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Three Canucks who need to step up

Who is the Canucks most disappointing player through 20 games?

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Los Angeles Kings
Nov 14, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Brandon Sutter (20) reacts after a Canucks goal in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL hockey game at Staples Center. The Canucks defeated the Kings 3-2.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Through 20 games of the season, the Vancouver Canucks have probably performed better than most people expected.

That, or they’re probably right where you thought they would be.

Right now, the Canucks are on pace for 84 points. That’s a large improvement off of last season’s performance, but it’s not enough to put them into the playoffs. They also ripped off to a 6-3-1 start, but they’ve faltered since then with a 3-5-2 record.

Their mixed bag of results have included some successes and failures. The Canucks now have a legitimate first line, and those three players have been carrying the team. In the crease, the Canucks have also received some above average goaltending from the likes of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson. Their performance is woefully under-discussed right now.

However, you don’t limp to a .500 record at the 20 game mark without having some faults. As a group, offence and special teams are both hurting the Canucks right now.

For today, I’m going to focus on three players who are off to underwhelming starts. A better performance from any of these guys could push the Canucks further into the murky playoff picture, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Markus Granlund

To be fair, part of Granlund’s ‘meh’ start was due to his utilization from Travis Green.

Going into the season, most Canucks fans wanted Granlund back on the Sedin line. Granlund played the part of Jannik Hansen previously as someone who was responsible defensively, but could get open offensively and unleash a good shot.

This was a guy who was second on the Canucks in goals last season with a bum wrist. On a team starved for offence, you’d think Granlund would be used in more of an offensive role.

If only coaches listened to fans.

Granlund’s inclusion on a line with Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett gave the Canucks a legitimate shutdown line. Early on they were actually outscoring their opponents, but through their last few games together, their productivity cratered.

With Brendan Gaunce back in the line-up, Granlund has been freed by Green. He did score his third of the season against the St. Louis Blues last Saturday, but still only has four points in 19 games.

Brandon Sutter

Sutter and Dorsett deserved praise for their performance in a shutdown role earlier in the season. Green’s idea of putting the two forwards together has given the team a shudown line for the first time since the Canucks glory days.

The problem is, a guy like Sutter who is making more than four million per season, needs to score more.

He only has one goal through his first 20 games. For a guy who scored 17 goals last season, that’s a major drop off.

It was reasonable to expect a drop-off from Sutter because he wasn’t expected to log the 18-19 minutes per night that he was playing under Willie Desjardins. Still, Sutter is averaging 17:14 under Green, and he still isn’t producing.

It’s admittedly hard to separate the performance from the money. If Sutter was getting paid $1 million to primarily shut down the opposition, perhaps his start wouldn’t be a disappointment.

However, this is a player making significant money who’s shown in the past he’s capable of more.

Sam Gagner

In this hack writer’s opinion, Sam Gagner is probably the most disappointing Canucks through the first 20 games of the season.

To get my bias out there, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Gagner signing when it went down. I understand why the Canucks did it, but there was just as much of a chance that Gagner was going to be the sub-20 point player he was with the Flyers, rather than the 50-point guy he was with Columbus.

Realistically, Gagner would be contributing successfully if he was able to hit the 30-point plateau. Right now, he’s on pace for 24.

Still, Gagner often looks either lost of invisible out on the ice. He’s scored a couple of power play goals but is more of a passenger with the man advantage. At even-strength, Gagner hasn’t scored a goal and he only has three assists.

He also has a 38.5% goal differential at even strength, and he’s the only Canuck forward not in a checking role who has a goal differential below 50%.

Although the eye test isn’t superb, the numbers suggest that Gagner’s bad start is a factor of bad luck. He’s second on the Canucks with 32 shots at even strength. He’s also registered 31 scoring chances.

Both of those totals only trail Brock Boeser. Perhaps if Gagner finds some better puck luck in the second half, we won’t feel so sour about his season.