What a long, strange trip it’s been.
This has been a bizarre season for the Vancouver Canucks. It seemed like it was over just a few months in but the Canucks kept truckin’ and somehow managed to make the games at the end of the season meaningful.
But now the 2021-22 season is nearing its end. There are just two weeks left in the regular season, with seven games remaining for the Canucks. What stories remain to be told about this season?
Let’s take a look at five of the most interesting stories that will play out over the next two weeks.
1 | The improbable playoff push
This is obviously the biggest story for the Canucks, far surpassing any potential individual accolades. The Canucks may face long odds to make the playoffs but not impossible odds. Improbably, the Canucks are still in the playoff race.
Heading into Monday’s action, the Canucks have 84 points — seven points back of the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators in the Wild Card race and six points back of the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division. That’s a lot of points to make up in just seven games but there’s still a chance and that’s more than anyone would have expected given how they started the season.
Monday’s game against the Dallas Stars is vital. A win would do wonders for the Canucks’ chances of catching the Stars. If the Canucks are still in the race by the time they face the Los Angeles Kings in their penultimate game of the season, that game will be huge as well.
Really, though, the Canucks essentially have to win out. If they win all over their remaining seven games, the Canucks will reach 98 points. In theory, that should be enough to reach either third in the Pacific or unseat one of the Stars or Predators for the Wild Card. Even one loss might upset their chances, as the teams they’re pursuing have the edge in tiebreakers at the moment.
Already on a five-game winning streak, adding seven more wins would make for a 12-game winning streak, which would break the franchise record of 10 games set in the 2002-03 season.
2 | Quinn Hughes pursues Doug Lidster
Quinn Hughes has seven games left to leave his mark on Canucks history. The Canucks’ young number one has 58 points in 69 games this season, good for 8th in the NHL among defencemen.
More importantly, Hughes is third all-time in points from a Canucks defenceman, trailing only Dennis Kearns, who had 60 points in 1976-77, and Doug Lidster, who put up 63 points in 1986-87.
Hughes went four games without a point recently and missed some games due to illness, which threatened his pursuit of the franchise record, but it’s back on track after five points in his last two games. Now he needs five more points in the final seven games to match Lidster and six points to pass him.
It might be a commentary on the quality of defencemen in Canucks history that the franchise record for a defenceman is just 63 points, but Hughes will hopefully elevate that number in the years to come.
Beyond just the points, Hughes has taken huge strides in his defensive game, with the lowest rate of shot attempts and shots on goal against of any Canuck regular this season. He's also added penalty killing to his repertoire and has proven adept in the role, using his agile skating and sure hands to win and clear pucks with aplomb. Among Canucks with at least 40 minutes on the penalty kill, only Elias Pettersson has been on the ice for a lower rate of goals against.
3 | Can J.T. Miller crack 100?
At 91 points, J.T. Miller already has one of the best offensive seasons in Canucks history. He’s currently tied for 9th-best with Patrik Sundström, who put up 91 points to lead the 1983-84 Canucks in scoring.
He needs just three points to catch up to Henrik Sedin’s second-best season in 2010-11 and six points to catch Todd Bertuzzi at the height of the West Coast Express in 2002-03.
Both of those seem readily attainable in the seven games remaining in the season. In fact, J.T. Miller has 18 points in his last 12 games, a pace that would see him score 10-11 points to finish off the season, which would crack 100 points.
Of course, Miller would be the first to say that such an individual milestone doesn’t matter much to him. After his five-assist game on Friday, he bluntly said, “It doesn’t really mean s*** to me if we don’t play in the playoffs.”
4 | Elias Pettersson reaching for a new career-high
66 has appeared to be an impassable barrier for Elias Pettersson.
In his first season, Pettersson put up 66 points in 71 games — a franchise record for rookie scoring.
The following season, he once again scored 66 points, albeit in three fewer games, as the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his third season, Pettersson got off to a rough start but was hitting his stride when a wrist injury ended his season early. At that point, Pettersson had 21 points in 26 games. Over 82 games, that’s a pace of — you guessed it — 66 points.
This season, Pettersson got off to an even worse start than 2020-21. Whether because of lingering effects of his wrist injury, missing training camp, a lack of confidence, or just plain bad luck, Pettersson was a shadow of his former self in the first few months of the season. By January 15, Pettersson had just 17 points in 37 games — a pace of just 38 points over a full 82-game season.
Since then, however, Pettersson has been on fire and has been playing a lot more like the superstar fans anticipated he would be when he first arrived in Vancouver. Pettersson has 21 goals and 43 points in his last 36 games. If he scored at that pace over a full 82-game season, he would have 48 goals and 98 points.
More importantly for this season, he’s within reach of a new career-high in points, something that would have seemed impossible a few months ago. Will Pettersson finally break 66 points for the first time in his career? It would be an excellent omen for the future.
5 | The kids are all right
Vasily Podkolzin might not be in the running for the Calder Trophy like some Canucks rookies in recent seasons but he has looked better and better as the season has progressed. He’s become a menace on the forecheck with his relentless puck pursuit and has drawn rave reviews from his teammates and coaches for his professionalism, effort in practice, skating, and shot.
He’s on a bit of a hot streak, with six points in his last four games after a three-point performance against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. That pushed him up to 13 goals and 23 points on the season, which is already a solid rookie season and in line with pre-season expectations.
Still skating with J.T. Miller at even-strength and with a bump to the first power play unit in Bo Horvat’s absence, Podkolzin has a chance to improve on those numbers as he finishes out his rookie year. Opponents should fear a fully-armed and operational Podkolzin next season.
Then there’s another rookie looking to make his mark: Will Lockwood. The young winger has spent most of the season in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks but hasn’t looked out of place in his nine games with the big club since getting called up.
Lockwood has shown speed on the forecheck and a willingness to play the body but is still looking for his first NHL point. He came agonizingly close against the Coyotes but was robbed by Karel Vejmelka off a nice pass by Juho Lammikko. Can he get that elusive first goal and/or point by the end of the season? Stay tuned.