After finishing the 2021-22 season with eight wins in their last 12 games and a 32-15-10 record under new coach Bruce Boudreau, the Vancouver Canucks enter 2022-23 with great hope and optimism. . With him back behind the bench, they hope to continue that streak of success and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 Edmonton bubble.
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Boudreau will be joined by two new assistant coaches in Mike Yeo and Trent Cull and a few new faces brought on board via the free agent market. Ilya Mikheyev, Curtis Lazar, Dakota Joshua and Andrei Kuzmenko will likely make the roster and help build a deeper forward group than the Canucks have had in years. The defense will largely remain the same except for a trade and the goalie will feature 25-year-old Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin, who got the job after a great cup of coffee in the NHL last season that saw him finish with a sparkling 1.74 goals-against average and .950 save percentage with a 3-0-3 record.
With any changes, there are bound to be X-factors emerging not just from this group but from the organization as a whole. Let’s take a look at three of them now.
Considered one of the best European free agents on the market, Kuzmenko decided to sign with the Canucks after being tasted by several NHL teams. Immediately excited about his potential, he should make a difference in the top nine alongside JT Miller, Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat. He’ll also likely get some power-play time on a much-improved (at least on paper) second unit with fellow Russian and former Kontinental Hockey League star Ilya Mikheyev.
Kuzmenko, who could turn out to be Patrik Allvin’s best (or worst) free agent signing, is known for his elite presence around the net. Whether it’s passing or using his quick hands to bury rebounds, he just has a knack for finding loose pucks in and around the slot — at least in the KHL anyway. If he can apply that skill to the NHL, he should be able to carve out a career similar to that of former Canuck and current Calgary Flame Tyler Toffoli, who makes a living doing just that.
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The only downside to Kuzmenko’s contract is that it only lasts for a year. If he decides to make Vancouver a stopover city en route to a big payday elsewhere, he’ll end up having something else in common with Toffoli – a lightly used Canucks home and away jersey . The hope will be that he has a productive rookie season in the NHL and likes the team enough to sign long-term in a team-friendly cap. Then he won’t just be an X factor for this season, but for many more to come.
After a terrific rookie season with the Canucks in 2021-22 that saw him score 14 goals, Vasily Podkolzin is ready to take his game to the next level. In fact, Pete Jensen, who covers fantasy hockey for NHL.com, believes he could possibly be the best winger on the team. He certainly won’t reach those heights next season given that Brock Boeser has four 20-goal seasons under his belt and Podkolzin is yet to register his first, but that doesn’t mean he can’t achieve that. peak in the years to come.
Jensen wasn’t the first to praise the 21-year-old this offseason, as Miller also praised his skills and potential during a recent episode of the drop the gloves podcast when he said “the sky was the limit” on Podkolzin’s NHL cap. His speed, size and willingness to drive the net will see him score plenty of goals in the future as he grows into his 6ft 1in frame. Hopefully, for the sake of the Canucks, that future begins to materialize in 2022-23.
Heading into his first full season as general manager (GM) of the Canucks, Allvin will have his work cut out as he attempts to clean up the mess left by former general manager Jim Benning and company. As such, he is as much of an X factor as Kuzmenko and Podkolzin for this season. The way he handles upcoming Horvat and Miller contracts and/or subsequent trades will destroy his legacy before it even begins or allow him to get off to a good start as a better GM than his predecessors.
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If Miller is not re-signed, Allvin to have to get an adequate performance that prepares the Canucks not just for the present but for the future, and if he can somehow do that under contract, then he has to be favorable to the team in terms of time and money, which doesn’t destroy the re-signing potential of key players like Podkolzin, Kuzmenko, Pettersson and maybe even Jonathan Lekkerimaki down the road. Basically, the Miller deal — contract or trade — could be the deal-breaker of the season.
The same goes for Horvat. Although he’s more likely to be re-signed than traded, Allvin and his contract expert Émilie Castonguay need to sign him to a deal that won’t test the team going forward and at the same time. will provide value for the present. Easier said than done when guys like Jonathan Huberdeau get $10.5 million in average annual value (AAV) for a single 100-point season. The Canucks captain certainly won’t receive that kind of money, but his agent can comfortably demand $7-8 million AAV considering players like Thomas Hertl just got $8.137 million AAV for similar production.
Either way, Allvin and his team won’t have it easy this season as they try to navigate the salary cap with two key players in unrestricted free agency this offseason. The pressure will only increase as the trade deadline nears and, depending on the Canucks’ position in the standings, could be one of the biggest in franchise history. What a way to start your career as a general manager in the NHL, right?
Interesting 2022-23 season ahead for the Canucks
As mentioned at the start, the Canucks enter the 2022-23 season as an improved team. That said, there are still many questions that need to be answered. From what Allvin will do with Miller to how he will handle improving defense and clearing the traffic jam of NHL-caliber forwards, September will be an interesting month to watch as the Young Stars tournament kicks off on September 16 with training camp shortly. after. All I have to say is, is it still October?
Matthew Zator is THW’s associate editor and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft and prospects in general. He likes to talk about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the end of articles like this one on Tyler Motte.
Matthew also hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube and is the co-host of The Hockey Writers Podcast & West-centric podcast.