Every year like clockwork, here in the dog days of August I start to go through a serious bout of hockey withdrawl. Nearly all the trades and signings take place in July and all news slows to a crawl. By this point I salivate at the thought of watching even meaningless exhibition games played with training camp rosters. But even that's a month a way.
So to help myself cope, I've come up with a list. Ah, Five-O-Rama, your functions are many and your splendor absolute.
In discussions of hockey, the word "talent" can of course refer to quite a few different things. But probably its most universal usage is in regard of offensive skill. The goal scorers, set-up men and flashy stickhandlers. How talented a player is in these areas doesn't always completely dictate his offensive totals. There are tons of other factors to consider. And plenty of players who have been known for their extreme skill have come to be known just as much for their bad work ethic, unwillingness to play the physical game and tendency to completely disappear in games. Such players are branded with labels like "underachiever" and "enigmatic". Some day I'll do a list on those players.
But for today we're talking about the most talented players to ever play for the Vancouver Canucks in their forty-plus year history. I've stuck to guys who played at least three seasons for the franchise and had the chance to make a decent impact. Note that players ranking as high as third and second on the all-time franchise points list didn't make the cut. Obviously those players (Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden, respectively) were very talented but I feel there are others that outstrip them in pure offensive ability. So here they are.
5. Thomas Gradin C (1978-1986) 613gp 197 353 550
For eight seasons Gradin was one of the driving forces of the Canucks's offence. While known mostly as a playmaker he would still top 30 goals three times. He led the team in assists five times and in overall points twice.
Known for his deft stickhandling, the Swedish centre had great chemistry with Stan Smyl and set him up for many of his goals. Tony Tanti as well.
Perhaps his greatest moment as a Canuck came in the 1982 playoffs when the team made a surprising run to the Final. He led the team in scoring with 9 goals and 19 points in seventeen games.
But by 1985, he was no longer the team's number one centre, having lost the position to fellow Swede Patrick Sundstom, who in 83/84 set a franchise record for points in a season with 91 as a twenty-one year old. After the end of the 85/86 season, Gradin left the Canucks for the Boston Bruins, departing as the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
4. Daniel and Henrik Sedin LW, C (2000- ) 787gp 249 402 651 810gp 157 509 666
Isn't it great when people adhere to stereotypes? Because every stereotype you've heard about twins seems to go double for the Sedins. Believe me, it only makes perfect sense for them to share this slot.
Ever since they started playing minor hockey as kids, Daniel and Henrik have played on the same team. And on the same line. That's easy enough to manage at first but you'd think it would become problematic as they entered the pros. But no - early on coaches and gm's came to understand that the twins truly are a package deal. Their on ice chemistry can't be matched. They just seem to know where each other are at all times and what they're thinking. If you don't believe me, there's tons of video evidence to back this claim up.
But as their draft day approached, it seemed inevitable that they would finally be split up. After all they were both projected as top five picks and in 1999, no team held even two in the top twenty. To no one's surprise, neither one was seen as having any distinct advantages over the other - it really didn't matter which one was selected first because their skill sets, while different, added up to the same level. Daniel was the shooter and Henrik the passer. That's really all you needed to know.
The pair expressed their hope to somehow be drafted by the same team and Brian Burke, through some wheeling and dealing, made it happen so that he wound up with both the second and third overall picks. Patrik Stefan (perhaps the worst number one pick in NHL draft history) went to the Atlanta Thrashers, then the Canucks snapped up the twins (Daniel then Henrik). They wear the numbers 22 and 33 respectively.
It took the Sedins nearly a decade to live up to their superstar potential (an extremely rare occurrence for forwards) but all the way there their stats added up to nearly identical point totals, with Daniel scoring more goals and Henrik racking up the most assists.
They're both coming off 100-plus point seasons where they each led the league in scoring and have even recently proven they can still succeed playing apart, at least for short stretches. Another interesting thing about the twins is just how durable they've both proven to be over the years, hardly ever getting injured and missing time.
But what they'll most likely always be best known for is their "twin sense" that leads to fantastic chemistry on the ice. Together they've made some truly beautiful offensive plays, all the while piling up points at a fantastic rate.
3. Markus Naslund LW (1996-2008) 884gp 346 410 756
Yet another Swede makes the list and this one's the team's all-time leading scorer, ranking first in goals and fourth in assists. He also served as captain from 2000 until his departure.
