After more than four months without hockey, our team of RotoWire experts is here to get you back up to speed ahead of the eight play-in series kicking off Aug. 1 in Toronto and Edmonton. Via eight preview pieces over eight days, we get into positional breakdowns, injury updates and series predictions to help you chart the course for your frozen fantasy journey this summer!
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 4th in Pacific, .565 points percentage)
No. 10 Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 6th in Central, .558 points percentage)
Canucks: The Canucks have one of the best young talents in the league at forward in Elias Pettersson, who racked up 27 goals and 66 points in 68 games during his sophomore campaign, but even that wasn't enough to lead his team in scoring. That title belongs to offseason acquisition J.T. Miller, who plays on Pettersson's wing on Vancouver's second line. The 27-year-old American was finally handed a full-time, top-six role during his first year with the Canucks after being stuck with middle-six minutes through his first seven years in the league, and he was more than up to the task, setting career highs in goals (27) and assists (45) while averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time on a nightly basis. Tyler Toffoli will line up on Pettersson's other wing against Minnesota, and although he doesn't produce at the same rate his linemates do, he's still no slouch, having totaled 24 goals and 44 points in 68 games split between the Kings and Canucks this year. Vancouver's top line will boast two 20-plus goal scorers in Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Tanner Pearson (45 points in 69 games) and Brock Boeser, who picked up a respectable 16 goals and 45 points in 57 games during the regular season. The team's fourth line of Tyler Motte, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson definitely leaves something to be desired, but Vancouver's third line, composed of Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen, should be capable of potting the occasional goal while the big guns are getting a breather.
Wild: Kevin Fiala led the way in scoring for Minnesota this year, totaling 23 goals and 54 points in 64 games during the regular season, and he was red hot down the stretch, having racked up seven goals and 14 points in his last eight games before play was halted in March. He'll skate on the Wild's top line with Eric Staal, who remained steady during his age-34 season with 19 goals and 47 points in 66 contests, and Jordan Greenway, who only notched 28 points in 67 games this campaign, but who's 6-foot-6 frame will provide some much-needed size up front. Zach Parise (25 goals, 46 points in 69 games) will highlight the second line, with the lackluster duo of Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin set to round out the top six. Mats Zuccarello, who's set to skate on Minnesota's third line, is really the only other notable skater in this forward group, with the rest coming in as sub-30 point players that are unlikely to have a major impact in this series.
The Blue Line
Canucks: The Canucks blue line is headlined by Calder Trophy finalist Quinn Hughes, who lived up to the hype by posting by eight goals and 53 points in 68 games as a rookie. He'll be quarterbacking Vancouver's No. 1 power-play unit, but at even strength, he'll be skating on the second pairing with Chris Tanev, who chipped in 20 points of his own while playing a more conservative game to allow Hughes to flourish. The team's top pairing will consist of Alexander Edler, who posted a third straight 30-plus point campaign with 33 in 59 games, and Tyler Myers, who notched 21 points while averaging 21:30 of ice time per contest. Troy Stecher and Oscar Fantenberg will make up the Canucks' bottom pairing. They both failed to crack the 20-point mark this year and are unlikely to make waves in this series.
Wild: Minnesota's defense is led by 15-year vet Ryan Suter, who has yet to have shown any signs of slowing down having just logged a fifth straight season with at least six goals and 40 points with 48 points in 69 games. He'll be skating on Minnesota's top pairing and power-play unit with Jared Spurgeon, who notched a respectable 12 goals and 32 points in 62 contests this campaign. Mathew Dumba had a down year from an offensive standpoint (24 points in 69 games), but he and Jonas Brodin, who picked up 28 points in 69 regular-season games, will nonetheless form a formidable second pairing. Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt are expected to skate on the third pairing, and much like Vancouver's bottom pairing, neither player cracked the 20-point mark this year, so don't expect much from them in this series.
