Canucks 23-man roster projection: Who is a lock? Who has something to prove?

The Vancouver Canucks will open training camp at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in the provincial capital of Victoria, B.C. in precisely two weeks’ time.

When training camp opens, it will mark the very first camp of the Rick Tocchet era. There are high hopes that Tocchet’s leadership will bring about a sense of stability for an organization that could sorely use a drama-free month (or two, or three).

For veteran players, an NHL training camp environment is something to get through unscathed. There’s important systems work and fitness testing and some quasi-competitive scrimmages to work through, but for the most part, you’re finding your hands and your legs and preparing for the season. For young players and those on the fringes of the roster, however, an NHL training camp is like a lengthy, high-stakes job interview. The potential rewards of putting your best foot forward are massive — more ice time, perhaps even a full-time NHL salary — which can create a sense of real intensity and urgency.

As a new Canucks season rapidly approaches, let’s scan through and offer up our best projection of what we’d expect the Canucks 23-man roster to look like when the waiver deadline hits on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Who is a lock to be on the team? Who is a dark horse worth keeping an eye on? And who has something to prove when Canucks training camp opens?


J.T. Miller

When Miller’s new extension kicks in he’ll be the highest-paid Canucks player (by annual average value) this upcoming campaign. The productive, versatile forward is the primary initiator on Vancouver’s top-10 power-play unit, appears to be the club’s first-choice matchup centreman at five-on-five and finished a “down” season last year as a point-per-game player.

Miller is slated to log a lot of high-leverage minutes in all situations again this season.

Quinn Hughes

Hughes isn’t just the best defender on the Canucks roster, he’s clearly the best defender in the Pacific Division (which isn’t even arguable anymore now that Erik Karlsson, the reigning Norris winner, has been traded to the Eastern Conference).

Pencil Hughes onto the 23-man roster, and pencil him into playing at least 25 minutes a night this upcoming season.

Elias Pettersson

A 24-year-old centre who also happens to be a 40-point scorer, a 100-point producer and a two-way ace is a difficult thing to find. Pettersson, however, is all of those things and more to the Canucks.

Pettersson’s contract status — and his decision to wait on signing a contract extension in Vancouver — is the biggest talking point surrounding the Canucks’ superstar pivot going into this season, although his usage is going to be fascinating to track. The club has been far too reluctant to lean on Pettersson in best-on-best matchups historically even though he’s their most responsible and assertive defensive centreman by a significant margin.

Brock Boeser

Boeser is coming off of an uncharacteristically poor season as a two-way piece. He’s going to need to be a lot better this upcoming season, but he remains a middle-six fixture for this club and should probably be the front-runner to take Bo Horvat’s spot on the first power-play unit on a full-time basis.

Andrei Kuzmenko

The creative, unique offensive winger is back in town after a summer of global adventure that included a protracted stint in Bali.

A star in his first NHL season, Kuzmenko’s ice time fell a bit when Vancouver changed coaches, which introduces a bit of volatility into his sophomore season projection. It’s safe to still expect him to hold down a premium role — both on Pettersson’s wing and at the net front on the power play — this upcoming season.

Thatcher Demko

One of the most dominant goaltenders in the NHL when he’s healthy and on his game, the only thing left for Demko to prove is that he’s capable of being a true workhorse starter, the sort of goalie that can dependably play 60 games (or more) each season, stay healthy and maintain at least a league average save percentage.

Thatcher Demko. (Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA Today)

Conor Garland

A lightning rod for criticism, largely because of his inclusion in the ill-fated deal for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his inability (to this point) to develop real chemistry with any of Vancouver’s top centremen, Garland might be the Canucks’ most underrated player. Although he’s undersized, Garland more than makes up for it with his high work rate and competitive jam.

One of Vancouver’s most proficient five-on-five rate scorers, Garland has real rapport with Tocchet dating back to their shared time in Arizona. He should continue to be among Vancouver’s most productive even-strength point producers.

Filip Hronek

The club traded two top-50 picks at the loaded 2023 NHL Draft to acquire Hronek ahead of the 2023 trade deadline, and he’ll be leaned on heavily to stabilize the club’s form when Hughes takes a breather at five-on-five.

