The unofficial first half of the season has come to a close with this weekend’s All-Star break. An 11-8-3 start to the season proved to be fools gold for the Canucks, with the team having claimed just three regulation wins in their last 20 games. As a whole, the Canucks are where many expected— occupying a bottom five position in the league.
While the overall team’s play has been unspectacular, there are still some noteworthy individual performances— both good and bad to highlight.
*All grades are relative to individual player expectations
Sven Baertschi: B
On the surface, Baertschi has performed quite well, contributing 21 points in 38 games. Dig deeper into the on-ice metrics though, and you’re left wondering if Baertschi’s point totals are inflated as a result of playing with Boeser and Horvat.
The 25-year-old pending RFA ranks 14th among Canucks’ forwards for shots(SF/60), 11th for scoring chances(SCF/60), and 9th for high danger shot attempts(HDCF/60). His expected goals for rate sits lower than Brendan Gaunce’s at 1.78 per hour of 5v5 play.
In fact, his on-ice scoring chances rate without Boeser and Horvat ranks him 400th out of 401 forwards league-wide.
Has Baertschi played as poorly as his underlying metrics suggest? Of course not, but it’s still fair to wonder if he’s riding the coattails of Horvat and Boeser.
Brock Boeser: A+
The Flow. Brockstar. Brocket. Call him whatever you want, but Boeser has been absolutely dominant in his rookie season. He’s singlehandedly scored 18.9% of the team’s goals and is on pace for 41 tallies.
Nic Dowd: C+
Dowd’s done a decent job coping with the ridiculous ice-time and match-ups he’s had to face. The fact that his shot suppression numbers aren’t a disaster given his deployment is an accomplishment in itself. Dowd’s an offensive black hole, but his team-best goals against rate proves that he’s at least been sufficient defensively.
Loui Eriksson: C
Eriksson’s inconsistency has overshadowed the fact that he’s producing at more than a half-a-point per game clip. Watching Eriksson is frustrating because he goes absolutely invisible for 10-15 game stretches. What’s most disappointing is that Eriksson put up just 2 assists in 12 games when the Canucks were missing Horvat and Baertschi.
Sam Gagner: C
After disappointing for most of the season, Gagner has started to turn things around with 11 points in his last 17 games. It’s important to recognize though that he’s had the advantage of Boeser on his wing during much of this stretch. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares now that Horvat has returned to the lineup.
Brendan Gaunce: C+
Like Dowd, injuries have forced Gaunce into a role that he’s simply not suited for. Therefore, it’s not really fair to criticize his mediocre underlying numbers. At his best, Gaunce can be a serviceable 4th liner in a sheltered role.
Nikolay Goldobin: Incomplete
Goldobin has appeared in just 14 games this season putting up 4 points in the process. He’s been decent offensively but needs to play with more pace to be a bigger factor.
The more pressing issue is his defensive game, which has frankly been terrible.
Don't mind Goldy's demotion given his porous defensive play. #Canucks only controlled 29.4% of goals with Goldy on the ice— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) January 17, 2018
Here's the full breakdown(Goldy's on-ice rates are worst among all Canucks forward in every category below) pic.twitter.com/hMcxt5c20s
Markus Granlund: D
Granlund’s been the most disappointing Canuck this season. After potting 19 goals in 69 games last season, he’s on track for less than that amount in points across a full season this year.
Bo Horvat: B+
An unfortunate ankle injury has detracted from what looked to be another promising season for the 22-year-old centre. Despite that, Horvat has still posted 22 points in 31 games. It’ll be interesting to see how many points he can get down the stretch with Boeser.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin: B
The Sedins have bounced back remarkably well after a slow start to the season that saw them playing bottom six minutes. Injuries forced the twins into a top-six role again and they’ve delivered, producing at close to a point per game pace each over the last 30 games or so.
Brandon Sutter: C
Injuries and poor offensive production have hindered Sutter’s impact on the team. He’s posted just 8 points in 28 games this season, after scoring 17 goals and 34 points last year. His underlying numbers are poor, but that’s nothing new.
Thomas Vanek: A
Expected to provide secondary scoring, Vanek has elevated his game and become the second highest scorer for goals and points on the team. His 14 power play points have rejuvenated an underrated second unit. Oh, and he’s also been an excellent linemate for Brock Boeser.
