During General Manager Patrick Allvin’s first offseason in charge of the Canucks, many fans expected a busy summer packed with impactful moves. While the team’s marquee trade chip, J.T. Miller, signed a seven-year, $56-million extension to dispel trade rumors, Allvin did bring several free agents onboard in hopes they will contribute to the playoff-hopeful Canucks.
After a disappointing sophomore season from Nils Höglander, Jason Dickinson’s failure to make a tangible impact as a checking center, and the early-summer rumors surrounding Miller, filling out the forward corps became a priority. The Canucks’ blue line remains thin, especially on the right side. With the contract baggage of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, and the premium teams paying for right-handed defensemen in free agency, Allvin focused on upgrading the middle-six and adding grit to a team that struggled short-handed last season.
Ilya Mikheyev, RW
Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19-million contract with the Canucks in July, the most expensive addition by the team this offseason. The 27-year-old winger comes over from the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he scored 21 goals and 32 points in 53 games last year, a 32-goal pace over 82 games. Mikheyev is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL who uses his blazing speed to break out of the zone and create chances for himself and his teammates.
Despite his offensive breakout last season, his greatest strengths likely lie in his defensive game. Mikheyev played 73 minutes on the penalty kill in 2021-22, scoring four short-handed goals, one short of the league lead. Opposing teams on the power play only scored seven goals against Toronto while Mikheyev was on the ice, and he ranked fourth in short-handed minutes among Leafs forwards on a team that ranked eighth overall in penalty kill percentage last season. Conversely, the Canucks began 2021-22 with a historically putrid penalty kill, and finished near the bottom of the league, allowing goals on more than 25 percent of their opponents’ man advantages.
Mikheyev will play a prominent role as a leader on Vancouver’s penalty kill this upcoming season. While it’s unclear whether he will replicate his short-handed goal-scoring prowess again, Mikheyev should be a staple on the PK1 unit and adds responsibility and structure to the lineup. Mikheyev has the talent and pedigree to earn a top-six role and should be Vancouver’s most impactful addition in 2022-23.
He will help transform Vancouver’s penalty kill identity and bump them up to a league-average short-handed percentage. His speed and an increased opportunity will translate to meaningful scoring, and he will finish the season around 22-24 goals and 41-43 points as a staple in the middle-six.
Andrei Kuzmenko, LW
Kuzmenko signed with Vancouver amid fanfare as the top international free agent available this offseason. Coming off a season where he scored 53 points in 45 games with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, the 26-year-old winger is expected to provide a punch to the Canucks’ offense, including their power play. Kirill Kaprizov, the Minnesota Wild superstar, scored a comparative 62 points in 57 games in his final KHL season. To be fair, Kaprizov was three years younger than Kuzmenko was with SKA last year, and there’s a pretty low chance Kuzmenko ever replicates the Wild forward’s 108-point 2021-22. However, Kuzmenko has a path to a large role with the Canucks.
Despite the presence of other scoring forwards like Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, Kuzmenko should earn an opportunity for power-play minutes to further boost a special-teams unit that ranked inside the league’s top-10 in efficiency last season. Kuzmenko’s potential value to this team is elevated by his entry-level contract, affecting the salary cap by a mere $950,000.
Kuzmenko will likely begin the year in the bottom six, where he may spend the majority of the season. However, he’ll get an opportunity on the power play where he will score at an impressive clip. While he missed eligibility for the Calder Trophy by 5 months, he will be one of the more productive first-year players in the NHL, scoring around 15-17 goals and 31-33 points.
Curtis Lazar, C
Lazar, the 27-year-old forward from Salmon Arm, B.C., returns to his home province to add grit and a defensive presence to the Vancouver lineup. The former blue-chip prospect and World Junior Championships star has adapted his game to carve out a role in the NHL. While he was once expected to contribute gaudy scoring totals and drive offense, Lazar has transformed into a responsible defensive player who posts modest stats. Among regular Bruins forwards who averaged over a minute per game on the penalty kill, Lazar ranked second on the team in Goals Against per 60 minutes. He also led the Bruins in hits, giving the Canucks a physical, disruptive presence.
Following a rough 2021-22 for Jason Dickinson, who was expected to kill penalties and anchor a checking line, Lazar has an opportunity to establish himself as one of Vancouver’s top short-handed forwards and a player Coach Bruce Boudreau can rely on to shut down other teams’ stars.
Lazar will spend the season entrenched in the bottom-six, as he offers little scoring potential. However, he and Mikheyev will quickly prove themselves to be among Vancouver’s most effective and efficient penalty-killing forwards. Lazar will score around 19-21 points this season but will become one of the fans’ most beloved Canucks because of his defensive integrity and physical style.
Dakota Joshua, LW
Joshua is a 26-year-old winger who has only 42 career NHL games with the St. Louis Blues under his belt. Last season, he posted a respectable eight points in a limited role across 30 games. He added 77 hits in those contests and was signed by the Canucks to bring toughness to the fourth line following the departures of Tyler Motte to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, and Juho Lammiko and Matthew Highmore to free agency this offseason.
Joshua probably won’t earn a middle-six role, but can command a spot in the everyday lineup through his physical brand of hockey while irritating opponents.
Joshua will remain on the roster and dress for the majority of the Canucks’ season as a bottom-line grinder. While he could challenge Lazar and Luke Schenn for the team lead in hits, his lack of penalty-killing experience leaves some questions about his checking abilities. Joshua will score around 14-16 points this season on an effective fourth line but will play in a limited, complementary role alongside the more trustworthy Lazar.