A Luongo way to go

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:13 PM ET

The Vancouver Canucks were counting on an extending playoff run last season, but were upset by the upstart Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.

This year the nucleus of the club is back with the Sedin twins and goaltender Roberto Luongo being locked up with long-term contracts. Optimism is once again high with the Canucks as the only significant losses from last year's club are Mats Sundin and defenceman Mattias Ohlund. If they once again get their supporting cast to complement their stars, the Canucks should challenge for another division title.

Sun Media enlisted the help of a national broadcaster based in Vancouver to assess this year's Canucks.

FORWARDS

The top line is once again going to be outstanding. You know what you're going to get from the Sedin twins. Whether or not it's Alexandre Burrows or Mikael Samuelsson who's going to be up there with them, I think it's going to be an effective line either way. The question is what they're going to do with their second line. Pavol Demitra is one of one most inconsistent players around. If he shows up and stays healthy and plays with some consistency, I think they could wind up with a fairly effective top six.

After that, there is a lot of internal improvement that they're hoping for, which I think they should get.

DEFENCE

Christian Ehrhoff makes them better. You lose Mattias Ohlund, their only significant loss this season. The other five defencemen they are happy with as far as taking on those minutes, but they need a little more production and a little more speed on the back end. They brought in Mathieu Schneider who can quarterback their power play, but he's not young, so it'll be interesting to see how much he has left in the tank. If he can give them anything in that regard, he can make them better and faster because none of the young guys are ready.

GOAL

Roberto Luongo has always started slow, so I'll be interested to see what he does in October. He's going to be good as he always is, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of start he gets. Luongo has always been kind of sensitive and it would have been real difficult with him to go through the year with the uncertainty of his contract situation. If that would have happened, I think there would have been some big questions. There are a few situations that can set him off because he is a little fragile, but it's better for him to have that contract done.

COACHING, MANAGEMENT

I think Alain Vigneault is pretty underrated. A lot of people criticize him for being a defensive-minded coach. I think he's able to coach to the level of his talent. He does have a volatile personality that if things are not going well, it can wear thin with certain guys. The team still has his attention, he's still on that side of the wheel.

General manager Mike Gillis seems to be doing a real good job. There were a lot of eyebrows raised when he was hired, because he had no experience and was an agent. He didn't have a huge effect in bringing in the top six forwards and Luongo, but he did get the twins signed and got Luongo signed. They had a need on the back end and he tried to address it and the farm system is better since he got there.

INTANGIBLES

They had a couple of players who had career years last year and it'll be interesting to see what level they come in at. It'll be interesting to see if they can come in and take it to another level or did they just have an out-of-body experience last year?

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Fantasy pool hero: Henrik and Daniel Sedin

Unsung hero: Alex Burrows

Tough guy: Darcy Hordichuk

Sleeper: Steve Bernier

Rookie to watch: Sergei Shirokov

On the decline: Pavol Demitra


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