After an offseason that saw bigger names going out from Vancouver than coming in, it’s clear that the Canucks are counting on their most substantial improvements coming from the young players already within the organization. With that in mind, PITB looks at the three top candidates for Canucks’ breakout player of the year — Chris Tanev, Jannik Hansen, and Cody Hodgson — and what it would take for them to earn the mantle.
In some sense, Tanev broke out last season, rising from prospects camp standout to a starter in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Still, Tanev could rise even further. The departure of Christian Ehrhoff could yield more opportunities than the injury plague that hit the Canucks’ backend last season, and Tanev could very well wind up on a pairing with Alex Edler as a result.
But it would still require an injury. If everyone’s healthy, Tanev will likely live on the bottom pairing with Keith Ballard, but an injury-free season from Sami Salo, Edler’s expected partner, would be a stunner. If Salo goes down, expect Tanev to be the one that moves into the top four. Both Ballard and Edler are left-side defensemen. While one of them might get moved to the right side, it seems unlikely, since maximizing Alex Edler’s potential is priority number one for the Canucks this year, and Ballard’s left hip is best served facing the boards – for obvious reasons. Tanev, on the other hand, is a poised, stay-at-home, right-handed, right-side guy and, after Salo, perhaps the Canucks’ best option as a buddy for Edler.
If Tanev can join Edler’s pairing, he’ll be playing far more minutes with the Sedins and far fewer with guys for whom the location of the puck is secondary. Ask Christian “Moneybags” Ehrhoff what being on the ice with the Sedins can do for one’s career. With more offensive-minded linemates, a player with Tanev’s vision and passing ability could really rake in the assists.
Last year, the Kurtenblog picked Jannik Hansen to be the Canucks’ breakout player of the year. They were and weren’t wrong. While Hansen didn’t quite break out as a scorer, he did break out as a checking forward, leading Canuck wingers in takeaways, Canuck forwards in hits, and becoming a staple on the third line. But Hansen could establish himself as more than that, especially if he winds up on Kesler’s wing.
Though many assume the Canucks are in the hunt for a power forward to play with Ryan Kesler, what he really needs is a setup man. Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Higgins, and Marco Sturm are all shoot-first players. A quick perusal of their career numbers shows that, most seasons, these guys get more goals than assists. Among, only Mikael Samuelsson has twenty more career helpers than career goals, and only Samuelsson has two seasons where his assist total outnumbered his goal total by 10. Take a look at Iginla and Jokinen in Calgary to see what happens when you have two dominant shoot-first players on the same line.
Since Kesler’s 41 goals were 8 more than Samuelsson and Raymond combined, one assumes that finding a playmaker for him makes more sense than forcing him to act as primary setup man for his wingers. Among Vancouver forwards, Hansen is the Canucks’ best passer after the Sedins, and his skill in this area has yet to be exploited. Is this the year? A permanent promotion to Kesler’s line could see the Danish winger emerge as a bona fide setup man. If he does that, he could wind up defending his title as breakout player.
Speaking of opportunities on the second line, while Hodgson hasn’t had many (read: any), he could see a big one to start the season. Provided Ryan Kesler doesn’t recover from his offseason surgery too quickly, as Laurence Gilman recently indicated he might, the second line centre spot is wide open.
There have been promising reports from Hodgson’s camp (although there are promising reports from everyone’s camp in August), but if he has truly rounded a corner as an NHLer, it has to be evident in September and October. If he impresses then, there’s a good likelihood that, once Kesler returns, Hodgson’s demotion will be a minimal one. Rather than being busted back to puttering around with the fourth line, Hodgson could remain an option somewhere in the top nine.
As a skilled passer, he might even find himself in competition with Jannik Hansen as a second line playmaker, though he’s really going to have to show something to beat out the glut of middle wingers. However, as a natural centre, Hodgson has an in. Alain Vigneault loves having a backup for faceoffs, and a Cody Hodgson that’s deployable in just such situations would be a windfall. If Hodgson can convince Alain Vigneault of his worth as a top six guy while they’re looking for one, he just might be the surprise of the season.Tags: Chris Tanev, featured, Hansen, Hodgson, spotlight