A gifted passer in transition, Hronek isn’t the dynamic puck carrier that Hughes is. He has a powerful point shot, however, and profiles as the best secondary puck-mover the Canucks have employed in a long time. Hronek put together a breakout defensive campaign last year in Detroit, and there’s some reasonable concern about how permanent those gains might be.

Anthony Beauvillier

A pending unrestricted free agent, Beauvillier was productive — even setting a career high in points — while playing in a premium role after the Canucks acquired him from the New York Islanders in late January 2023. Beauvillier has big game experience, enough skill to punish opposition errors and a workmanlike quality to his game. The question isn’t whether Beauvillier will make the 23-man roster (he will), so much as it’s “how high up the lineup can Beauvillier earn an opportunity to play?”

Carson Soucy

Vancouver’s biggest offseason free-agent acquisition, as judged by the total value of his contract, Soucy brings some size and two-way IQ to the Vancouver back end. Soucy is solid defensively and deceptively dynamic as an in-zone contributor on offense, but he’s tended to be at his best in a prescribed role while tethered to a puck-moving defender capable of keying the rush for his pair (like Brad Hunt or Justin Schultz). He still needs to prove that he’s capable of being an everyday top-four-calibre defender on a good team.

Ian Cole

Signed to a virtually no-risk one-year contract, Cole is a sturdy, versatile, veteran defensive piece best suited to third-pair work, but proven at filling in on the second pair — as he did regularly last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cole will be tasked with safely logging a ton of minutes against top competition in Vancouver this season.

Teddy Blueger

Blueger is the third bottom-six, defensively oriented centreman the Canucks organization has acquired in as many years (Jason Dickinson in 2021, Curtis Lazar in 2022). The organization will have to hope the third time is the charm.

Pius Suter

A sharp mid-August value signing by the Canucks, Suter is simply a good, smart two-way hockey player with a high work rate capable of pitching in in all situations.

The club would do well to make Suter a full-time third-line centre, give him competent two-way linemates and feed him secondary matchups in order to free up either Miller or Pettersson to dominate against an opposition third line.

Dakota Joshua

The Canucks have a concerning lack of size up front, which makes Joshua indispensable. Listed at 6-foot-3, Joshua put together a promising first Canucks campaign last season, scoring more than 10 goals in a bottom-six role and showing real potential as a physical presence and penalty-killing option in spurts.


Spencer Martin

Officially the Canucks are poised to hold an open competition for the backup goalie job behind Demko. In reality, however, Martin is on a one-way contract whereas Artūrs Šilovs is on an entry-level deal, Martin requires waivers whereas Šilovs does not, and Martin is an experienced veteran whose development won’t be in any way harmed or impacted by being asked to be a full-time backup netminder, whereas Šilovs needs to play.

Martin should have a meaningful edge to open the season as Vancouver’s No. 2 goaltender.

Phil Di Giuseppe

Di Giuseppe proved down the stretch last season that he can be more than just a training camp hero.

In fact, Di Giuseppe played regular top-six minutes for Tocchet following the coaching change, and fared well when stapled to Miller’s line. A player whose speed and work rate match the “north-south hockey” approach that Tocchet prefers, Di Giuseppe seems to have a real opportunity to carve out a serious role on the team this season.

Lingering injury uncertainty

Ilya Mikheyev

Mikheyev underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL early this year and only resumed skating in July. Recent public commentary from his agent Dan Milstein on the “Sekeres & Price Show” seemed to strongly suggest Mikheyev’s camp is “hopeful” he’ll be ready to play when the season begins, as opposed to being assured of being ready to go when training camp opens in a couple of weeks.

A torn ACL is a serious matter, especially for a player who relies heavily on their speed to drive play. Patience may be required as Mikheyev works his way back into form.

Tanner Pearson

A routine wrist injury last fall turned into a complicated 10-month recovery — with multiple surgical procedures — for Pearson last season.

