The going hasn't been easy for the Vancouver Canucks.
General manager Jim Benning's squad hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2015 and has been in rebuilding mode for the last few seasons. Travis Green has been doing what he can to fix the culture in his two seasons so far behind the bench, but that hasn't helped much in the standings as the Canucks continue to finish in the basement of the NHL.
Despite standout performances from Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and rookie Elias Pettersson, Vancouver couldn't gain momentum last season — probably due to a lack of offense beyond those three — and finished fourth-to-last in the Western Conference.
Still, the Canucks took a significant step forward from 2017-18, where they finished seventh in the Pacific Division with just 73 points. This time around, they climbed to fifth and were nine points out of a playoff spot.
Making progress, Vancouver knows that it's getting close to finding the success they had four years ago; all they need to do is keep making tweaks.
The main goal for the Canucks this season, of course, was — and still is — re-signing Boeser. The 22-year-old winger finished third on the team with 26 goals and 56 points and has proven to be an integral part of Vancouver's young core. He was just one of three 20-goal scorers and 50-point getters this season, and without him, the Canucks would be at a major loss on offense.
Beyond that, they still had a hefty to-do list and needed to make changes all across the board.
First off, their offense beyond their top-3 guys was severely lacking. Sitting in fourth among the team's goal scorers was Jake Virtanen with 15, and Antoine Roussel was the fourth highest-scoring forward (31 points). Defenseman Alex Edler, who was signed to a two-year extension in June , actually finished with the fourth-most points on the team.
So it came as no surprise — especially with Roussel sidelined until around Christmas — that Vancouver was in desperate need of secondary scoring; the Canucks' 2.67 goals per game on average was the sixth-worst in the league, and they scored on just 17.1 percent of their power-play chances.
Elias Pettersson with a filthy shootout goal pic.twitter.com/PtSMoqsMI4
— Everything Hockey (@EHClothing) March 16, 2019
On the blue line, the team also had to make some changes; they allowed just over three goals per game on average and didn't have a strong top-4. Beyond Edler, Vancouver didn't have a lot of defensemen who contributed offensively and with Ben Hutton, Derrick Pouliot and Luke Schenn's departures, there was a need to completely renovate the blue line.
Justin Bailey (F), Jordie Benn (D), Micheal Ferland (F), Tyler Graovac (F), Zane McIntyre (G), J.T. Miller (F), Tyler Myers (D)
Markus Granlund (F), Ben Hutton (D), Marek Mazanec (G), Michael Leighton (G), Derrick Pouliot (D), Luke Schenn (D), Ryan Spooner (F)
Overall, the Canucks did a solid job seeking out talent.
Through a trade at the draft, in which they gave up their 2019 third-round pick, a conditional 2020 first-rounder and netminder Marek Mazanec to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller , they added a top-6 winger that can put up 20-plus goals in the right role. Last season he netted 13 goals and 47 points as a third and fourth-liner with the Lightning, and considering he'll likely get top-6 minutes with Vancouver, he could be a steal.
In the free-agent market, Vancouver signed top-6 winger Micheal Ferland, who has shown significant growth in his 2018-19 run with Carolina and added organizational depth on the wing in Justin Bailey.
On defense, they hit the motherlode by signing one of the top available defensemen in Tyler Myers. The 6-8, 229-pound blueliner is a big-bodied, solid two-way defender who can not only join the rush and produce offensively but can also hustle on the backcheck, win puck battles and block plenty of shots. Not only that, on special teams, he's a player that can potentially quarterback a power play and be a top penalty killer. He, along with signing Jordie Benn, should be able to bring a lot to the blue line and add significant depth that Vancouver didn't have just a season ago.
Vancouver kicked things off when they hosted the 2019 draft with a solid pick at 10th overall in right wing Vasily Podkolzin. The 6-1, 190-pound winger is a speedy, aggressive player that isn't afraid to throw his weight around or reach full speed and fly down the ice, and at the same time, he's still capable of handling the puck with grace. He's already logged time in the KHL and has proven to be a top NHL prospect, as well as an offensive-minded player that will play well into the Canucks' future.
Farm system rankings: No. 8 Vancouver
They also picked up Nils Hoglander in the second round, a unique player with great hands and vision that helps him make plays on the fly and score highlight-reel goals. His star power, as well as his stickhandling, skating and play along the boards, was also a great choice for Vancouver, who clearly had the mission of adding more forwards to the organization.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) June 26, 2019
The Canucks' third-round pick was sent to the Lightning when they dealt for Miller, but they still finished out the draft with a decent pool of prospects, including two-way winger Ethan Keppen (fourth-round) and center Carson Focht (fifth-round). They also had three picks in the sixth round, taking goaltender Arturs Silovs, right wing Karel Plasek and forward Jack Malone. With two seventh-round picks, Vancouver selected winger Aidan McDonough and center Arvid Costmar.
Offseason grade: B+
The Canucks had a list of needs this season and managed to check most of the boxes. They picked up some highly-touted names and filled out the top-6 with guys like Ferland and Miller, both of whom have the potential to bring momentum and chemistry to the first and second lines where they will likely slot in.
Their new-look blue line is also a strong group that has a brand new core and can actually stand tall against its opponents. With Myers and Benn joining the pack and Quinn Hughes expected to slot in full-time, expect big things from the d-corps, which could be one of the best in the Pacific Division.
However, there still remains the holdout with Boeser, which is raising eyebrows as training camp is just days away. If it goes into the regular season, Vancouver will struggle, despite their additions, without a dynamic player like him in the mix and serving as a catalyst on the top line.
2019-20 season prediction:
Given the Canucks' offseason growth and the rest of the Pacific Division, they have the potential to finish at least third; however, because they still have ways to go, they'll probably finish fourth in the division and just miss out on the playoffs.
They do have all the pieces now; it's just a matter of making them work.