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Most intriguing Canucks at camp, #5: Brendan Leipsic

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One of Green’s favourites could be a leading candidate for a top-six spot.

NHL: New York Islanders at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Leipsic (9) celebrates his goal against New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak (41) during overtime at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I started off this series by highlighting someone who seemed to be in the coach’s doghouse last season. Markus Granlund was glued into a bottom six defensive role, an area of the lineup he never escaped until his season ended prematurely in February.

Enter Brendan Leipsic, the yin to Granlund’s yang.

Where He Left Off

After Jim Benning acquired Leipsic in a shrewd deadline move, the former Golden Knight was swiftly thrust into a top-six role. Part of it was due to a belittled and injured Canucks roster, but Leipsic stepped right onto the top line and played 18-20 minutes per night.

He registered two assists in a wild affair against the New York Rangers in his Canucks debut. Leipsic showed intriguing creativity with the puck all night long, and Green applauded him for his creativity after the game.

“I just know he can create,” Green said in an article from The Province. “He sees the ice extremely well.”

Two games later, Leipsic had arguably his best game in the NHL. He had an assist and scored two goals, with one of them being the overtime winner against the New York Islanders.

After starting out with six points in his first four games as a Canuck, Leipsic cooled off. He went pointless in six straight games (all losses) before finishing with three points in his final four games.

Where He Sits Now

Leipsic didn’t necessarily finish the season on a strong note, but with nine points in 14 games, he left a strong enough impression to be considered for a top-six role next season.

That might be more of an indictment on the Canucks lack of talent at the top of their lineup, but it’s clear that Green liked what he saw from Leipsic in the early going. However, Green did start to take away some of Leipsic’s ice time during the final few games of the season. Leipsic averaged 18:21 during his first nine games as a Canuck, but only 14:21 over the final five games of the season.

NHL: New York Rangers at Vancouver Canucks
Travis Green loaded up Brendan Leipsic with big minutes early on, but those minutes did dwindle towards the end of the season.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the sample size was small, Leipsic was one of the most effective Canucks at creating scoring chances. Only Daniel Sedin had a better scoring chance differential at even strength, and his offensive zone start percentage (72%) was significantly higher than Leipsic’s (56%).

While Leipsic’s hot start as a Canuck was impressive, the underlying numbers from his first NHL season certainly don’t scream ‘first-line winger.’

Leipsic’s 13 points in 44 games as a Golden Knight seemed underwhelming, but his underlying numbers show that his performance was similar to his time in Vancouver. His points-per-60 at even-strength in Vegas was 1.69. In Vancouver, it was 1.63.

Many of his other numbers, including zone starts, Corsi for and scoring chances for are all very similar between his time in Vegas and Vancouver. The one thing that stands out, other than ice time, was his shooting percentage in Vegas. He actually fired the biscuit on net more as a Golden Knight at evens, with 7.5 shots-per-60 compared to 5.64 in Vancouver. However, his 5-on-5 shooting percentage in Vegas was a measly 3.3%, compared to 10% as a Canuck.

Season Outlook

With such a small sample size on Leipsic as an NHL player, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where he might end up. Here’s what we do know about the Winnipeg native.

  • Leipsic was a prolific scorer in the AHL, even though his numbers dipped in the AHL playoffs. He finally gained some well-deserved NHL experience last season. He was rewarded once again with some more ice time in Vancouver after being buried on a deep Golden Knights squad.
  • After joining the Canucks, he was glued to Bo Horvat’s side. Two-thirds of Leipsic’s even-strength ice time came with Horvat, and together they produced middling results. They were above 50% in terms of scoring chances and Corsi, but they were also on the ice for more than one even strength goal every fifteen minutes. Yikes.
  • Green loves him some Leipsic. It’s already been established but it’s does give Leipsic an advantage over guys like Granlund and Nikolay Goldobin.
Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks
Could Leipsic be in competition with someone like Sam Gagner for a roster spot?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Leipsic is one of a few players who should get a sniff of top-six minutes, but whether he deserves it or not is another question. He showed flashes of eye-popping puck creativity, but he also didn’t do it consistently. His underlying numbers at even-strength also point to a player who can provide middle-six production, rather than someone who deserves a spot in the top-six.

To Green’s credit, he did move Leipsic around the lineup after his hot start alongside Horvat. As much as he may like the player, Leipsic will have to earn his spot, just like everybody else. With a strong camp, Leipsic could certainly snag a top-six spot, but that might not be the best spot for him.

A good spot for Leipsic could be the famed “Sam Gagner buffer spot.” Someone who plays on the third or fourth line, but also garners power play time as well. That might put him in direct competition with Gagner, rather than Sven Baertschi, heading into the season.