The reliable veteran winger has been a mainstay at Canucks captain’s practices this week, and appears to be on track to open camp with the team. That’s the good news, particularly given that there were moments in Pearson’s recovery where the injury reportedly seemed like it could be career-threatening.

The bad news is that if Pearson is able to return and come off of long-term injured reserve (LTIR), the club is going to need to re-assign at least one salary above $1.15 million to the American League in order to be cap compliant (barring a more major transaction like a trade). It’s probable that if Pearson is healthy, he’ll face stiff competition to make this team.

LTIR bound

Tucker Poolman

Poolman appears to be bound for LTIR with The Athletic contributor Rick Dhaliwal indicating on CHEK TV this week that he’s hearing Poolman will not be attending Canucks training camp.

Poolman has battled concussions since the middle of his very first season with the club. He attempted to return to action last season, but only appeared in three games.

Something to prove

Tyler Myers

Entering the final year of his contract, Myers is likely to open the season at the centre of significant trade speculation.

Fresh off of helping Canada win a gold medal at the World Championship this offseason, Myers played significant minutes — leading the team in short-handed ice time by a wide margin, while logging 18 minutes per night five-on-five — after the coaching change last season. So while the occasionally chaotic veteran defender is being popularly written in on the Canucks’ third pair, don’t be surprised if he logs top-four minutes in the early going next season.

Vasily Podkolzin

After a very promising conclusion to his rookie season, Podkolzin’s development hit a sophomore gully last season as the 22-year-old battled injury, spent significant time on the farm and pitched in a meagre seven points while appearing in only 39 games.

An intelligent, high-work-rate player with significant size, the Canucks could sorely use a top-nine contributor who profiles the way Podkolzin does. He’ll need to take a significant step in Year 3, particularly given the stiff competition he’ll be facing on the wings at training camp.

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Vasily Podkolzin. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Nils Höglander

Signed this summer to a two-year contract, Höglander will look to re-establish himself as an everyday, NHL-level middle-six forward this season.

While there are some maturity gaps in Höglander’s game — particularly in the defensive zone and when it comes to puck management — he remains an enormously skilled puck-battle-winning winger with significant upside. He’s also yet to play a game for Tocchet, which enhances the leverage of the opportunity available to him at training camp this month.

Nils Åman

Unsigned last summer by the Colorado Avalanche team that drafted him, Åman was signed as an unrestricted free agent and had an enormously promising rookie season in the NHL. It speaks volumes, however, about how he’s viewed internally that the club went out and added two bottom-six centremen in Suter and Blueger this summer.

As a result of those additions, competition for Åman will be stiff at training camp. Unless his ability to win draws has significantly improved this summer, Åman may need to earn a spot as a fourth-line winger, depending on how it all shakes out.

Artūrs Šilovs

Šilovs is one of this organization’s top prospects, performed exceptionally well at the World Championship this summer and should play a role on occasion for the club at the NHL level this season.

No matter how well he performs at training camp and into the preseason, however, it’s hard to see the logic of having a high-pedigree young netminder open the season as a backup. That’s particularly true given that the club doesn’t have an obvious scheduled start for a backup netminder until the end of October and only has four in the 2023 portion of this upcoming campaign.

Jack Rathbone

Injuries and a lack of development on the defensive side of the puck have limited Rathbone’s ability to cement himself as a regular NHL defender.

Though he’s starred in Abbotsford and has a one-way contract for this upcoming season, Rathbone enters camp on the outside looking into a very crowded race for depth minutes on Vancouver’s blue line. Rathbone will require waivers this season, so this upcoming training camp may represent one final opportunity for the talented young defender to make his mark with the Canucks.

Jack Studnicka

Acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for an intriguing defensive prospect in Jonathan Myrenberg and goaltender Mike DiPietro, Studnicka made an uneven impression in his first campaign with the Canucks. Perhaps most troubling for Studnicka is that his usage dipped dramatically following the coaching change.

It’s evident that Studnicka didn’t make the best first impression on Tocchet, which could put him behind the eight ball in the battle for depth wing jobs as training camp opens.

In the mix

Akito Hirose

Hirose looked unflappable in a cameo appearance at the NHL level toward the end of last season.

