The Canucks head into the 2013-14 season following another disappointing performance in the postseason. For the second straight year, the Canucks were ousted in the first round by a lower seed. The team still managed to live up to regular season expectations by winning their fifth consecutive division title and finishing third in the Western Conference. The Sedins led the charge yet again while the goaltending controversy continued to grow as two elite goalies competed for starting duty.
Many fantasy owners were plagued with disappointment last season as several Vancouver players fell short of expectations. While both the Sedins hit the 40-point mark in the shortened campaign, others struggled to find a rhythm and had injury problems.
Newcomer Jason Garrison started off horribly before finishing strong on the blue line with eight goals and 16 points. Youngster Zack Kassian showed promise at times but ultimately lacked consistency as he failed to be a difference maker. Injuries kept potential fantasy gem Ryan Kesler on the sidelines for most of the season, along with winger David Booth.
The Canucks provided a decent selection of blueliners for fantasy goers alongside Garrison, including Alexander Edler and the team's scoring leader among defensemen, Dan Hamhuis.
Swept by the Sharks in the first round, the team knew that changes had to occur to help turn the tides. Alain Vigneault was fired and New York Rangers coach John Tortorella was brought in. Tortorella won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and should inject some new life into a team in need. A shocking draft day trade sent Cory Schneider to the Devils for the ninth overall pick in the draft. The Canucks used that pick to draft center Bo Horvat as Luongo became the undisputed starting goalie once again.
Aside from the Sedins, Kesler, and Alex Burrows, the Canucks lack significant scoring talent. They couldn't land any winger in the offseason to play alongside Kesler on the second line so it looks like they will be pulling from within.
Tortorella will help boost a team that seems to be lacking the confidence and drive to succeed. While most teams around them got better, the Canucks only offseason acquisitions included signing Kings depth center Brad Richardson and Canadiens defenseman Yannick Weber.
The Canucks are likely to put together another solid regular season but will be challenged for the division title with new teams arriving in the division and previous teams getting stronger.
Tortorella has shown a willingness in the past to use his rookies so Kassian needs to step it up and prove he was worth the Cody Hodgson trade. If he plays with the twins, he could be a true fantasy sleeper.
In addition to Horvat, prospects Brendan Gaunce, and Nicklas Jensen could potentially make an impact in the bottom six, but don't have high expectations yet. Kesler should have a strong season if healthy and the twins can always be counted on. Edler's inconsistent play sparked trade rumors this summer but he gets points and will continue to do so on the top power-play unit.
Assuming Luongo goes back to being an elite fantasy talent again now that Schneider is no longer around, things should be steady once again on the back end and in goal. The solid core group of the Canucks is aging and they need to win now before their window closes. The clock is ticking, but this team is still good enough to be one of the best in the league if Tortorella proves to be a good fit.
The Big Guns
Henrik Sedin (C): Sedin continued to be an assist machine in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, posting 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) in 48 games played. His 34 assists were good enough to earn him eighth overall in the NHL, which actually seemed like a slight setback considering he led the league for three years running prior to last season. Sedin is entering the final year of a five-year deal with the Canucks and will look to once again be a high-impact player in his contract year. The 6-2 center has been a staple on the Canucks' first line the past several seasons and his role should remain essentially the same in 2013-14. If the Canucks want to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in three years, Sedin will surely have to play a key role once again in their offensive attack. He remains a top ten center for the coming season.
Daniel Sedin (LW): During his age-32 season, Sedin was once again a productive fantasy option, netting 12 goals and dishing out 28 assists with a plus-12 rating in 47 games. While those numbers are still solid, they're quite a bit off the 104-point effort he put up during his MVP-winning season in 2010-11. Prospective fantasy owners shouldn't expect Sedin to revert back to his lone 100-point season form, but they shouldn't be too worried about Sedin's stats starting to tail off much. His drop in goal scoring was tied to a somewhat fluky .087 shooting percentage. Sedin has hovered around .123 percent for most of his career, so he should bounce back in that area and start to find the back of the net with more regularity again soon. And the familiarity of Sedin lining up next to his playmaking-maestro twin brother also helps alleviate concerns of a continued drop off. Sedin remains an elite option at left wing and should be snatched up without hesitation if any owners allow him to drop because of last year's performance.
