Happy Labour Day. Vancouver Canucks training camp is 2-and-a-half weeks away. What a perfect time to start throwing some concepts against the wall and see if they stick. I’m an optimistic sort and I’ve been around quite awhile. We’ll end with the biggee. So let’s see …
1) Oliver Ekman-Larsson will finish the season with between 35 and 40 points. If he stays healthy for the entire season he should eclipse the latter mark for the 6th time in his career. His career high is 55 points back in 2015-’16 in 75 games. He’ll be manning one of the points on the 2nd power play unit and game to game as much “pressure he takes off Quinn Hughes“, Hughes will take off him. This will be a bounce-back year for a guy who’s age-30.
2) Jaroslav Halak will need to win at least 12 hockey games and he’ll get there. The issue is, how many games played will it take? I’m still a little leery of Thatcher Demko‘s age and (lack of) experience level. Again, as I’ve stated before, I don’t need to go through the list of Steve Mason‘s, Carter Hart‘s, Matt Murray‘s or Anton Khudobin‘s to tell you the position, especially for emerging guys, can be a little unpredictable. Halak is a good guy to have around. His 2016-’17 numbers backing up Thomas Greiss on Long Island fit the bill. He had a 12-9-5 record in 28 games played in a very strange season in which he was waived and also played 27 matches for Bridgeport (Connecticut) in the American Hockey League. We’ll have none of that. The next season he was the number-one for the Islanders again and played in 58.
3) The Vancouver Canucks will buck their trend and go at least 3-and-3 on their opening six-game road trip. Last season, which began in January, the Canucks won the opener in Edmonton and then lost their next three on the road in short order. The last time they started a season in October, two seasons ago when Hughes was a full-season rookie and Elias Pettersson was a 2nd-year, they dropped the first two games on the road, only to win three in a row at home and then split the next two away. It’s not the same line-up of course but it’s similar and it’s the same head coach. This time around they’ll heat up enough to get three or four wins. How about 3-2-1. Obviously nothing is easy in this league, but check the aggregate of the opponents: Edmonton, Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago, and Seattle. And teams like to bond on the road to start a season, so let’s see if the Canucks take advantage. There may be some sour-pusses welcoming them home if they don’t.
4) Conor Garland will have twelve goals by Christmas. That’s it. That’s my ouija board, Magic-8-ball special. Based on likely linemates and special teams, we’ll see where it takes us.
5) The Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs. I don’t think this is going out on a limb at all or necessarily being overly optimistic. Actually more realistic when looking at the Pacific Division. The three California teams are in rebuild mode, albeit at different stages, but over the long haul I can’t imagine these line-ups winning a sufficient number of hockey games. Not a complete write-off of course, but LA is ahead of Anaheim which is ahead of San Jose, and you might flip-flop any of them. Either way, it’s fortuitous at the moment that these re-constructions are taking place in this division, the NHL’s weakest. There are some exciting prospects in the mix for sure, but I’m not evaluating entire rosters at this juncture, I’m just liking the situation if I’m a Canucks fan.
The Oilers are a threat for obvious reasons and are quite capable of giving the Vegas Golden Knights a run for their money at the top of the division. Their potential downfall is the D-corps. They can still out run-and-gun people, but I’m really curious what adjustments Connor McDavid will be making to his game this season and what his leadership qualities will look like. The Calgary Flames remain a bit mysterious. But it doesn’t matter, as long as the Vancouver Canucks finish ahead of California, the expansion Seattle Kraken, and the four bottom teams in the Central, they’re in.
(Bonus prediction: The Vancouver Canucks will sign Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes before October 1st, a prediction that all of the others are somewhat contingent upon.)