Canucks fan mailbag: Team depth, did Tocchet learn something in Calgary, and Höglander's role

Canucks fans have got questions. Postmedia’s Patrick Johnston tries to provide some answers in his weekly mailbag.

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There is nothing like training camp and the first few games of pre-season to start warming a hockey fan’s hot-stove juices.

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At the end of every week from now through the end of the Vancouver Canucks’ 2023-24 NHL season, we will be taking your questions and giving our best answers.

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Here is round one:

Jeff Stevens (via X/Twitter): “Is the team’s depth good enough?”

Is a team’s depth ever good enough?

Canucks President Jim Rutherford nodded toward this at his season-opening news conference last week. He said if everything goes right, the Canucks are a playoff team.

Then he acknowledged that it’s pretty hard to have everything go right, that he would rather his team be in a position where they can absorb some blows to their plans.

In other words, even the boss has worries about the team’s depth.

All that said, what is depth anyway? Most teams would struggle to lose one of their top centres or their top defenceman for any significant amount of time. If Thatcher Demko were to be injured again, it’s possible that Arturs Šilovs could step into the gap and maybe even play at the top of his game … but that’s a big bet.

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Are the Canucks’ third- and fourth-line players better than last year’s mix? Probably? Pius Pius Suter is a big upgrade on just about any option they had last season, so that’s a step forward. And there are some interesting prospects in Abbotsford who could prove to be contributors at some point in the near future, such as Aatu Räty, Max Sasson and Aidan McDonough. But are they ready now? That’s tough to say.

This is a long way of saying, “Maybe?”

Ian Achille (via Bluesky): “Höglander: Does he establish himself as a permanent presence?”

He’s trending that way. Coach Rick Tocchet has been a big fan of Hoglander’s through the first week of pre-season. Can he sustain his motor? He has a singular task with Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko: forecheck, forecheck, forecheck.

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Good thing he has always had this instinct.

W. Ron Sweeney (via Twitter): “Were the Canucks surprised that Calgary iced that roster for preseason Game 1? Any internal second guessing the group the Canucks sent?”

Asked about the lessons from Sunday’s 10-0 loss to Calgary, a game where the Flames dressed a number of their stars and the Canucks sent what was mostly an AHL lineup, Tocchet implied maybe he should have sent a couple more front-line players, and indicated that he was flying a little blind in how strong the Flames’ lineup would be.

“The coaches I know, they usually share. And some coaches don’t like to share. And that’s OK, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to see that kind of level and what it’s going to take. So there’s a good and bad about it. The optics look bad. But would I do it again, maybe protect them a little bit more? I didn’t know.”

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Chester Ming (via X/Twitter): “Given everyone (Tocchet and management) are on relatively short contracts, what are odds of house cleaning if this year goes poorly? If (Elias Pettersson) wants out, would they even be allowed to oversee it?”

Going back to last season, GM Patrik Allvin has acknowledged that this season will be fully on him and his staff. He knows they have to make the playoffs. If they don’t, of course there will be questions asked, both by fans and media, and also by ownership. And even if they do make the playoffs, will the overall direction and even the mood of the organization match Elias Pettersson’s long-term ambitions?

Krufrank (via X/Twitter): “Who do you think sticks as No. 7 defenceman? Hirose or Irwin? Someone else?”

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It was a pretty big tell on Tuesday when Tocchet split his group into two sets of probables, with one group obviously the NHL group and one group obviously the AHL group. Both Akito Hirose and Matt Irwin were with the AHL group, while Guillaume Brisebois and Christian Wolanin were with the NHL group.

Wolanin’s ability to contribute on the power play is a strong point of difference compared to his peers, and Tocchet is a big fan of Brisebois’ “hockey IQ.” It’s pretty clear that Brisebois’ good character will carry him a long way too. He seems well-suited to the No. 7 role, a player who won’t suit up very often but needs to be ready to play at a moment’s notice.

Ken Hogan (via X/Twitter): “What have you seen in scrimmage and practices that may address the horrendous PK from last year? Because if it isn’t fixed, it’ll be yet another long season.”

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The disastrous PK has been a story two years running. Stopping cross-ice passes is a priority to fix for this group. Pius Suter is a strong penalty killer. Teddy Blueger has had success on the PK too. And so has Ian Cole.

But if you’re looking for something specific, how about Carson Soucy putting his puck-disruption skills on display Wednesday in Edmonton, where the Canucks lost 2-1 in overtime. More than once he used his long reach to knock the puck off an Oiler stick. It’s a big skill he has and it’s one of the reasons the Canucks signed him.

Dan (via X/Twitter): “Would having a dedicated practice facility truly boost a professional ice hockey team ‘to another level,’ or would things stay the same?”

It would certainly add to the players’ sense of culture for them to have a permanent facility. Not sure that’s quantifiable, of course.

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Yolo Pinyato (via Bluesky): “Unless they are the ’78 Canadiens, there are likely not 13 forwards in training camp better than Dakota Joshua.”

There were a couple clues that Tocchet gave away about Joshua on Tuesday when the rugged winger appeared with the AHL group rather than the NHL group.

He mentioned that Joshua, who also started slowly last season but won himself a regular role and the heart of the fans too, who named him unsung hero last season, needed to pick it up.

There was also evidence in his answer that Tocchet wasn’t happy with Joshua’s fitness testing. Whatever the reason, Tocchet was clearly sending a message to a player whose game is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the team.

After Wednesday’s game, Tocchet had positive things to say about Joshua.

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“I thought he was moving his feet tonight,” said Tocchet. “It’s a step in the right direction and he’s got to keep chipping away. A good effort and now it’s consistency. I’m glad he responded.”

Ocean Park Nancy (via Bluesky): “Do you think Jack Studnicka will make the team out of camp?”

Before training camp, I’d have said no. Studnicka got a lot of opportunity last year but rarely rose above the rest. And when you don’t kill penalties or play on the power play, you at least need to show something at five-on-five.

But since the start of camp, Tocchet says he has been impressed.

And on Tuesday, the coach laid it out pretty clearly what he wants to see from Studnicka, along with Nils Åman, who were lined up with Blueger as a possible fourth line.

“They look fast out there and they look like they can check,” he said. If they can be responsible as a group, they present an intriguing option, Tocchet said.

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