A smart, defensive-minded blueliner with good wheels and puck-moving ability, Hirose was an elite NCAA defender and although the underlying numbers were poor, his game appeared to translate solidly at the NHL level. Hirose possesses a contemporary defensive game and his ability in transition could give him a leg up at training camp, particularly given that the club lost Ethan Bear this summer and replaced him with defenders like Soucy and Cole, who don’t exactly make their living in transition.

Christian Wolanin

Wolanin is absolutely dominant in the American League and has indisputable NHL-level puck skills. His ability to make a crisp first pass, in particular, was standout when the Canucks gave him a long look at the NHL level last season.

The competition will be fierce for Wolanin to earn a third-pair spot at training camp, but he made a very strong case for himself to be seriously considered down the stretch last spring. The club is going to need some blueliners capable of getting the puck moving vertically if they’re going to play a “North-South” style of hockey, and outside of Hughes and Hronek, there’s no defender in the organization who does that better than Wolanin.

Noah Juulsen

Signed right before the market opened to a two-year, two-way contract, Juulsen has the size and feet to be an impact NHL player. There’s a reason he was a first-round draft pick, although significant injuries in his early 20s waylaid his development.

Juulsen showed himself to be a particularly good fit as a Hughes caddy down the stretch, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to receive a lengthy look in that spot when training camp opens.

Matt Irwin

The former Nanaimo Clippers blueliner is a 35-year-old veteran who has played 710 professional games between the AHL and NHL during a lengthy professional hockey career. It’s astounding that the deal Irwin signed with the Canucks is the 10th standard player contract of his NHL career.

Irwin appeared in 61 games for the Washington Capitals last season, and given his versatility, skating ability and experience, he shouldn’t be ruled out as a serious competitor for an opening-day roster spot.

Guillaume Brisebois

Drafted with the pick the Canucks acquired for Eddie Lack back in 2015, Guillaume Brisebois has been around the Canucks organization forever. Highly regarded internally for his defensive work and overall character, Guillaume Brisebois recently signed a contract that includes a fully guaranteed NHL salary for the 2024-25 campaign. That’s an incredible accomplishment for a player who had to be very patient to get an NHL look, a smart way for the Canucks to ward off potential waiver claims and a strong indication that he’s in the club’s long-term NHL plans.

Brisebois is going to have a tough path to make the team out of training camp. Unlike the other left-handed candidates for third-pair minutes — like Hirose, Irwin, Wolanin and even Rathbone — Brisebois doesn’t have the puck-moving skill the Canucks should be prioritizing on their third pair. He’s also left-handed whereas a right-handed player like Juulsen could be a candidate to fill the Hughes caddy role.

Don’t count Brisebois out, though.

Sheldon Dries

Dries hit 10 goals for the Canucks, was a legitimate plus contributor on the second power-play unit and demonstrated some surprising pound-for-pound toughness in a number of spirited bouts with far larger players.

Asking Dries to centre the third line — as Vancouver often did last season — probably isn’t ideal. As a fourth-line or depth forward with the ability to move up the lineup in a pinch and contribute on special teams, however, Dries is an ideal back-of-the-roster fit for the Canucks.

Dark horse

Aidan McDonough

McDonough, a rookie forward out of Northeastern University, signed with Vancouver and made his NHL debut late last season. Although he’s raw and inexperienced at the professional level, he’s also 23 years old. This isn’t your average rookie. This is a prospect who is old enough to be considered to be in his statistical prime.

McDonough showed a real knack for finding open space in college, and that translated at the NHL level. Although he only produced one goal in six games, the puck seemed to follow him around, and he seemed to generate a quality opportunity (or two) every game despite playing a limited role on Vancouver’s fourth line.

Ultimately the club would prefer for McDonough to get some seasoning at the American League level to open this season, but he has an outside shot to upset the applecart at Canucks training camp. He’s got real NHL size, which the Canucks are desperate for, is far more advanced physically than his level of professional experience would suggest, and is legitimately good.

(Top photo: Bob Frid / USA Today)

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