Although not as active as many expected them to be, the Vancouver Canucks have been active on the free agency market in acquiring forwards and have further bolstered their depth up front.
While there are still likely more moves to come, as it stands the Canucks have quite a deep forward group. They finished 24th last season in 5-on-5 goals per sixty minutes, meaning that they struggled to produce offence without the man advantage. The revamped forward group should help in that department.
There are lots of centers in the Canucks’ current lineup. This gives the team a lot of flexibility in how they deploy their players. There will likely be many iterations of the depth chart before the team finds the optimal solution.
Comparing the depth charts
Ilya Mikheyev, Curtis Lazar, Andrei Kuzmenko
The Canucks have replaced lots of the bottom-six and added a few skaters that project to be impact players. The largest addition was Ilya Mikheyev (6’3″, 195 lbs), a speedy winger that will immediately slide into the top-six. He’s coming off a breakout season in which he scored 21 goals in just 53 games.
Andrei Kuzmenko (5’11”, 194 lbs) was the most sought after European free agent this offseason and he joins his friend Mikheyev in Vancouver. He scored 53 points in 45 KHL games last season and will be expected to contribute at a middle-six rate in the NHL. With a cap hit of under $1 million, there’s plenty of upside in this signing for the organization.
Curtis Lazar (6’0″, 194 lbs) gives the Canucks a right-handed centerman that can take some of the tough assignments. He plays larger than his size and provides a sandpaper element that the new management was looking to add. Lazar will also be able to contribute on the penalty kill, an area where the Canucks struggled last season.
Coach Bruce Boudreau will have plenty of options to build his lineup. It will be interesting to see which permutation he begins the season with. Perhaps he decides to reunite the Lotto Line (assuming JT Miller is still on the team)? Perhaps he decides to put Kuzmenko and Podkolzin on the same line? There are endless opportunities for Boudreau to put on his mad scientist googles and experiment.
Tyler Motte, Juho Lammikko, Matthew Highmore
There are a few faces from last season that will not be returning to the Canucks, namely the entire fourth line. Despite finding success as a trio, the Canucks decided to let Juho Lammikko and Matthew Highmore walk in free agency after trading Tyler Motte at the deadline.
While Canucks fans are going to miss these players, none of them provided anything that could’t be replaced quite easily. The forward group is much deeper with the new additions and these players would have likely been on the outside looking in, with the exception of Motte.
Motte is still a free agent and has yet to commit to a team after finishing last season with the New York Rangers. If the Rangers manage to free up some cap space, they seem like a logical destination for the Vancouver-favorite Motte.
Who’s the first call up?
With such a deep forward group, the Canucks have solid players that are currently on the outside looking at. Among them is Dakota Joshua (6’3″, 206 lbs), a big and bruising forward with nine points through 42 career NHL games. Management seems to be high on this player. Expect him to be one of the first call ups in case of injury, if he isn’t in the lineup on opening night.
Another player that will be fighting to make his way into the lineup is Will Lockwood (5’11”, 172 lbs). The speedy winger made his NHL debut near the end of last season, playing 15 games. Despite failing to record a point, Lockwood didn’t look out of place and was strong on the forecheck. He will need to add some offensive production if he wants to grab a full time spot.