Cole McWard, Column, Quinn Hughes, Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks, Vasily Podkolzin

Canucks’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Hughes, Podkolzin, Luongo & More

The calendar has flipped to October and that means the regular season is just around the corner for the Vancouver Canucks. They have only two more preseason games to go before the points start being counted in the standings, and there are still plenty of decisions to be made before the puck drops on Oct. 11 against the Edmonton Oilers. There have been a lot of positives and negatives in the past two weeks, so let’s get into the latest Canucks’ 3 Up, 3 Down.

Plus One: Quinn Hughes

Quinn Hughes has always been one to pass rather than shoot. Well, that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore – at least if the preseason is any indication. He already has three goals and a plethora of shots to his name and his aggressiveness in the offensive zone has been ramped up as well. It looks like he’s decided to take a run at the Norris Trophy this season and try to get in the realm of stars like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Roman Josi. They always have between 10 and 25 goals at the end of the season, along with 200-plus shots. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Well, it appears Hughes has taken that quote to heart because he’s sure been willing to shoot this preseason.

Quinn Hughes Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If Hughes can get into the double digits in goals for the first time in his career and continue to put up 60-plus assists, a Norris Trophy might just be in his future. He’s dangerous already with his passing, what will the added dimension of goalscoring do for his status around the league? Right now, even we at The Hockey Writers don’t regard him as a top-10 defenceman. Well, I can tell you that if he continues his dominance from the preseason into the regular season, he won’t be underappreciated much longer.

Minus One: Vasily Podkolzin

On Sunday (Oct. 1), the Canucks announced a number of cuts to their training camp roster. Among them was 2019 first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin. After an underwhelming 2022-23 season that saw him score only four goals and seven points in 39 games, he was pegged as a player who needed to step up in training camp and the preseason. Unfortunately, he was largely invisible in the games he played and was not the best defensively. He was given a huge opportunity to skate on a line with Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller but ultimately was upstaged by Phil Di Giuseppe, a more well-rounded and responsible forward.

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Looking on the bright side, the Canucks have not given up on the big Russian and sees potential for growth with more time in the American Hockey League (AHL).

“He checks all the boxes and hard work, what a great kid,” said Tocchet. “It’s grasping the NHL, like the reads and the hockey IQ — things like that. I think it’s very important for development. I think him spending time with Jeremy [Colliton], playing a lot. Putting him in these situations, a lot of situations is going to help that growth in his mind, that’s what I really believe in. And the organization, we’re all aligned in this.”

Given Podkolzin’s strong work ethic and attitude, he will learn from this latest demotion and continue to improve his game in Abbotsford. He has shown flashes of NHL talent, he just needs to put it all together and be consistent with the little things. From what the coaches have said, that is what he struggles with. While it’s disappointing to see him fail to make the opening night roster, he’s only 22 years old and has plenty of time to develop into the NHL player we all know he can be.

Plus Two: Cole McWard Survives Latest Roster Cuts

I don’t think anyone thought that McWard would be on the roster ahead of Akito Hirose and Matt Irwin when training camp started a couple of weeks ago. But after an impressive Young Stars tournament and preseason, that’s exactly where he is. In fact, he has been skating on the top pairing with Hughes and was seen there again at practice on Sunday (Oct. 1) with Carson Soucy and Ian Cole taking up spots alongside Filip Hronek and Tyler Myers respectively. Could that be the six-man unit we see on opening night? It certainly looks like that will be the case.

Cole McWard Vancouver Canucks
Cole McWard, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Getty Images)

Despite a penalty-filled evening on Saturday (Sept. 30) against the Oilers, McWard is still in the good graces of the coaching staff. If he wasn’t, he likely would have been part of the roster cuts on Sunday. Being a right-hand shot probably helped his case too as Tocchet has said in the past that he doesn’t like defencemen playing their off-side. Having said that, it’s not a guarantee that he will be part of the opening night festivities on Oct. 11. He can still be sent down, but it’s looking less and less likely every day.

Minus Two: Jack Rathbone

Going from impressive to not-so-impressive, Jack Rathbone did not really factor into the battles on defence. He was okay in the preseason, but never blew anyone away with his performance. He will now start the season in the AHL and try to get back to the top-prospect label he had only a couple of seasons ago. Unfortunately, time is running out on his future in Vancouver as he’s already 24 years old and has failed to make an impact in the NHL so far. While his offensive game is one of his strengths, he’s struggled to find the defensive consistency that’s needed in the big leagues.

Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rathbone has already been part of trade rumours and it’s only a matter of time before those rumours become a reality. He still has time to find his game, it just might not happen in Vancouver.

Plus Three: Roberto Luongo Into the Ring of Honour

Going from current players to former players, it was announced last week that Roberto Luongo will be inducted into the Ring of Honour on Dec. 14 against his other long-time team, the Florida Panthers. He already has his jersey retired in Florida, now his face will be immortalized next to Orland Kurtenbach, Kirk McLean, Thomas Gradin, Harold Snepsts, Pat Quinn, Mattias Ohlund, and Alex Burrows in Rogers Arena.

Luongo spent parts of eight seasons in Vancouver where he accumulated 367 wins and recorded a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA), .919 save percentage and 38 shutouts. All of those marks lead Canucks goaltenders in franchise history, and he will also go down as the only goaltender to wear the “C” (albeit on his mask) as captain of the team.

Debates have raged on about whether Luongo should have his number retired rather than be featured in the Ring of Honour, but ultimately they decided that he did not bleed Canucks colours like Stan Smyl, Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund and Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Regardless, the ceremony will be special for everyone that was lucky to witness Luongo at his peak in the 2010s when the Canucks were arguably the best team in the NHL.

Minus Three: Lack of Sportsnet Coverage For 2 Preseason Games

The final minus of this past week (and going into this week) is the lack of TV coverage in the preseason. Of the six games the Canucks have on the schedule, only four are being televised on Sportsnet, with one being deprived of video entirely (Sept. 29 vs. the Seattle Kraken). It’s wild that they could get the crew over to Edmonton to cover a game, but not to Seattle.

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The other game not televised on Sportsnet is also against the Kraken on Oct. 6 in Vancouver’s backyard in Abbotsford. That one makes less sense considering it’s the home of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate. All in all, it’s a bit disappointing to see Sportsnet Pacific not carry every Canucks preseason game when the Toronto Maple Leafs games are covered in full.

That does it for this week’s 3 Up, 3 Down. Stay tuned for next week when we will have the final roster to talk about along with any other surprises the Canucks throw at us. Until then, enjoy the final two games of the preseason!


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