Canucks Season Preview

Discussion in 'HFNHL Talk' started by Hossa, Jan 14, 2005.

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  1. Hossa

    Hossa Registered User

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    There is reason for optomism for Canuckleheads across the land. This year's team will display some of the core players in the Canucks' major rebuilding plan. The highly-anticipated debut of franchise centre Eric Staal will make opening night even more special than usual. The new faces in the locker room outnumber the returning players. Jiri Slegr, Brian Holzinger and Steve McCarthy are the only players who return this year, having played their entire 2003-04 campaign in Vancouver. Even the coach is new, with Claude Julien taking over the reigns from Mike Keenan. Keenan and GM Sean Keogh had long clashed over control of player personnel duties, and in the end, the youngster won over the saavy veteran bench boss.

    The Canucks forward lines may lack firepower, but has plenty of hard working types, and a couple of talented players primed for a break-out season. Luc Robitaille and Mike Sillinger are the leaders up front. Robitaille, the highest scoring left winger in league history and by far the most accomplished player on the team, will captain this team that blends veterans, youngsters and journeymen. The right size remains weak, which could be adressed in the coming weeks via trade, but there is some depth, and plethora of talented penalty killers. Below are the projected lines:

    Luc Robitaille - Mike Sillinger - Brian Holzinger
    Sami Pahlsson - Eric Staal - Alexander Korolyuk
    Rem Murray - Jim Dowd - J.P Vigier
    Jamie Rivers - Antoine Vermette - Josh Langfeld
    Petr Schastlivy

    One player to watch on the group may be Alexander Korolyuk, who has come into camp in the best shape of his life, and rumour has it, may play on both powerplay units this year. Staal will begin the season centering the second line, but could also see time on LW, as well as centering Lucky Luc. Pahlsson, Murray, Sillinger and Dowd will all play prominent roles on the penalty kill.

    The blueline is the strength of the team. Added over the summer were Karel Rachunek from Edmonton, Karlis Skrastins from Dallas, and Alexei Zhitnik, who arrived after a messy situation that saw Florida acquire the veteran puckmover only to deal him a few days later to the Canucks after being unable to sign him before the period of unrestricted free agency. Zhitnik agreed to a three year deal, and will be the club's top blueliner this year. The team will likely carry nine defencemen this year, with the waiver draft acquisitions of Nolan Pratt and Burke Henry leaving the roster a bit bloated. Below are the projected defence pairings.

    Karel Rachunek - Alexei Zhitnik
    Jiri Slegr - Karlis Skrastins
    David Tanabe - Nolan Pratt
    Karel Rachunek - David Tanabe
    Brian Pothier, Burke Henry, Steve McCarthy

    Rachunek could in fact play as much if not more than Zhitnik. The organization felt the acquisition of Rachunek from Edmonton in a deal for Tom Preissing and prospect Michael Zigomanis, was their top move in the summer. The former HFNHL Rookie of the Year is seen as one of the club's core young blueliners, along with his partner on the fourth defence pairing, David Tanabe. Overall, the group is extremely mobile, which will help the team play an up-tempo style.

    In goal, the club went out and spent a lot of money on Manny Legace over the summer. The diminuitive goaltender has yet to be given a fair chance as a starter, but could play as many as 65-70 games this year with Vancouver. Extremely quick and flexible, Legace will need to stand tall against tougher opponents, as the club's lack of talent up front and lack of muscle on the blueline could cause the former World Junior star to face a lot of rubber. Jean-Sebastian Aubin, picked up in the waiver draft, is eager to take on the back-up duties. Before the waiver draft, a training camp battle between the expensive and old Ron Tugnutt, and the inconsistent head-case Peter Skudra, was looming. Tugnutt was taken in the waiver draft after Aubin was picked up, and Skudra has left for Europe. Ilya Bryzgalov will once again be the third stringer, and leader of the minor league club.

    It's also worth mentioning some of the club's top prospects, considering the true excitement of fans is in how the club will look five years down the road. The club's second franchise center, Evgeni Malkin, has done nothing but thrive this year, both in the talent-laden Russian Super League, and the World Junior Championships. In fact, all three of the club's first round picks last year, had superb showings at the WJC. Drew Stafford and Andrej Meszaros were both nothing short of phenomenal at the prospect showcase. Two other prospects, Nigel Dawes and Anthony Stewart, struggled in the tournament this year after both being tied for the lead in scoring last year. One prospect to keep an eye on is Robbie Earl, who is outperforming all Canucks prospects in NCAA play this year, including both Stafford and Patrick Eaves, in leading the Wisconsin Badgers to a great start.

    This team will need a lot of good bounces to make the playoffs. Yet, the pieces are there. The blueline is well-constructed and deep. Legace has his work cut out for him, but should thrive with added responsibility. And of course, watch out for Eric Staal, the lanky playmaker who in many ways symbolizes the club's rebuilding campaign.

    Projection: 28-48-6, 13th place, and a Rookie of the Year Award for Eric Staal.
     
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