In a match-up of experienced veterans versus youth movement, the tenth-seed Minnesota Wild are taking on the seventh-seed Vancouver Canucks in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Qualifying Round. The Wild vs Canucks series should be an eye-opening one, as it pits the present against the future.
Vancouver Canucks Strengths
Vancouver are one of the youngest teams in the league. This aligns with all of their talent acquired through their recent rebuild. The likes of Elias Petterson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser are some of the brightest young stars in hockey. These names will be forces to be reckoned with once they are more established.
The Canucks have also made some trades and free-agent signings in the past year that has turned them into one of the best teams in the league when consistent. J.T. Miller and Tyler Myers were some of those offseason acquisitions that have given them the boost they needed to become a force to be reckoned in the Western Conference and a true Stanley Cup contender.
Vancouver’s forwards are also some of the most underrated players in the league. Each of their top-six forwards have scored at least 15 goals this season, with cornerstone pieces such as Elias Petterson and J.T. Miller putting up 66 and 72 points, respectively. Their bottom-six forwards aren’t anything special, but they have had a chance to refine their game over the league’s suspension and will look to prove their spot on the team.
Vancouver Canucks Weaknesses
This team has almost no playoff experience. This is Vancouver’s first playoff appearance since 2015, with Petterson, Boeser, and Hughes not having been in the league at that point in time. Vancouver still have a bright future ahead of them as they are continuing to improve each season, and this year’s playoff format could help the young players get some experience in the most important time of the season under their belts, even if they were to lose.
The Canucks have also been wildly inconsistent. At the best of times, they looked like they were going to be the team of the next decade, while other times they looked like they were overhyped and would end up falling short, in classic Canucks fashion. If Vancouver are serious about making a real run, they must show that they are consistently efficient on the ice.
Minnesota Wild Strengths
Minnesota are an interesting team to predict because their roster’s age varies so wildly. The majority of their players are very experienced or very young. This could likely be a huge benefit for them, because a fairly-youthful lineup with many experienced veterans provides a good balance of players who have the experience needed to go far in the playoffs, with young players with the fight in them to make it far.
Zach Parise has been healthy and should he stay that way, he will make a huge impact on the outcome of the series. Eric Staal also had a fairly decent season, putting up 47 points. When healthy, this Wild team can make a mark on the league. The excitement of this series lies in their health, however. Ryan Suter was generally productive this season, and 25-year-old Kevin Fiala has a career season, putting up 54 points.
Minnesota Wild Weaknesses
Both of Minnesota’s weaknesses are the same as their strengths. The team has a mix of young players and old veterans. In a worst-case scenario, the veterans’ experience could prove to not be enough, whilst the young guys struggle. This is not out of the question, given Zach Parise’s injury history and the lack of definite skill players on the roster.
Zach Parise is a double-edged sword. When healthy, he looks like a star-caliber player. Sadly for Minnesota fans, this is the exception rather than the rule. He isn’t getting any younger, and his injury-proneness is always going to be over his head. Whilst Eric Staal is a very good player, he isn’t a superstar. Minnesota simply don’t have the same star power as Vancouver.
This is where Vancouver takes an even stronger edge. They have a solidified starter in Jacob Markstrom, who is a serviceable goalie. He is not consistent, but he will have hot streaks where he plays lights-out for a few games. Vancouver should hope Markstrom catches fire during the qualifying round, but it is not a dealbreaker for them.
Minnesota’s goaltending is a disaster. Long-time starter Devan Dubnyk showed serious signs of decline. Off the ice, his wife was seriously ill, and had to take a month off from hockey to tend to those issues (luckily, she is doing well now). The big break seemed to get to him, where he put up a .890 save percentage, far below the league average of .910. Alex Stalock showed plenty of promise but it seems to lie solely in his potential, putting up an on-par save percentage of .910.
X-Factors for the Wild and Canucks
- The young players have to perform to their potential.
- Jacob Markstrom must catch a hot streak for any shot at a playoff run.
- Do not let the mental game take over.
- Zach Parise must stay healthy.
- The top-six forwards must play to full potential.
- Alex Stalock has to take the opportunity to plant himself as the true starting goalie.
Overall, the Wild and Canucks series should be one to keep an eye on, and in the end, I have the Canucks emerging victorious in four games.