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NHL: Vancouver Canucks season preview

After taking major strides under coach Bruce Boudreau, the Vancouver Canucks enter the 2022/23 season in confident mood.

Boudreau, 67, took over from Travis Green in December and went 32-15-10 after a disastrous 8-15-2 start, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs by just five points.

If the Canucks can replicate that same form, they will fancy their chances to be a participant in the post-season after two years out when they made the Western Conference semi-finals.

Rutherford hopeful

President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford was hired shortly after Boudreau's arrival, taking on the interim General Manager tag in place of Jim Benning who was fired on the same day as Green.

Since, he has hired Patrick Allvin to take on the GM role, and said in a recent interview: "It's hard to say what the expectations are but we do feel better about our team from where we were at the end of last year to where we are now."

Rutherford, 73, won the Stanley Cup twice in seven seasons as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016 and 2017) and once as GM/President of Carolina Hurricanes (2006) where he worked for 20 seasons.

Busy off-season

Despite being unable to upgrade the Canucks defence as hoped, Rutherford was able to add depth and balance to Vancouver's forward lines by adding forward Ilya Mikheyev (from Toronto Maple Leafs), centre Curtis Lazar (from Boston Bruins) and Andrei Kuzmenko (from the Russian KHL) in free agency.

Mikheyev, 27, and Kuzmenko, 26, both enjoyed career-best seasons in 2021/22 with the former scoring 21 goals and 32 points with the Leafs and Kuzmenko 20 goals, 53 points with SKA St. Petersburg.

Mikheyev could also help Vancouver's penalty-kill after he scored four shorthanded goals last season, tied for seventh in the NHL.

The same can be said of 27-year-old Lazar, who is a much-needed right-handed centreman, something lacking on a penalty kill which went from last in the NHL under Green (64.6 percent) to 11th (80.5 percent) under Boudreau but still finished second last at 74.9 percent.

Boudreau impact

In addition to penalty kill, Vancouver improved in almost every measurable aspect after Boudreau became coach going from 22nd (17.4 percent) to second (26.7 percent) in the NHL on the powerplay, from 27th (2.36 goals per game) to 12th (3.28) in goals per game, and 23rd (3.16) to fifth (2.67) in goals against per game.

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The popular Canadian has 15 years of coaching experience in the NHL with Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild and the Canucks.

During that time, he has led his team to the playoffs ten times and won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year in 2008 when with the Capitals.

Next step for youngsters

The 47-year-old GM Allvin believes the key to the Canucks' season is whether first-round picks, forward Elias Pettersson, 23, and defenceman Quinn Hughes, 22, can take the next step in their development.

As per the common theme, Pettersson struggled at the start of last season under Green scoring 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his first 22 games; but he finished under Boudreau with 68 points (32 goals, 36 assists) in 80 games.

Hughes meanwhile contributed an excellent 68 points (eight goals, 60 assists) in 76 games from the blue-line but he and Boudreau have both been public in saying they believe there is still more to come.

Confidence in Demko

Vancouver have the luxury work-horse Thatcher Demko between the pipes, and while Boudreau won't want to burn him out, they know they can rely on getting consistent goaltending night in, night out.

The 26-year-old played 64 games last season, the third most in the NHL behind Juuse Saros of the Vancouver Canucks (67) and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets (66).

He was 33-22-7 in those games with a .915 save-percentage and 2.72 goals-against-average (GAA).

Demko will be partnered by Spencer Martin, 27, who went 3-0-3 with an outstanding .950 save percentage and 1.74 GAA in six games last season.

Miller commitment

Despite rumours linking him away, productive forward J.T. Miller committed his long-term future to the Canucks by signing a new seven-year, $56million contract in early September.

The 29-year-old had a career-high in goals (32), assists (67), points (99), powerplay points (38) and shots on goal (206) in 80 games for the Canucks last season.

With Miller, Petterrsson and Mikheyev plus Bo Horvat (31 goals, 52 points), Brock Boeser (23 goals, 46 points) and Conor Garland (19 goals, 52 points), the Canucks have plenty of offence in their armoury.

While they weren't able to make any major changes on defence, their improvements under Boudreau last season offer hope of making the playoffs which would complete a major turnaround for an organisation that was in complete turmoil just a few months ago.

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