A standout as a teenager playing for Modo in the Swedish Elite League (one of the two - Peter Forsberg was there too), Naslund was a first round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991. He had an underwhelming rookie season in 93/94, not really getting much ice time on the still high-powered Pens but in 95/96 was putting up very respectable numbers - 52 points through sixty-six games - when he was traded to Vancouver for Alek Stojanov, the Canucks's own first round pick from 1991, who was actually taken ten spots ahead of Naslund. Stojanov would score one goal in ten games for the Penguins after coming over and no points in nine playoff games. The following season he managed 5 points in thirty-five games. And that was it for his NHL career. Needless to say, it's remembered as perhaps the most lopsided trade in NHL history.
After two decent seasons in Vancouver, Naslund would develop into a thirty-goal scorer in 98/99 and he'd never look back. From 2000 through 2004, he was widely regarded as the best left winger in the game, playing on a dominant line with playmaking centre Brendan Morrison and power winger Todd Bertuzzi. In 02/03, Naslund was second in league scoring with 104 points including 48 goals - the second highest goal total for a Swede in league history. It was his third straight season with more than forty goals.
Naslund was a multifaceted player, known for his passing skills as much as his scoring. He had an extremely fast and accurate wrist shot, once winning the accuracy challenge in the All Star Skills Competition. He would never enjoy a particularly dominant playoff although he was a point a game or better there twice and the runs were short mainly due to Vancouver's goaltender issues of the time.
In 06/07 his production fell off steeply and never recovered. After two lackluster seasons he went to play for the New York Rangers where his fortunes didn't improve. It was his last season in the NHL.
2. Alexander Mogilny RW (1995-2000) 312gp 139 169 308
Mogilny's time in Vancouver wasn't exactly the highlight of his career. In the mid to late nineties the team experienced a sharp decline despite its talented lineup. Captain and fan favourite Trevor Linden was traded in 1997 and Mark Messier took his place. But the team still struggled, missing the playoffs from 1997 through 2000.
But Mogilny's first season there, 95/96, was one of his strongest. He put up 55 goals and 107 points. This was all the more impressive considering Pavel Bure, his fellow Russian star with whom he was supposed to form a dynamic pairing, was limited to just fifteen games due to injuries. A dazzling puckhandler with a lethal shot, Mogilny managed another strong season the following year despite injuries to Linden (forty games) and Bure (sixty-three games), scoring 31 goals and 73 points to lead the team again.
Mogilny was an extremely cerebral player, able to think the game at a higher level than most, and his own physical skills matched up to this allowing him to execute brilliant plays at top speed. This was of course precisely why he'd been brought to Vancouver. He'd spent five years as an absolute scoring machine in Buffalo, including one of the best goal-scoring seasons of all time, a 76 goals in seventy-seven games campaign in the magical 92/93 season. He was such a scoring threat that his playmaking abilities often went overlooked but he was a dynamite passer as well.
Unfortunately, injuries would limit his effectiveness over the following two seasons in Vancouver where he would play under sixty games each time. Mogilny was usually good to perform at a point-a-game pace or higher but getting hurt and coming back several times messed up his rhythm and his numbers went down because of it.
After putting up 38 points through forty-seven games in the 99/00 season, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, who he would help win the Stanley Cup that year. The dream pairing with Bure never worked out as they seemed to almost take turns getting injured. In 97/98, while Mogilny battled injuries and scored 45 points in fifty-one games, Bure bounced back to play all eighty-two games scoring 51 goals and 90 points. It was his last season as a Canuck. But it's still fun to imagine what the two might have accomplished together if things had gone differently.
1. Pavel Bure RW (1991-1998) 428gp 254 224 478
The Russian Rocket tops this list, to the surprise of no one I am sure. From the moment he burst into the NHL in the 91/92 season, scoring 34 goals in just sixty-five games (and winning the Calder Trophy in the process), Bure was a human highlight reel. His combination of speed, great hands and will to score made him one of the most dangerous players of the nineties. It's not a stretch to say that something exciting would happen nearly every time he touched the puck. And if he ever got the chance to wind up, look out.
Easily the most pure scorer on this list, his next two seasons he scored 60 goals each time, blowing away previous Canuck scoring records and leading the league in goals the second time. That year (93/94) he also led the playoffs in goals with 16 in twenty-four games during Vancouver's magical run to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final.
As noted above, his 95/96 and 96/97 seasons were marred by injuries and kept him from approaching his usual offensive totals but he managed one final fifty goal season for the Canucks in 97/98.
To date, Bure sits fourth in goals on the Canucks all-time list with 254 and the three players in front of him (Naslund, Linden and Smyl) all played at least four hundred more games than him. His skill and creativity are legendary and I don't see them being bested by a Canuck any time soon.