be on Pettersson next season. He has a massive new extension kicking in, plus the “lack of quality wingers” narrative won’t carry the same weight now that he’s got a potential match in DeBrusk. A few Canucks forwards had career-best seasons in 2023-24 and could take a slight step back production-wise — Pettersson is one of the few forwards who has more to give. It speaks volumes about Pettersson’s extraordinary potential that an 89-point season where he ranked ninth among centres in scoring is considered a down year.

Vancouver made the right choice to let Elias Lindholm walk, but without him, the centre group is a bit top-heavy. Moving Suter to centre seems like a logical decision — the only question is whether he or Teddy Blueger will get the first crack to centre the third line if Joshua and Conor Garland are there again. Blueger has the longstanding chemistry, but Suter has more offensive pop and showed flashes of chemistry with those two wingers for a small stretch before he get hurt.

All five of Vancouver’s top centres are left-handed and Suter’s never won 50 percent or more of his draws in a single season, so we’ll see if the Canucks try to find a right-shot pivot with faceoff acumen at any point over the next several months.

Boeser and Garland both put in stellar years, providing the Canucks with top-line level contributions — Boeser with his goal scoring and defence, Garland as arguably their most reliable play-driving engine up front — and ejecting themselves rather decisively from the trade block.

Garland has tended to play third-line minutes despite excellent production rates and reliable two-way impact, but that changed in the postseason when he was elevated up the lineup. His postseason performance left no doubt about Garland’s ability to hang in the heavier, more physical environment of the playoffs, and it’ll be interesting to see if it results in him getting consistent opportunities higher up the lineup this upcoming season.

Nils Höglander shot at an extraordinarily efficient clip and scored in bunches in a depth role for Vancouver last season, but was a healthy scratch in the postseason. Although he’s improved enormously in this area, Höglander continues to battle with defensive inconsistency despite his stellar work rate and battle-winning ability in all three zones. Entering the final year of his second contract and with more competition on the wings, this is shaping up to be a high-stakes summer for Höglander.

Added in free agency to replace Sam Lafferty, Kiefer Sherwood is a fast-skating, smash-mouth winger with real scoring touch. Ostensibly pencilled into a fourth-line role, Sherwood will likely get an opportunity to play up the lineup, as Lafferty and Di Giuseppe did at times this past season, and might have the offensive pop to make a meal of that sort of opportunity.

Podkolzin’s development continued to plateau last season. His performance at training camp was poor, his American League scoring profile was pedestrian and while he played hard and well in his limited action at the NHL level, he struggled to generate scoring chances and points. Signed to a two-year contract before the postseason, the time is now for Podkolzin to take a step and cement himself as an everyday NHL-level player.

Linus Karlsson has established himself as a Tocchet favourite, was regularly the first man up when Vancouver needed injury reinforcements and was a surprise inclusion for the Canucks in the postseason. He’ll be in tough to make the team given Vancouver’s depth on the wings, but if he clears waivers, he’ll very likely see NHL action at some point next season.

Jonathan Lekkerimäki is the big wild card. It’s rare for a 20-year-old player drafted outside the top 10 to make an immediate NHL impact, and his American League cameo last season didn’t exactly scream “NHL ready.” That said, you never want to put a cap on what’s “expected” from unique, talented players like Lekkerimäki, and if he has a big summer he’ll presumably get a long look at training camp.

Vancouver’s left-side defence is positioned well but there are a few intriguing questions to ponder.

Will Quinn Hughes be attached to the hip with Filip Hronek again or will they see more time apart next season? Hughes’ Norris-winning campaign is proof the Canucks should prioritize keeping them together as much as possible, but the bottom four doesn’t have much speed or mobility currently and GM Patrik Allvin acknowledged the coaches could experiment with playing Hughes and Hronek apart if the blue line’s puck-moving becomes an issue.

Carson Soucy was everything the Canucks could have hoped for last season, but can he stay healthier after only playing 40 games? He was much more durable in 2022-23 but only appeared in 64 games the year before. Vancouver is one injury away from Derek Forbort or Vincent Desharnais playing top-four minutes, which isn’t ideal. Don’t forget that Soucy’s injury at the start of last season and the club’s shaky November form necessitated the Nikita Zadorov trade.

