Throughout the years, and especially since the Vancouver Canucks core of the early 2010s split apart, it seems as if the Canucks have lacked gritty depth forwards. By that, I mean the kind of sandpaper third and fourth liners that you’ll find on most contending teams year after year.
Well, enter Zack MacEwen. The 6’3”, 205 pound Prince Edward Island product seemed to be just starting to hit his stride in a bottom-six role as the NHL hit the pause button on the season due to the pandemic.
MacEwen had scored three goals in his past three games before the break, including a huge two-goal effort against the Avs on March 6. He followed that up with a goal in the Canucks last win against the Islanders.
His shooting percentage over those three games was a video-game-like 60 percent. It’s clear Vancouver needs Zack shooting the biscuit more often.
In all seriousness though, MacEwen was contributing exactly how a playoff team needs a bottom-six forward to produce. His high-energy, physical play and offensive production provided a boost exactly when Vancouver needed an energy injection.
In fact, MacEwen was second on the team in hits per game among forwards behind only Tyler Motte with an average of 2.4 hits. This is the type of player the Canucks need to hold onto to follow up on their long-term playoff aspirations and become a team that is truly tough to play against.
So how did the 23-year-old emerge as a possible future bottom-six staple, assuming things continue along his upward trend?
It’s been a long journey for the undrafted right-winger since he was overlooked as an 18-year-old. MacEwen played juniors in the Quebec league until he was 20, breaking out in his final year for Gatineau as an above a point-a-game player. From there, he was given a chance with Utica, which he has clearly made the most of.
Give Zack an inch, he’ll give you a mile.
His production increased from 33 points in 2017-18 to 52 points in 2018-19, catching the attention of the big club, especially after he recorded a four-point game last season for the Comets. The increased production led to a cup of coffee with the Canucks last season, which identified to Travis Green and Jim Benning that he could be a reliable option for a call-up this season.
And reliable he has certainly been, at least for a bottom-six role. In 21 total games with Vancouver so far, MacEwen has recorded five goals and two assists to go along with three fights and 45 hits.
On a team boasting two elite players who are still developing in size and strength, MacEwen is a great fit into the lineup with the ability to both protect Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes if need be while also chipping in with semi-regular offense.
When it comes to his advanced stats, yes, many of the numbers don’t reflect on him fondly. His Corsi percentage for this season was 43%. But, that could be attributed to the fact that he hasn’t truly been an NHL regular yet as his confidence at the NHL level has great potential to grow. Also, the Canucks weren’t exactly titans this year in terms of the fancy stats, so do with that number what you will.
With all of this considered, Jim Benning should re-sign Zack MacEwen this offseason. We have seen enough of Zack to be sure he is a reliable bottom-six option. He’s not a liability in his own zone, he’s tough to play against with an offensive touch, and is still very young with much room to grow. Benning seems to think as much, when he recently called MacEwen an NHL player.
“Zack’s been really good. I think he’s an NHL player now...we think he’s ready to be an everyday player in the NHL.” - Jim Benning on Zack MacEwen #Canucks— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) February 18, 2020
Let’s face it, Zack-Mac is ready to become a regular on the Canucks fourth line, as they hopefully become a playoff team in the post-pandemic future.