The Slow Road Uphill For The Home-Grown Core

Baby Juice via www.autograph-sports.com

We've seen some of the best hockey this spring from players like Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Mason Raymond, Alexander Eder and Jannik Hansen. Together this group has 35 of the team's 50 playoff goals; that's 70% of the team's total offense, 65% of their PP tallies and 58% of their game winners. From a points perspective, these eight players represent 72% of the team's production. Away from the scoresheet three players are in the top five for hits (Bieksa: 62, Kesler: 56, Edler: 55) as well as blocked shots (Edler: 38, Bieksa: 24, Kesler: 22). Kesler and Henrik Sedin have taken 69% (840 of 1213) of the total faceoff draws.

What makes this group even more unique? They have played every single NHL game with the Vancouver Canucks, most of them working through Manitoba under either Vigneault or Randy Carlyle. Collectively they are first round picks, hidden gems from Europe, middle to late round projects and - in the example of Burrows - a complete shot in the dark. It's worth noting there are two other players who have only played for the Canucks: Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider, another pair of first rounders enjoying limited roles for the team. 

It wasn't long ago that the Canucks farm system looked more like an actual farm and their list of draft busts was pure comedy: Brad Ference instead of Marian Hossa, Mike Wilson instead of Saku Koivu, Josh Holden instead of anyone who can touch his finger to his nose without causing a fire. Developing the core that has gotten the franchise back to this level hasn't been easy, taking over a decade of scouting, development and player maturation. It took the Sedins three seasons to even move into the top six. It wasn't until 2008 Kesler scored more than 30 points and Burrows played more than 11 minutes, the same season we first had a glimpse of Raymond. It wasn't until 2011 that the Canucks got a full season out of Hansen.

Consider the Sedins alone have survived ten seasons, outlived two GMs, one coach, two captains, two logos and one arena change. 

A few folks deserve a stick tap for this, starting with Brian Burke, Dave Nonis and Mike Gillis. Each had a different idea for the team, but all three kept the pieces in place. Thomas Gradin helped convince Burke on the twins and unearthed Edler. Vigneault of course but also Marc Crawford who leaned hard on the Sedins, Kesler and Bieksa in their earlier years. Smyl, Bowness, Williams, Brown, Walter, Takahashi and Johnston all played their parts along with countless others away from the limelight.

It hasn't been the fastest climb to the top, but ever so slowly the core has gelled, now sitting four wins away from celebrating their childhood dream with the only NHL team they've ever called home.

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