The Canucks easily skated to another Northwest Division crown last season while also earning their second straight President's Cup with the best record in the regular season. But Vancouver's season was thrown for a loop after the team lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
While the Canucks' first-round playoff failure may have wrecked a boatload of playoff pools, the team's excellent regular season success once again resulted in a deep pool of players to deploy in fantasy.
With the Sedin brothers, Ryan Kesler, Alexander Burrows and a collection of role players up front, the Canucks will once again have a potent offensive attack. The backend will be anchored by Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and newcomer Jay Garrison, and all four should be regulars in most fantasy formats.
The goaltending situation is a bit complicated, though, as Roberto Luongo has been bumped from the top spot by Cory Schneider. It's a foregone conclusion that Bobby Lu will be moved before the start of the season, which will allow for both stud netminders to be fantasy assets.
While some teams in their division (Minnesota, Edmonton) have made strides on paper this offseason, Vancouver should once again be the favorite while also providing fantasy owners with plenty of useful production from an array of players.
The Big Guns
Daniel Sedin (LW): While he didn't put up MVP-caliber numbers, Daniel had another stellar campaign in 2011-12. He finished with 67 points (30 G, 37 A) while sporting a plus-14 rating in 72 games. The 32-year-old winger also continued to be a force on the power play, finishing with 10 goals and 15 assists with the man advantage. The only cause for concern heading into the 2012-13 campaign is the concussion injury that sidelined him for the final 12 games of the regular season stemming from a hit by Chicago's Duncan Keith. Despite the injury, Daniel did manage to return for the final two games of Vancouver's first-round playoff loss to Los Angeles. He played well in his two playoff appearances and the Canucks haven't reported any complications since, so he should be good to go for the start of camp. Monitor Daniel's concussion status prior to your drafts, but, he has had plenty of time this offseason to get his health right and be one of the top point producers in the league once again.
Henrik Sedin (C): Despite seeing his point totals drop for the second consecutive season, Henrik remained at a point-per-game pace once again in 2011-12. He finished the season with 81 points (14 G, 67 A) and a plus-23 rating in 82 games. The 67 helpers were good enough to top the league -- a feat Henrik's accomplished three years running. While he'll be hard-pressed to ever reach the 29-goal level he saw during his 2010-11 MVP campaign, Henrik remains the best playmaker in the league. Vancouver will once again have a high-scoring attack this year, so look for he and his brother, Daniel, to continue racking up heaps of helpers.
Roberto Luongo (G): Despite all the hubbub that always seems to hover around Luongo, he continues to be one of the better all-around goalies in the league. In 2011-12, Luongo shook off surging backup Cory Schneider and the scorn of Vancouver's diehard yet delusional fanbase to finish 31-14-8 with a 2.41 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and five shutouts in 55 starts. All of those numbers were right in line with his career norms except for wins, but that was due to a productive Schneider seeing more action. Even with the solid campaign, Luongo was eventually relegated to backup duties in the playoffs and is now on the trading block. His massive contract (10 years remaining) will give many suitors pause, but one team will eventually end up with an elite goalie who's still in his prime. While Luongo will be hard-pressed to land with a team better than the Canucks, he'll likely be the No. 1 goalie no matter where he's traded, which will make him a more appealing fantasy option than staying in Vancouver and splitting time with Schneider. Don't shy away from Bobby Lou in drafts; he's still an elite fantasy goaltender.
On the Rise
Cory Schneider (G): Following up on his fantastic rookie campaign, Schneider did everything possible to cement himself not just as the Canucks' goaltender of the future, but also the team's primary option in goal right now. He began the 2011-12 season as Roberto Luongo's backup but eventually usurped the former Vezina winner and took over the full-time job in the playoffs. Schneider finished the year 20-8-1 with a stellar 1.96 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 33 appearances. While he couldn't help Vancouver avoid a first-round sweep at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, Schneider remained excellent in net during the postseason, allowing just four goals in three games while putting up a .960 save percentage. The Canucks have made their commitment to Schneider going forward, inking him to a three-year deal this offseason while trying to find a trading partner for Luongo. As long as Bobby Lou is indeed moved, fantasy owners should treat Schneider as an elite goaltending option heading into the season.
Alexander Edler (D): After flashing breakout potential each of the previous three seasons, Edler finally came into his own in 2011-12. He finished as the sixth highest scoring defenseman in the NHL, totaling 49 points (11 G, 38 A) in 82 games. His even plus-minus rating was disappointing and highlights his need to be better on the defensive side of the puck, but that was offset by his 17 power-play points. Edler will once again be locked in to the Canucks' top defensive pairing, and he'll be among the team leaders in overall ice time and power-play ice time, giving him plenty of opportunities to match or eclipse last year's breakout.