Between the Pipes
Canucks: Despite his slightly underwhelming ratios, Jacob Markstrom was arguably Vancouver's best player this year, finishing the campaign with a 23-16-4 record, a 2.75 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 43 appearances. He'll be the Canucks' workhorse throughout the postseason, but Thatcher Demko will be on hand to take over in the event of an injury or illness.
Wild: Devan Dubnyk opened the campaign as Minnesota's unquestioned starter, but he had one of his worst seasons since turning pro in 2009, ending the campaign with a 12-15-2 record and an ugly 3.35 GAA and .890 save percentage. His struggles paved the way for Alex Stalock to take over as the Wild's No. 1 netminder towards the end of the regular season. The 32-year-old backstop started 11 of Minnesota's final 14 regular-season games, posting a 7-3-1 record and an impressive .923 save percentage over that stretch. Coach Dean Evason has yet to confirm anything, but Stalock is the heavy favorite to start Game 1 against Vancouver.
Canucks: Sven Baertschi opted out of the playoffs, but he likely wasn't going to crack the lineup anyway. Josh Leivo is still recovering from a fractured kneecap and doesn't appear to be close to skating let alone playing, but his absence should be more than offset by the return of Micheal Ferland, who only appeared in 14 games during the regular season due to a concussion but appears to finally be back to 100 percent. Alexander Edler was helped off the ice after suffering an apparent injury during practice on July 25, but the severity of his issue has yet to be determined. Obviously, if he's forced to miss any action against Minnesota, it'd be a huge loss for Vancouver.
Wild: Eriksson Ek is dealing with an undisclosed issue he picked up during an instrasquad scrimmage on July 23, but he's traveling with the team to Edmonton, which suggests he should be ready to go once the qualifying round gets underway. Greg Pateryn (upper body) won't be available for the playoffs, but Soucy will be a more-than-adequate replacement on the bottom pairing.
Jordan Buckley: I love me some Parise, Staal and Suter, but the boys from the State of Hockey are past their prime. Vancouver's youth up front features plenty of skill and speed, and Markstrom's .918 save percentage this year is confidence-inspiring. The Wild don't have the hostile environment of the Xcel Energy Center to lean on, obviously, and they'll feel the absence of home crowd energy more than most. Canucks in four.
AJ Scholz: While some may point the the experience of the Wild, the young up-and-coming stars for the Canucks will likely cause too many matchup problems for Minnesota. From Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette upfront to Quinn Hughes on the blue line, this team should wrap this up quickly. Vancouver in four.
Kyle Riley: On paper the Canucks have the clear edge at forward and in goal, but Minnesota's defensive corps is, in my opinion, slightly more well rounded with a higher offensive ceiling. Nonetheless, the Wild's blue line won't be able to match up with Vancouver's young stars up front, and their forwards will likely struggle to get the puck past Markstrom with any sort of regularity. Canucks in four.
Jason Chen: Matchups should feature heavily in this series with the Wild boasting a much better defense and the Canucks a more talented offense. But the Canucks have a big advantage in net. Special teams should also be a big story with a lethal Canucks PP facing an abysmal Wild PK. Canucks in five.
Evan Berofsky: There's a lot to like about the Canucks in this series, though their youngsters have never played in an NHL playoffs. Meanwhile, the Wild carry plenty of veterans — and postseason experience. In the end, Vancouver should be able to maximize its talent and overpower an older Minnesota side. Canucks in four.
Jan Levine: Casual fans will get a treat watching Pettersson play. The same with Calder Trophy candidate Hughes. Markstrom will try to make a case for a big money free agent contract while Miller continues his rise out West. Minnesota was up and down, hurt by Dubnyk's inconsistency initially. Family issues forced him out of action with Stalock steadying the ship, helping them Wild make the playoffs. Dubnyk is now back, giving coach Dean Evason a major decision, but Stalock should be the one between the pipes. Fiala's speed and skill is an X-factor for the Wild, whose top-four on the blueline is formidable. Gut call is Vancouver in five.