Roberto Luongo (G): The 2012-13 season was a turbulent campaign for Luongo, as the four-time all star was dropped to a backup role for the Canucks. He was shopped around at numerous times, but Luongo's expensive, long-term contract and the lockout-shortened schedule proved it impossible for the Canucks to find a suitor. Luongo handled himself professionally throughout the process and posted stats similar to his career norms, finishing 9-6-3 with two shutouts, a 2.56 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 20 appearances. Most pundits believed Luongo would find a new home this past offseason, but the Canucks instead decided to trade Cory Schneider to the Devils, opening the door for Luongo to return to his No. 1 role between the pipes. During his last full season as a starting goalie, Luongo was among the league's best with a 31-14-8 record, 2.41 goals-against average and five shutouts in 55 appearances. At 34, there still appears to be plenty of gas left in the tank and the combination of a light workload last season and the lack of a proven backup on the roster could force the Canucks to ride Luongo more heavily than in recent years. Luongo still has elite skills and a solid team skating in front of him, which will allow him to be a No. 1 fantasy option in net once again.
On the Rise
Zack Kassian (RW): The 2012-13 campaign marked Kassian's first chance for a full-time gig at the NHL level. The 2009 first-round pick started off the season on a tear, netting five goals though the first seven games while skating on the top line with the Sedin twins. But his output quickly tapered off and he lost his place on the top line, finishing with just 11 points in 39 games. Despite his season being a disappointment overall, Kassian showed enough flashes to hint that the 22-year-old winger can still live up to his pedigree. Expect some further development here, but it won't come in leaps and bounds. Kassian remains a big (6-3, 214) power forward with top-six upside, but his type of player tends to mature slowly ... like fine wine or single-malt Scotch. He currently projects to start the 2013-14 season on the Canucks' third line but could move up depending on his performance.
Jordan Schroeder (C): Schroeder made his NHL debut last season, appearing in 31 games with the Canucks while making a couple of pit stops with Chicago of the AHL. He finished his debut season with nine points (three goals, six assists) while skating primarily with the third and fourth lines. Vancouver rolled out the diminutive Schroeder as a center for most of the season, but he can also slide over to wing, a role he could play quite a bit during the 2013-14 season if Vancouver keeps some of their other young prospects around. A likely third- or fourth-line role could put a cap on Schroeder's short-term potential, but he remains a quality prospect with decent offensive upside. He underwent shoulder surgery in May, but barring a setback, he should be ready for camp.
Two to Watch
Ryan Kesler (C): Injuries plagued Kesler once again in 2012-13, limiting the center to just 17 games and a mere four goals. He was first sidelined until mid-February after having offseason shoulder surgery, but his troubles didn't end there. After barely playing two weeks, Kesler broke his foot and it didn't heal until almost the end of the season. He made his return to the lineup in April and went on to play for the Canucks in the postseason before the team was swept out of the first round by the Sharks. For the first time in three years, the 6-2 center will start training camp healthy and will look to return to the success he achieved in 2010-11 when he scored 73 points and finished plus-24. Prospective fantasy owners are hoping he can mirror these numbers in 2013-14, but Kesler remains a risky draft choice due to his injury history. When healthy, the 28-year-old has all-star upside, making him a intriguing piece for owners to gamble on come draft day.
David Booth (LW): Booth's 2012-13 campaign was cut short by an array of injuries, including a season-ending ankle injury which required surgery in March. He totaled just three points and had a minus-3 rating in the 12 games he managed to see ice. He should be ready for training camp. But aside from a 60-point outburst in 2008-09, Booth hasn't proven to be much more than a deep league option throughout the majority of his career. Still, he did show some flashes with Vancouver back in 2011-12, and if he proves healthy, there's a chance he could carve out a big enough role on the second and third lines to be worth a look in deeper formats.
