Northwest Division Preview: Vancouver Canucks
Who is the favorite in the Northwest division? Maybe the better question is "who isn't?"
Any of the five teams could take the title, and, as usual, it is the tightest division in the NHL.
Lets start with the Vancouver Canucks, the supposed "weak sister". They have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Roberto Luongo, not to mention one of the leagues top defensive squads with Mattias Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Alexander Edler, Willie Mitchell and Lukas Krajicek. Every one of these guys are legitimate top 4 defencemen, and along with Luongo they make it pretty hard to score against the Canucks.
The weak spot of the Canucks is their offence. Other than the Sedin twins and Pavol Demitra, the Canucks don't have much firepower. They have some players with the potential to put up big numbers in Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood, who have shown the ability to be top 6 forwards, but have had some trouble with consistency in the past.
In 2005- 2006 season, Bernier netted 14 goals and 27 points in only 39 games. Thats equal to 29 goals and 57 points over 82 games. The next two seasons saw him take a step back however, only scoring 31 points and 23 points. Having more oppurtunities in Vancouver should help him get back to his old form, as he was lost in the shuffle in San Jose.
After posting a respectable 45 points in 2005-2006, Wellwood had a great season in 2006-2007, scoring 42 points in only 48 games. He looked poised for a real breakout season this year, but fell, scoring only 21 points in 59 games. If he can get over his injury troubles Wellwood should provide solid secondary scoring this season for the Canucks.
They also have Ryan Kesler, who along with being able to put the puck in the back of the net (21 goals last year), is a great defensive forward. The tag team of Kesler and Alexandre Burrows was one of the best checking tandems in the Northwest last year.
The key for the Canucks is defence. They won't be scoring more than 3 goals a game, and if some of their forwards keep struggling, even 2 goals will be a stretch. They will win the 1-0, 2-1 games. As long as their defence stays healthy and Luongo plays like the Luongo we all know. The Canucks will not only be in contention of a playoff spot, but could challenge for the division title.
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