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Cullen: Canucks try to avoid letdown after Cup loss

Scott Cullen
9/20/2011 11:57:37 AM
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After losing in the Stanley Cup final, the Vancouver Canucks figure to be a hungry team once again, but they're going to start the season shorthanded, with injuries taking out a couple of top six forwards, creating opportunities for others.

After leading the league in scoring last season, despite having his points-per-game decline from the previous season, Daniel Sedin is right up at the top when it comes to overall fantasy value. He has scored at least a point-per-game in three straight seasons, racking up a cumulative plus-90 over those three years. Considering this production comes at left wing, Daniel is worthy of an early first-round pick in any format.

A year after leading the league with 112 points, Henrik Sedin "only" had 94 points last season, leading the league in assits for the second straight season. Henrik has scored at leaset 75 points in six consecutive seasons; the only other player to have accomplished that feat is Alexander Ovechkin.

Recoving from offseason shoulder surgery last year, Alex Burrows got off to a slow start, scoring two points in nine games after missing the first ten games of the season, but then he put up 46 points in the next 63 games and Burrows is one of two players (Corey Perry is the other) to score at least 25 goals while registering at least a penalty minute per game over each of the last three seasons. If injuries increase the chances of Burrows seeing time on the power play, then his value could really take off this season.

Roberto Luongo's .928 save percentage was the second best of his career and his 2.11 goals against average was a career-best, yet the Canucks' inability to win the Cup brought with it more criticism that Luongo can't win hockey's ultimate prize. No matter how much the crowd gets restless about his occasional missteps, Luongo is an elite option between the pipes.

Luongo's workload has been lessened now that Cory Schneider is his more-than-capable backup. Schneider posted a .929 save percentage last season and fans will call for him to step in whenever Luongo struggles, but right now he's a luxury of an insurance policy for the Canucks to have.

Coming off summer hip surgery, Ryan Kesler isn't expected to be ready until mid-November, but even if he was going to be ready right out of the gate, it's tough to imagine him duplicating a 41-goal season when he's recovering from hip surgery. When healthy, Kesler, combination of points and penalty minutes makes him a first-rate option, but he's not healthy to start this season, making him a risk.

The departure of Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo could open the door for Alexander Edler to take on a bigger role on the Vancouver blueline. Edler, who missed time down the stretch with a back injury, has 75 points in 127 games over the last two seasons. His .59 points per game ranks 12th among defencemen in that time (just ahead of Ehrhoff).

Mikael Samuelsson has enjoyed a renaissance in Vancouver, with the first two 50-point seasons of his career and his heavy shot comes in handy on the power play, as last year's 19 power play points was one shy of his career high. His ceiling has been set, it seems, but he's a useful player in deeper leagues.

Twice in his career, Kevin Bieksa has surpassed 40 points in a season, yet he's managed a total of 44 points over the last two years. With 18 points in 37 playoff games over the last two years, Bieksa has shown that he's capable of contrbuting offensively, and he figures to see an increased offensive role now that Ehrhoff is gone.

Mason Raymond's production dipped last year. After a career-high 53 points in 2009-2010, Raymond finished with 39 points last year and he suffered a broken vertebrae in the Cup Final, which is going to prevent him from being ready for the start of the season. As such, Raymond isn't likely to be of interest on draft day, but is well worth monitoring for a potential mid-season addition.

Given the injuries to Kesler and Raymond, there will be opportunities available. Marco Sturm, Cody Hodgson and Christopher Higgins are among the candidates for an increase in production. Hodgson's early returns (three points in 20 games, including playoffs, last season) don't suggest that he's ready to handle a second-line centre role, but he does appear to be the favourite to start there this season.

It's tough enough for a team that lost the Cup to bounce back from a short summer and still be contenders the next season and the Canucks are facing an even more challenging task this year. Maybe they will be contenders again, but it's possible that early injuries will prevent them from getting into a groove.

NHL Depth Chart - Vancouver Canucks

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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