Jake Virtanen: D
Virtanen has just 10 points in 43 games after a promising preseason. He’s got all the tools to be a premier powerforward— excellent speed, good size, and a quick wrister, but no hockey IQ whatsoever. It’s frustrating because he consistently creates separation in the neutral zone with his speed for controlled offensive zone entries right before taking a low percentage shot or giving the puck away.
Alex Biega: B-
Biega has done well as a depth defender, holding down the fort amidst injuries to the likes of Tanev, Stecher, and Gudbranson. With Biega on the ice, the Canucks have controlled just shy of 50% of shot attempts and scoring chances, albeit in a sheltered role.
Michael Del Zotto: C-
Del Zotto has been relied upon way too heavily by Travis Green, averaging more TOI per game than Chris Tanev.
I have no words to explain this #Canucks pic.twitter.com/AGERJS5X2C— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) January 28, 2018
Del Zotto hasn’t fared well in these circumstances either, ranking bottom 20 among all qualified NHL defensemen for scoring chances against, goals against, and shots against. His offensive value isn’t enough to overshadow his porous defensive play either, with the Canucks controlling less than 40% of goals with Del Zotto on the ice.
Alex Edler: B
Edler has definitely lost a step or two but remains one of the most underrated players on this team. He leads Canucks’ defensemen with 17 points, including eight in his last eight games. He’s done this despite missing 12 games with injury and taking on some of the toughest shutdown roles in the league.
Erik Gudbranson: C
Injuries and poor play have continued to be common themes for Gudbranson’s tenure in Vancouver. While his goals against rate leads all Canucks’ blueliners, the team controls only 42.8% of shot attempts and 41.8% of scoring chances with Gudbranson deployed. He’s looked better defensively this season for sure, but he’s still far from the player Benning expected to get when the Canucks gave up Jared McCann and a 2nd round pick.
Ben Hutton: C+
Hutton’s underlying numbers and micro stats are encouraging, but what’s holding him back is his underwhelming offensive production. Hutton has seen his point totals drop year by year, posting just six assists this season after a 25 point and 19 point rookie and sophomore campaign respectively. He seems to have lost the dynamic and freewheeling element of his game that we saw in his rookie season. As a result, Hutton’s struggled to fulfill the potential he flashed in his first two seasons.
Derrick Pouliot: B
Pouliot has found himself in the press box despite leading Canucks defensemen in controlling scoring chances(SCF%), controlling shot attempts(CF%) and suppressing unblocked shot attempts(FA/60). His goals against and goals for % numbers have been hurt badly by the .887 even strength save percentage that Markstrom and Nilsson have combined for with Pouliot on the ice. Given this and the puck-moving skill that Pouliot brings to the table, it’s fair to wonder why he can’t play a sheltered role in the bottom four.
Troy Stecher: B-
Stecher has just three points this season after an impressive 24 point rookie campaign. I’m a little more lenient on Stecher in this regard because he’s seen both his even strength and especially his power play time fall significantly this year. Defensively, Stecher’s ability to maintain tight gap control has been extremely useful for creating neutral zone turnovers and forcing the opposition into uncontrolled entries.
Stecher's mobility makes him really effective defending against zone entries on the PK. Watch how tight his gap control is, never giving McDavid space to skate#Canucks pic.twitter.com/E0K9FNGKRP— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) January 21, 2018
Chris Tanev: B
Tanev has continued to be a rock for the Canucks when healthy, playing extremely tough minutes against the other team’s top players. His underlying numbers stand out relative to his teammates this year, with the Canucks controlling 54% of goals with Tanev deployed.
Jacob Markstrom: C+
Inconsistency and soft goals have been a trend for Markstrom in his first season as the Canucks’ starter. It’s tough to criticize Markstrom considering the defence in front of him, but his .908 save percentage ranks him 35th among goalies league-wide and simply isn’t good enough. At this point, we might just have to accept that Markstrom isn’t a legit starter.
Anders Nilsson: C-
Nilsson has seen his goals against average and save percentage balloon to 3.39 and .906 respectively despite a strong start to the season. Expected to challenge Markstrom for the starting role, Nilsson has only appeared in 16 games this season.
*All stats courtesy Natural Stattrick and Corsica