Salute to the Vancouver Canucks for a great playoff run and bright future

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks have a very bright future and should be proud of themselves.

The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a breakout campaign for the Vancouver Canucks franchise. They showcased the tremendous amount of elite talent they assembled through NHL Drafts and timely trades within the last decade.

Vancouver appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons and advanced to the second round for the first time since 2011. Expectations were low coming into this playoff season as the inexperienced Canucks bounced up and down the standings in the Pacific Division all regular season long before the stoppage on March 12th, 2020.

With a mix of many losing seasons before this season and being on the West Coast, there wasn’t a lot of national exposure or spotlights on this team coming into these playoffs. This bubble playoff team in March showed the hockey world just how good they are.

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While enduring many losing seasons within this decade as a whole, Vancouver cashed in on their high draft picks and turned the Canucks into a powerhouse for years to come. Being in the best position possible to select the right players for your team in the NHL draft and having high draft picks is important towards building a team for the future.

Actually picking the right players and having them excel into elite players isn’t as easy as the Canucks have made it seem. In any draft class, there are boom and bust picks littered throughout every round of selections. Since taking over in May of 2014, Canucks general manager Jim Benning and his scouting teams have built a strong core of impact players that shined throughout this playoff run.

2017 fifth-overall pick Elias Pettersson tied the team lead in playoff points with 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 17 games. He showed tremendous poise and game breaking talent throughout these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Petterson made it hard to believe he was a second year NHL player making his first appearance in the playoffs, especially in the first round against the Blues. He scored 9 points in the 6 game series against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

2018 seventh-overall pick Quinn Hughes led all Canucks defensemen in playoff points with 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists) in 17 games. Hughes led all rookies through the second round in points and assists, setting the all time record for playoff points by a defenseman in NHL history.

Team captain Bo Horvat led the team and entire NHL through the second round with 10 goals. Horvat has personified everything the Canucks have become now. As a two way, 200 ft. all situational player, Horvat works hard on every shift and leaves it all on the ice every time out.

Whether in the attacking zone making plays happen, defending in the defensive zone blocking shots and winning faceoffs on all zones, Horvat impacts the game on all levels and leads by example. He had big shoes to fill following former Canucks captain Henrik Sedin‘s retirement, which he has proven to be the right choice for this team.

2015 23rd overall pick Brock Boeser, 23, finished fifth on the Canucks in playoff scoring with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists). Boeser rounds out the star studded homegrown core that was on display all throughout August into September in this unique playoff season.

Arguably Benning’s best trade acquisition during his six-year tenure as Canucks GM paid off with a huge return in 2020 playoffs. Former New York Ranger and Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Miller, 27, shared the team lead in playoff points with Petterson at 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists).

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom was acquired two months before Benning took over as GM in the Roberto Luongo trade to the Florida Panthers in 2014. He was the most consistent Canucks player for the first two rounds of playoffs, never yielding more than three goals in any game while dealing with a heavy workload of shots on goal. The Canucks would not have beaten the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues team without the heroics of Markstrom.

With Markstrom unavailable after Game 4 with injury, Thatcher Demko stepped up with three performances for the ages. He stopped 123 of 125 Golden Knights shots in the three elimination games, helped the Canucks climb back from a 3-1 series deficit, and almost won them the series.

The Canucks showed resiliency and heart all throughout these playoffs. They came back to win three straight games in the qualifying round after losing Game 1 to Minnesota. In the first round, they won Games 5 and 6 after the Blues took Games 3 and 4 to even the series.

Against Vegas, they came back to force a Game 7 after enduring a 3-1 series deficit to the Golden Knights. Vancouver led the NHL playoffs with 361 blocked shots and in blocks per game average of 20.8 per game. They also led the NHL playoffs in takeaways with 128 and faceoff wins with 605. 55.7% faceoff winning percentage was the highest for teams that advanced past the Qualifying Round.

With all the flashes of brilliance the Canucks displayed throughout the month of August and early September, Vancouver also showed their inexperience at times. They were shutout in 4 playoff games, including 3 of the 4 losses in the second round loss to Vegas.

The Canucks were also heavily outshot in many contests including the decisive Game 7 against Vegas, losing the shots on goal battle 36-14. Vancouver averaged 26.7 shots on goal per game while yielding 36.7 shots on goal per game, which doesn’t include the 20.8 shots Canucks skaters blocked.

Vancouver were outshot in 15 of their 17 playoff games, only having more SOGs in the final 2 games of the Minnesota series. And outside of the last two games of the St. Louis series, Vancouver did not receive much more secondary scoring to support the scorers listed above. All aspects to work on in the future.

Trading for rental forward Tyler Toffoli and offseason free agent signing Michael Ferland didn’t pan out as well with both being out with injuries for most of the 2020 playoffs. Toffoli did have one big game leading to a win in Game 2 victory against Vegas after a 10 game absence.

Ferland was lost in the Qualifying Round series and didn’t not return in the final 2 series. Loui Erikson was largely ineffective as he has been unfortunately during his entire Canucks tenure since signing a six year, $36 million deal in 2016.

To look ahead to next season, the Canucks have $17.1 million in salary cap space. Markstrom, Toffoli, Christopher Tanev,and Oscar Fantenberg will be unrestricted free agents. Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwen, Nikolay Goldobin, and Troy Stecher will be restricted free agents.

The Canucks do not have a first or second round pick as of right now because they were traded in the Miller and Toffoli trades, respectively. They do have 2019 draft 10th overall selection in forward Vasily Podkolzin and a stable of other young prospects making their way to the NHL club.

Every great team has a great loss as they build towards the future. The 1982-83 Edmonton Oilers were swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the New York Islanders before beating the Islanders to win the Stanley Cup the following season.

The Oilers went on to win 5 Stanley Cups in a 7 year span. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 before winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 over the Red Wings.

Before winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Boston Bruins gave up a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers. There are many more examples but this playoff series to the Vegas Golden Knights loss can be the springboard for a championship season down the road for the Vancouver Canucks.

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The future is bright in Vancouver and will only get better as these superstars gain more experience. Canucks fans should be proud of their accelerated growth, their tremendous efforts and the potential for the greatest moments in Canucks history to come very soon.