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Behind Enemy Lines: Vancouver Canucks Preview

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The Canes face off tonight against a Canucks team that is in the midst of a significant transition.

NHL: Preseason-Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

If all you have in your mind when you hear the "Vancouver Canucks" is the Sedin twins, and the fact that they went through a decade or so of great success (although, success that did not include capturing hockey’s ultimate prize) recently, then you may not be up to date on where the Canucks are in the team building process.

The Canucks enter the 2016-17 season with an aging roster that has a core that is in no way interested in a re-build, but is surrounded by an infrastructure that screams "REBUILD!!!" But embracing a full tear down is a tough sell in a hockey-mad market like Vancouver, and with no guarantees in the outcome of a rebuild (see Oilers, Edmonton), this team will continue to try to straddle the line while Henrik and Daniel Sedin play out the very end of their primes.

In fact, the team is buying into their ability to compete immediately enough to sign 31-year-old Loui Eriksson to a 6-year, $36 million contract to man the left wing on their 2nd line. The Canucks are a team in transition that isn’t acting (or spending money) like it.

Head coach Willie Desjardins enters his 3rd season behind the bench, and after being at the helm of a 75 point finish last season, you would have to believe the pressure to win is palpable for the coach. Desjardins will turn again to Ryan Miller as his primary netminder, but you would think that Jacob Markstrom (who managed a .915 save percentage and a 13-14-4 record last season on a 75 point team) would see increased time as the organization looks to the future for their long-term solution in net.

But again, this is where you would expect a team that is committed to a rebuild to want to see as much as they could from their younger netminder, while taking advantage of an offseason goalie trade market that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs hand over 1st and 2nd round picks for Frederik Andersen to unload a veteran of Ryan Miller’s stature.

The Canucks began their season on Saturday night with a 2-1 shootout win at home over the Calgary Flames, which means tonight's game will be the second of a back-to-back. With Miller starting the opener, they will take the opportunity to get Markstrom into the action tonight. Let’s hope to see some tired legs from the home team as the Hurricanes make their only visit to Vancouver this season.

Things to Watch For

  • Watch to see if the Canucks team the newly acquired Eriksson with the Sedin twins, or if they try to utilize him on another line. Adding him with the Sedins creates a very dangerous and skilled grouping, but at the expense of shortening the scoring clout on the other three lines.
  • Look to see who steps into the huge minutes on the blue line that were previously eaten up by Dan Hamhuis. Hamhuis signed with the Dallas Stars, but early in the year it will be interesting to see who fills the top-4 minutes in his place. Look for 23-year-old Ben Hutton and newly acquired Erik Gudbranson to fill those minutes. Will they provide the same quality as Hamhuis?
  • Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen will likely be paired together on a line, and they represent the youthful hope for the Canucks. If they can provide a formidable combo in their early 20’s, perhaps the gap from the competitive Sedin-led teams to the next generation of competitive Canucks team can be smaller than many have predicted.
  • Jannik Hansen. If Eriksson isn’t paired with the twins, then expect Hansen to be on that line. Will he provide the combination of physicality and skill that the Sedins have so often looked for in a linemate, but so seldom received?

Lineups and line projections should be out later this afternoon.