Where are they now? How one-time Canucks are faring in the NHL playoffs
It has become a familiar pastime over the past few years — keeping an eye on former Vancouver Canucks players as they make playoff runs with their new teams.
This year, Canucks fans got some early doses of seller's remorse as players like Nic Dowd, Gustav Forsling and Jared McCann played big roles for their respective teams. But with the Capitals, Panthers and Penguins all now eliminated, those runs are over.
As of Thursday, three first-round series have yet to be decided. Montreal and Nashville will fight to stay alive on Thursday night, and an unexpected Game 7 between Minnesota and Vegas goes Friday.
Here's what the one-time Canucks have done so far.
Through to Round 2:
Winnipeg Jets (4-0 over Edmonton)
• Jordie Benn — has not played
The Jets used the same six defensemen in all four of their games, as they swept the Oilers. They have a stockpile of spare defensemen they can mix in if they go deep, including Sami Niku, Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg and the delightfully named Nelson Nogier. Of that group, Benn has by far the most NHL experience.
Colorado Avalanche (4-0 over St. Louis): none
Boston Bruins (4-1 over Washington): none
New York Islanders (4-2 over Pittsburgh): none
Tampa Bay Lightning (4-2 over Florida)
• Luke Schenn — 3 GP, 0 points, 4 penalty minutes
Now 31, Schenn managed to parlay his brief stint as a big hitter with the Canucks at the end of the 2018-19 season into a role as a depth defenseman with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After spending a good chunk of the 2019-20 season in the minors, he got into 11 playoff games in the bubble and is now the proud owner of a Stanley Cup ring.
This year, he was on and off the taxi squad, but got into 38 regular-season games for the Lightning.
Against Florida, he averaged just 5:56 of ice time in the three games he played, but his hard-hitting style came in handy in that take-no-prisoners series.
Eliminated In Round 1:
• Zack Kassian — 4 GP, 1-1-2, 0 penalty minutes
Kassian's menacing leer appeared often on my TV screen during this series, but it's the same old story for the Oilers this offseason. Mike Smith's season was remarkable, but I wonder if the series would have turned out differently if they'd won the bidding war for Jacob Markstrom last fall?
St. Louis Blues: none
• Nic Dowd — 5 GP, 2-0-2, 4 penalty minutes, one game-winning goal
Well, the Capitals haven't won a playoff series since they decided not to re-sign Jay Beagle. In his place, they scooped up one-time Canuck Nic Dowd, who played one year at fourth-line centre on a league-minimum contract before signing a three-year deal that pays him $750,000 per season.
He has one year remaining on that. His two playoff goals tied him with Alex Ovechkin and Garnet Hathaway for Washington's team lead this year, and his overtime winner in Game 1 was the high point of this year's postseason for the Caps and their fans.
Washington has some things to figure out this offseason but in his role, Dowd's contribution has been exemplary.
• Jared McCann — 6 GP, 0-1-1, 2 penalty minutes
Now 24, the Canucks' one-time first-round draft pick has found a great fit in Pittsburgh. Still a little fragile, he missed 13 games this season with two different injuries, but still matched his career high with 14 goals in just 43 games, and added 18 assists.
His playoff contribution was more muted, however. He put 14 shots on the Islanders' goaltenders over six games, and was one of just three Penguins players to finish with a positive plus-minus. But his only scoring stat was the primary assist on Jeff Carter's winning goal in Pittsburgh's 2-1 regulation win in Game 2, which tied the series 1-1.
McCann has one year left on a two-year deal that pays him $2.94 million. He'll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of next season.
• Gustav Forsling — 6 GP, 1-1-2, 0 penalty minutes
Joel Quenneville was the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks when Jim Benning traded away the 2014 fifth-rounder in January of 2015, just weeks after he was named to the All-Star Team at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
Forsling played more than 100 NHL games with Blackhawks before he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes during the summer of 2019. He never managed to crack the Hurricanes' lineup, so Quenneville's Panthers claimed him on waivers at the beginning of this season and quickly made him part of their regular defense rotation.
Now 24, Forsling appeared in 43 games this season, putting up 17 points. In the playoffs, his 21:29 in average ice time — with lots of penalty killing but almost no power-play time — ranked him third on his team, behind only MacKenzie Weegar and Sasha Barkov.
And while Selke Trophy candidate Barkov finished up against Tampa Bay at a minus-eight, Forsling was one of four Panthers players to end the series in the positive column, at plus one.
Forsling played this season on a two-way contract, signed with Carolina, that paid him a league-minimum $700,000 at the NHL level. He's now an RFA with arbitration rights, so he could be in line for a nice raise this summer.
Toronto Maple Leafs (leading Montreal 3-1): none
• Tyler Toffoli: 4 GP, 0-2-2, 4 penalty minutes
For all the hand-wringing over the Canucks' failure to re-sign Toffoli, he has come up empty so far in the playoffs — and has just eight shots on goal in four games so far. He had three goals and seven points in 10 games against the Leafs during the regular season, so the lack of production is somewhat unexpected — except that the Habs have had trouble scoring, period. They're averaging just one goal a game through the first four games of the series, and have been trending in the wrong direction, shut out in Game 4.
In that context, I guess his two assists are actually rather impressive? But time is quickly running out for Toffoli to live up to the high scoring standard that he set for himself when he first arrived in Montreal this season.
Carolina Hurricanes (leading Nashville 3-2): none
• Erik Gudbranson: 2 GP, 0-0-0, 0 penalty minutes
Talk about getting the last laugh. Gudbranson gets a trade-deadline move from Ottawa to Nashville, and the Predators go on a run and make the playoffs.
Gudbranson only played in the first two games of this series — both three-goal losses for Nashville. But the Predators have put up a good fight since then. I doubt Gudbranson will dress for Game 6 on Thursday, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Predators force Game 7 in front of their fans, in a raucous series where the home team has won every game so far.
• Brad Richardson — 1 GP, 0-0-0, 0 penalty minutes
Who knew? In a season without an interlocking schedule, I completely missed the fact that Richardson, now 36, signed a one-year deal with Nashville this season, for $1 million.
Richardson had two significant injuries this season, which limited him to just 17 regular-season games. He's healthy now, but has seen just 8:52 of ice time so far in the series — in Nashville's 3-0 loss in Game 2.
Vegas Golden Knights (tied 3-3 with Minnesota): none
• Nick Bonino — 6 GP, 0-0-0, 0 penalty minutes
Now 33, Nick Bonino had a pretty typical year in his first season in Minnesota, with 10 goals and 26 points in 55 regular-season games. He hasn't hit the scoresheet yet in the playoffs and has played relatively limited minutes, averaging 13:02 with just seven shots on goal.
But the experience of his two Stanley Cup runs with the Pittsburgh Penguins could pay big dividends now that the Wild have pushed Vegas to Game 7 with a 3-0 shutout win on Wednesday.
Bonino has shown that he can score huge goals in big moments. Does he have another one in him? He's playing for a new contract, heading for unrestricted free agency as the final year of the $4.1 million-a-season deal he signed with Nashville expires this summer.