If the Predators are the NHL’s best team, the Sabres are the NHL’s worst team and the Oilers are the NHL’s biggest gongshow, then the Canucks are certainly the weirdest.
At the beginning of the week, the Canucks sat in a three-way tie for 28th in the league with Arizona and Ottawa, while dead last Buffalo stood just three points back. But this week, to everyone’s surprise (and in some cases, dismay), Vancouver caught fire of a Katniss Everdeen-like magnitude.
Three wins, including two against playoff-bound squads in the Ducks and Blue Jackets, where they outscored their opponents 11-6 and enter the last week of the season with the chance to finish on a seven-game winning streak.
The streak has essentially put the Canucks out of the running for 31st place, with the Canucks needing to lose all of their final three games in regulation and the Sabres to win their last four of the year to snag the best odds at Rasmus Dahlin. But if there’s one good reason Team Tank and Team Win can enjoy the outcome together, it’s that Benning & Co. may finally figure out why they need to trust the kids.
Sure, the top scorers this week were veterans Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen, but it was the youth movement that dictated all three victories. Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen have been playing the best hockey of their NHL careers lately, Derrick Pouliot and Troy Stecher have been thrown to the lions thanks to so many defensive injuries and come out with little more than a scratch, and Bo Horvat has been… well, Bo Horvat.
I understand the appeal to management for signing veterans, but it’s a temptation this club clearly needs to resist. The Canucks are better with younger, less experienced players in the lineup then they are without. They’re faster, hungrier and sell more tickets. And if Benning and Linden can finally figure that out, then there’s hope for this franchise yet.
Gaud Among Men?
Adam Gaudette made his long anticipated Canucks debut against the Oilers on Thursday, and even though he didn’t put any points on the board he showed he’s plenty capable of playing at the NHL level.
Adam Gaudette picks up the puck in his own zone and sets up Boucher#Canucks pic.twitter.com/L3dCTitwS9
— Hockey Guy (@FlyingSkate94) March 31, 2018
But I think it’s important we understand that even though there’s a lot to like about Gaudette, some of the expectations Canucks fans have for him are way too high. Because of their similarities in style of play and college success, I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Gaudette and Ryan Kesler, a guy who became one of the NHL’s best two-way players in his prime.
Asking Gaudette to reach the same level as Kesler is one hell of a big request, especially when you remember that Kesler was a 23rd overall draft choice in the incredibly deep 2003 Draft, while Gaudette was a 5th round pick in 2015. Where a player is drafted doesn’t truly determine your ceiling, but it should temper the expectations some people have.
If Gaudette becomes half the player that Kesler was, I’d be more than thrilled with that outcome. But hey, Gaudette is a guy who loves to prove the naysayers wrong, and I wouldn’t put it past him to show me the error of my ways too.
Demko’s Time to Shine
This week wasn’t all about Gaudette, though. Another highly touted Canuck prospect, goalie Thatcher Demko, made his NHL start against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. Demko’s 26 saves were enough to earn his first NHL win, even if he did have to get it the hard way in overtime.
I’ve worried about the idea of playing Demko in front of such a depleted Canucks lineup, especially since so many of the defensive stalwarts are out of commission, but he did phenomenally considering the situation. He even came up clutch on a 2-on-1 where he robbed Cam Atkinson.
Demko showing off the moves with that save. pic.twitter.com/f2zE9HU61S
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 31, 2018
This was likely the only start Demko will make in a Vancouver uniform this season, but with Utica heading to the AHL playoffs this short experience could go a long way for him. But if his one game was any indication, he’s nearly ready for some serious NHL ice time. We might even have a battle between he and Nilsson for the backup role come September.
Around the Rinks
– They’ve been the best story in sports all season long by playing for a city reeling from an act of terrorism and setting every NHL expansion team record. And now, the Vegas Golden Knights have capped off by their inaugural season by winning the Pacific Division title and reaching the playoffs. Considering the insane amount of injuries this team had to deal with this season and pressure of winning over a new market, the Golden Knights absolutely went above and beyond the call of duty. Congratulations, Vegas. Enjoy the moment.
William Karlsson might have just scored the goal-of-the-year pic.twitter.com/F2MKCTIzuK
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) April 1, 2018
– You’ve probably heard the story of Scott Foster by now, but I think it’s worth repeating since he got to live out my ultimate hockey fantasy. Foster was only supposed to sit on the bench as the Blackhawks’ emergency backup, but got thrust into action after Collin Delia began to cramp up in the third period. Foster played 14:01 minutes and stopped ALL seven shots he faced from the Winnipeg Jets, including a point blank save on Paul Stastny. He might not be getting calls to sign a real NHL contract anytime soon, but he’ll definitely have ultimate bragging rights for the rest of his hockey life. Kudos, Scott.
We End on the Lighter Side…
Don’t even bother trying to name a more iconic duo, because frankly no one can.
Thanks for reading! What did you think of Adam Gaudette and Thatcher Demko’s debuts? Leave a comment below!