Two to Watch
Ryan Kesler (C): For the second straight season, Kesler will enter training camp on the shelf. Last year, a hip injury sidelined Kesler for the first two weeks of the season. This time around, he's scheduled to be out until possibly December after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Kesler never quite seemed right last season and his point total dropped from 73 (41 G, 32 A) to 49 (22 G, 27 A) as a result. He wants to be at full strength upon his return this time around to avoid another down year of production. Kesler should be discounted on draft day due to the time he's expected to miss at the start of the season, but he'll be a productive enough option to warrant being stashed away for the first month or two, especially in leagues with DL spots.
Alexandre Burrows (RW): Burrows once again put together a solid offensive campaign, finishing with 52 points, the second highest total of his career. He also shook off concerns that his penalty minute totals would continue to drop by climbing from 77 minutes in the sin bin in 2010-11 to 90 last season. While he doesn't possess the natural goal-scoring skills needed to be a perennial 35-goal scorer like he was in 2009-10, Burrows is a ferocious competitor who gets to skate with two of the best playmakers (the Sedin Twins) on the planet. Given his spot on the Canucks' top line, look for Burrows to continue being a strong source of plus-minus while offering enough point production to be a solid option in many formats. And, if you're in a league that rewards penalty minutes, give him a boost in your rankings. He suffered a minor head injury during the IIHF World Championships while playing for Team Canada this spring, but a quick return just two days later is a good sign he'll be fine for training camp.
Jay Garrison (D): After posting a breakout campaign with the Panthers in 2011-12, Garrison was the Canucks' biggest prize in free agency this past summer. Garrison came out of the blue last season to post career highs in goals (16) and assists (17) while seeing over 23 minutes of ice time. Most of his damage came on the power play, as he netted nine power-play markers to finish second in the league amongst defensemen. The Canucks will deploy Garrison in a similar top-four role this season, where they hope his booming slapslot will once again find the back of the net with regularity. He's in a great position to continue posting good results, but expecting Garrison to repeat reach 16 goals again may be a stretch.
Zack Kassian (RW): Kassian was acquired by the Canucks in the Cody Hodgson deal prior to the trade deadline last season. In 44 games split between the Canucks and Sabres, Kassian totaled just 10 points (4 G, 6 A) in his first campaign at the NHL level. Despite his struggles, Vancouver remains high on the 21-year-old winger's upside. At 6-3, 214 pounds, Kassian has the size to be a physical power forward in the top-six, but he needs to refine his skills to cement himself in such a prolific spot. The Canucks figure to allow Kassian to work through his growing pains, but most of his ice time this season figures to be honing his skills on the third or fourth line. As a former first-round pick and the Canucks big haul at the trade deadline last season, Kassian will be targeted as a breakout candidate. He has plenty of potential, but the young power forward showed last season that he still has some developing to do before becoming a reliable fantasy option. His breakout is still a year or two away.
Hot (or Not?) Prospects
Nicklas Jensen (RW): Jensen is one of the most exciting prospects in the Canucks' system. The 2011 first-round pick has put together back-to-back stellar seasons in the OHL, totaling 106 points (54 G, 62 A) in 118 games. The 19-year old winger is done with the Junior circuit and has already stated his desires to play for the Canucks or Stockholm AIK of the Swedish Elite League in 2012-13. He's considered a longshot to make the Canucks' roster out of camp, but stranger things have happened. If the highly-skilled finesse winger defies the odds and makes Vancouver's roster, he could be one of the better young sleepers to target.
Eddie Lack (G): Back-to-back stellar seasons in the AHL have solidified Lack as the Canucks' top goaltending prospect. The 24-year old was strong in the crease for Chicago of the AHL in 2011-12, finishing with a 2.31 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. With little left to prove in the minors and Roberto Luongo expected to be traded before the start of the season, Lack might have an opportunity to make the Canucks' roster as Cory Schneider's backup. His chances at a roster spot could change drastically if the Canucks bring in a veteran backup, but there might not be many options available if a Luongo trade isn't completed soon. The Canucks still haven't officially inked Lack to a contract yet for the 2012-13 season, but, as a restricted free agent, that's a mere formality. He should be in Canucks camp come September and will likely make his NHL debut at sometime this season.
Jordan Schroeder (C): The 2009 first-round pick made marked improvements during the 2011-12 season, finishing with 44 points (21 G, 23 A) in 76 games with Chicago of the AHL. While Schroeder saw his point totals jump from 28 to 44 in his second full season in the AHL, his highly-skilled offensive game (great vision, speed and hands) hint at even more potential. With Ryan Kesler (shoulder) on the shelf and Cody Hodgson now skating on ponds in Buffalo, Schroeder has a slight opening to make his case for a roster spot out of training camp, but he'll have to be quite impressive to make good on that opportunity. If Schroeder does make the Canucks' roster, he would be a young sleeper to keep an eye on this season.