Canucks looking good

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

They've got the reigning Jack Adams Trophy winner behind the bench and an all-world goaltender between the pipes.

The Sedin twins are emerging into the top-notch players they were projected to be when they were selected second and third overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and Kevin Bieksa has gone from a virtually unknown prospect to a key cog on the blue-line.

To say the Vancouver Canucks, NHL parents to the AHL's Manitoba Moose, have high expectations coming into the 2007-08 NHL season, goes without saying.

There were no blockbuster deals or high-priced free agent signings during the off-season, but there's no reason to believe the Canucks -- under the guidance of head coach Alain Vigneault and on the back of goalie Roberto Luongo -- won't be a legitimate contender in the always tough Western Conference.

Prospects camp has wrapped up in Victoria, B.C. The veterans report for medicals tomorrow and hit the ice Thursday.

Here's a quick look at five questions, the Canucks/Moose face heading into the new season:

1) What will the Sedins do for an encore? Daniel and Henrik combined for 165 points last season after producing career-highs of 84 and 81 points respectively. More importantly, they became the primary scoring option, while anchoring the top line and first power play unit. If the Canucks get some secondary scoring, the Sedins might be able to approach 90 points a piece.

2) Can Kevin Bieksa continue his progression? After fully recovering from the high ankle sprain he suffered during rookie camp in 2005-06, the pride of Grimsby, Ont., blossomed. Aside from his physical presence, Bieksa put up 12 goals and 42 points, while finishing second on the team in ice time at nearly 25 minutes per game. Superior conditioning allowed Bieksa to play 54:27 in a game against the Dallas Stars during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

3) Will Markus Naslund be able to bounce back and contribute more offensively? The captain has seen his point totals drop from 104 to 60 during the past three NHL seasons and there is ample pressure for Naslund to step up his game and become a big-time scorer again. Expecting the Swedish left-winger to get back to the century mark might not reasonable, but he should produce around a point-per-game if healthy.

4) Which Manitoba Moose player will be the biggest surprise? Rookie Mason Raymond and second-year pro Jannik Hansen were turning heads through prospects camp, but look for Jason Jaffray, who signed his first two-way NHL deal this summer, to have an impact after his 35-goal season a year ago. But with 12 forwards on one-way contracts, the deck is stacked against them.

5) Can Alex Edler or Luc Bourdon do enough to stick around? With six players on the back end already on one-way contracts, there has been some debate as to whether the Canucks will open the season with seven defencemen on the roster or if they'll pick somebody else up off waivers. Edler, the smooth-skating Swede, turned heads last season and benefited greatly from a 20-plus minute workload in the AHL. After seeing minimal success in limited duty in nine NHL games before he was returned to junior, Bourdon got another taste of the pro game in the AHL playoffs. While he showed some promise, it's clear to see he would be better served by a year of seasoning down on the farm. There is a good chance Edler and Bourdon could spend time in Manitoba this season.


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