With the retirement of Daniel and Henrik Sedin last spring, it is a new era for the Vancouver Canucks.
And their youth movement is expected to come with some serious growing pains.
Most prognosticators see the Canucks, who finished 1-6 in pre-season play with their only win coming via a shootout in a split-squad game against the L.A. Kings, as extreme long shots for post-season play this year.
“We are really young,” admitted Vancouver forward Bo Horvat. “We know where we are at. We know what people are thinking and saying about us, that we are going to finish at the bottom of the league. But that is great motivation to prove them wrong and a chance to prove ourselves this year.”
Horvat is expected to be one of the offensive leaders for the Canucks this season, alongside the likes of Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi.
“There are a lot of new faces and young guys coming in,” said Vancouver defenceman Michael Del Zotto. “We are trying to change things around a little bit. Any time you have a year like we did last year, things are going to change. There are new faces and some enthusiasm. Any time there is young blood coming in, it adds enthusiasm to the room. There are going to be growing pains as we try to get chemistry. It is going to take some time. We just have to ensure that we come to the rink with a good attitude every day and ready to work and things will work themselves out.”
The Canucks finished 26th in the NHL last season with a record of 31-40-11.
One bright spot coming in is rookie forward Elias Pettersson, the fifth overall draft pick in the 2017 draft.
A shining light in pre-season play, Pettersson set a Swedish Hockey League record for scoring by a U-20 player last season with 56 points in 44 regular-season games with his club, and had 19 points in 13 SHL playoff matches.
“It is a new era and we are obviously a much younger team this year than we have been in the past,” said goalie Anders Nilsson. “Everybody has to find their spot. We are working on that. I’m not sure we are quite there yet, but we are definitely getting closer.”
The Canucks open the season at home against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
Travis Green, second season
31-40-11, missed playoffs
Elias Pettersson: The 19-year-old rookie has dazzled in the pre-season, putting up multi-point games and making stunning passes. Expectations are high for Pettersson after he led the Swedish Hockey League in scoring.
Brock Boeser: The right-winger was a bright spot for the Canucks last season, scoring 29 goals and notching 26 assists before his rookie campaign was cut short by a lower-back fracture. Fans will be watching to see if the 21-year-old can repeat the performance and avoid a sophomore slump.
Bo Horvat: Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired at the end of last season, leaving a leadership void both on the ice and in Vancouver’s locker-room. Horvat is expected to fill the role, at least partially, and has said he plans to lead by example in his fifth year with the team. The 23-year-old centre registered 44 points in 64 games with the Canucks last season, but missed nearly seven weeks with a broken foot.
THE BIG QUESTION
What do the Canucks look like in the post-Sedin era? The twins’ absence leaves room for young stars to emerge and make a name for themselves in Vancouver’s rebuild, but how the talents of Pettersson and others will translate to the rough-and-tumble NHL remains to be seen.