Forbort is a savvy Ian Cole replacement for half the cost. He’s an outstanding penalty killer and is still an above-average shot and scoring chance suppressor at even strength. Forbort isn’t a perfect third-pair defender — he was prone to turnovers in Boston — but clocking in at just $1.5 million, he’s a good value signing.

After Forbort, the Canucks have a couple of solid depth options in Christian Wolanin and Guillaume Brisebois, too (assuming he can stay healthy).

The Canucks were able to get a long-term extension done with Hronek before the meat of the offseason got into full swing, avoiding the usual mid-summer drama typical of negotiations with arbitration-eligible restricted free agents coming off a career year. Hronek’s first season in Vancouver hit its 99th percentile outcome, as he combined with Hughes to form one of the single best top defence pairs in the NHL.

Who would’ve thought when Tyler Myers was taking bullets from Canucks fans in October that his three-year extension would be celebrated as team-friendly less than 10 months later? Myers’ skill set is a perfect fit with the hyper-specific identity Vancouver has forged under Tocchet, and he’ll be counted on to hold down a second-pair role to open this season.

Desharnais is a big, physical penalty-killing specialist and a raw defender the Canucks opted to prioritize as a project on free-agent day. He’ll be the front-runner to slot onto the third pair to open the season, but the Canucks think they can work with him to maximize his potential — which Vancouver’s scouting and coaching staff believes goes beyond playing a third-pair role.

Noah Juulsen performed really well for Vancouver last season, but the club opted to bring in additional reinforcements on the right side in free agency. A reliable penalty killer and physically assertive defender, Juulsen appears to still have some work to do to cement himself as an NHL regular.

Mark Friedman’s team-first focus earned him an extension for the veteran minimum, and his performance as an injury replacement capable of being utilized all over the lineup (right defence, left defence, or even on the wing) was legitimately solid. It would be interesting to see Friedman get an extended run, because there may be more to his game than simply organizational depth.

It won’t be easy given the volume of bodies Vancouver has brought in on the right side, but Cole McWard could still force the issue with a good summer that builds off his sterling form in the second half of his first American League season.

Thatcher Demko is an elite puck-stopper when he’s available, but his workload needs to be managed more carefully in 2024-25. The Canucks are one of the few teams in the NHL that can flex the advantage of having a top-flight starting goaltender, but that edge only matters if Demko is healthy and available to play.

Vancouver has transformed into a top defensive team under Tocchet — the coaching staff should trust that the structure can provide enough support for the backup to play a higher volume of games.

Although he’s yet to come to terms with the club on a contract, restricted free-agent netminder Silovs has the inside track on the backup position after an impressive showing in the playoffs. If it hadn’t been for that performance, it’s conceivable that the Canucks would have spent more money on a veteran NHL backup, which would have blocked Silovs’ NHL path for next season.

Jiri Patera’s AHL numbers last season (a .903 save percentage in 25 AHL games) don’t jump off the page but context is key. The 6-foot-3 Czech goaltender was playing behind an awful Henderson Silver Knights team that had the sixth-worst record in the AHL. He has upside as a 25-year-old and has posted a .902 save percentage in eight career NHL games. If Patera has a strong training camp, it could make the No. 2 battle interesting because Silovs can be sent down without requiring waivers, plus the club could see appeal in the 23-year-old playing a large chunk of games in Abbotsford for his development.

Poolman’s four-year contract has entered its final year and will expire following the 2024-25 campaign.

Vancouver doesn’t currently need to utilize the LTI space from his $2.5 million salary and would prefer to keep him on ordinary injured reserve throughout this season (or at least until the trade deadline), which would lend the Canucks additional roster flexibility and permit them to toll cap space daily during the season. If the right opportunity presents itself, however, Vancouver won’t hesitate to seize it, even if it means deviating from its preferred plan.

Vancouver has been unwilling to part with future assets to move the final year of Poolman’s deal this summer, and while you never say never in these cases, we wouldn’t expect that to change before the 2024-25 campaign.

(Photo of J.T. Miller and Jake DeBrusk: Rich Gagnon / Getty Images)

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