Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Vancouver Canucks
Last season: It was a massive disappointment. Their last-place finish in a division that was supposed to be a boon for their talented offense never came to fruition, in part because key players were injured and they lost a ton of depth via free agency to rival teams. A COVID-19 outbreak also disrupted some of the good faith they had in the front office and the chemistry that had propelled them to playoff wins against the Wild and Blues. Fantasy managers high on the Canucks’ talent could only shake their heads as the franchise continues to trip over itself in their quest to build a Cup-winning team. Nearly every player saw their numbers dip; they were hemmed in their own zone too often due to a lack of reliable options on their blueline and had too many careless turnovers in the neutral zone.
Best option: Elias Pettersson, C
There’s no wavering on this one – Pettersson is their franchise player and all-around offensive player who will likely lead the team in scoring. Now that both him and Quinn Hughes have re-signed following protracted negotiations that threatened to extend into the season, the Canucks can now re-unite Pettersson with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser on the top line and feature one of the league’s most dangerous power plays.
Pettersson’s underlying possession numbers and ability to carry the puck through multiple zones has always been lauded, but his 5v5 CF% dipped below 50 percent last season. Is this a one-time thing? That’s the key question everyone will ask because even if Pettersson returns to form, the Canucks’ questionable defense means they could spend a lot of time in their own zone. That being said, fantasy decisions are often made in a vacuum, and Pettersson is surely the cream of the crop in Vancouver.
With Bo Horvat deployed as the matchup center, it should continue to take a load off Pettersson’s shoulders and ensure that he doesn’t always have to face the opposition’s top defensive pairs, though it really hasn’t had a huge impact; Pettersson’s home-road splits are pretty equal with 79 and 74 career points, respectively. THN’s Pool Guide has the slick Swede leading the Canucks in scoring with 74 points.
Hidden gem: Conor Garland, LW/RW
One team’s garbage is another team’s treasure, and the Canucks may have unearthed one in Garland, whose smaller physical stature betrays his big impact on the ice. Garland was the Coyotes’ third-highest scorer and finished second in even-strength points (30) and fifth in power-play points (10) despite missing seven games. The Canucks view him as a top-six forward and – finally – someone worthy of playing alongside Horvat, who has in past seasons been forced to carry wingers with limited upside in Tanner Pearson and Sven Baertschi. Horvat will be the best center Garland has ever played with, and their relationship should be mutually beneficial. Add a high-upside rookie to that line in either Nils Hoglander or Vasily Podkolzin, and that second line looks as good as it’s ever been.
The drawback with Garland will be his usage on the power play. With the Coyotes, Garland was a fixture on the top power-play unit and an excellent puck distributor, but the Canucks’ top unit is already chock-full of talent and all the spots have been spoken for. Getting moved to the second unit may hurt Garland’s fantasy value, but keep in mind he was also a very productive player at even strength and his 8.9 S% last season was a career-low. His ADP of 174.0 on Yahoo means he’s barely getting drafted, behind even Podkolzin (166.6), who has yet to play a game. Garland is just rostered in 62 percent of leagues and that number will likely be much higher by the end of the season.
It’s Thatcher Demko’s net and he’s got all the tools to be an elite goalie. He’s big, agile for his size and has proven to be an effective big-game performer over the past two seasons. Demko was a workhorse, ranking fifth in saves with 1,065, and he did it even though he played fewer games than all the other goalies who saved at least 1,000 shots.
It was both a reflection of his strong play and the porous defense in front of him, an area that the Canucks arguably improved over the offseason. Until the Canucks show improvement, Demko is a solid mid-tier option who can rack up the saves but may have trouble getting the wins.
Another impediment to Demko’s fantasy value is the addition of Jaroslav Halak. The veteran goalie was brought in to take some pressure (and playing time) off Demko, and 30 appearances from Halak wouldn’t be out of the question. He’s operated on a timeshare for much of his career, and he’s considered one of the best backups in the league, just one season removed from winning the Jennings Trophy. Despite his role, there’s not much need to roster Halak; Demko will surely get the majority of the starts, and Halak will be matchup dependent, though both should get decent goal support.
The Canucks have a ton of offensive talent ripe for fantasy managers to pick from: Pettersson, Miller, Boeser, Hughes, Horvat and Garland are all projected to score over 50 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide. Hoglander and Podkolzin are pegged for 40 and 33, respectively, and rounds out an impressive top-six group. However, if the Canucks spend all their time chasing and turning over pucks – as they did last season – it won’t lead to a conducive environment for scoring.
They will need Oliver Ekman-Larsson to return to form because there’s little defensive depth to speak of, especially with Travis Hamonic’s status still uncertain. That will put a cap on the Canucks’ forwards ability to generate offense, and that’s why their projected point totals seem a little lower than their talent level would usually dictate. It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to the Canucks in fantasy, but the upside is certainly there.