Alexander Burrows (RW): Burrows can be a key fantasy contributor but many draft him too early just for the fact he usually plays with the twins. He can score but won't put up the kind of numbers the Sedins are capable of with their playmaking ability. While his scoring pace dropped below 0.60 points per game for the first time since the 2007-08 season, Burrows still managed to provide fantasy owners with solid overall value last year. He finished the 2012-13 campaign with 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists), a plus-15 rating and 54 penalty minutes. The drop in point production can be partially attributed to his shooting percentage of 9.52 percent, which is well below the 15.9 percent he averaged over the previous four seasons. Pucks should start to bounce his way again next year, but his total point production is somewhat limited due to his lack of playmaking abilities. Still, Burrows will continue to line up alongside either the duo of Henrik and Daniel Sedin, or Ryan Kesler, putting him in a prime position to post another strong plus-minus rating. And the gritty winger also remains a consistent source of penalty minutes. At 32, Burrows may be past his prime, but he still possesses enough across-the-board production to be a valuable contributor in most formats.
Kevin Bieksa (D): After putting together one of the better seasons of his career in 2011-12, Bieksa took a step back last year. He saw his point-per-game pace drop from 0.56 in 2011-12 to 0.33 in 2012-13 to finish with just 12 points (six goals, six assists) during last year's strike-shortened campaign. He once again dealt with injuries, appearing in 36 of 48 games because of a couple minor lower-body ailments. While Bieksa has been inconsistent over the past couple seasons and remains an injury risk, the 32-year-old, top-four defenseman still has the ability to post decent point production with a plus-minus rating on the right side of the ledger and some decent penalty minutes.
Bo Horvat (C): Horvat is the prospect that spurred the Canucks to trade away Cory Schneider on draft day. Selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Horvat's best attributes are his defensive play and talents in the face-off circle, but he also has the skill to be a top-six option in the very near future. The gritty youngster is expected to get a long look during camp, but he'll likely have to beat out 2012 first-round pick Brendan Gaunce for a roster spot and possible third-line centering gig. Keeper leagues should take notice immediately, while re-draft formats may want to throw a late-round dart at Horvat if he impresses enough in camp to earn a roster spot.
Brendan Gaunce (C): Gaunce's first year as part of the Canucks system was similar to his previous year, as he once again suited up for Belleville of the OHL and performed at a point-per-game pace. He finished the season with 33 goals and 27 assists in 60 games for the Bulls. The 2012 first-round pick is expected to have a future with the Canucks soon, possibly as soon as this season, but his long-term potential is still up for debate. He's great in the face-off circle and plays a solid two-way game, but Gaunce's skating could keep him out of a top-six role. The uncertainty over Gaunce's upside is likely one of the reasons Vancouver opted to select another center (Bo Horvat) in the first round of the 2013 draft. Gaunce could compete for a roster spot in camp this year, but given his youth and still-developing skill set, he might be best served with some seasoning at the AHL level before joining the Canucks on a full-time basis. Still, there's plenty of upside here if Gaunce does nab a roster spot out of camp.
Nicklas Jensen (RW): According to most scouts, Jensen is the best prospect in the Canucks' system. The 20-year-old winger is a speedy, highly-skilled offensive player with upside for top-six duty in the near future. Those skills only resulted in four points in 20 appearances with Chicago of the AHL last season, but the Canucks expect him to be much more productive once given a chance at a long-term gig in the NHL. Neither Chris Higgins nor David Booth have lit the world on fire since joining the Canucks, so there's a chance Jensen could carve out a role with the team during training camp. He's worth keeping on your radar in keeper and re-draft leagues.
Hunter Shinkaruk (C): The Canucks grabbed Shinkaruk with the 24th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Originally expected to be selected in the top half of the first round, Shinkaruk apparently fell due to concerns about his size (5-foot-11, 175 pounds). While Shinkaruk may not have prototypical size, he plays with unlimited energy while possessing top notch offensive skills and decent skating. The 18-year-old center was dominant in his past two seasons at the WHL level, totaling 177 points (86 goals, 91 assists) in 130 games. While the potential is there for Shinkaruk to develop into a top-six forward at the NHL level, he will need to bulk up and learn how to unleash his offensive arsenal against tougher competition before getting a long look from the Canucks. But he may just be one of the steals of the draft in a few years.