January 10 2013 09:06AM
Who will Andrew Ebbett be looking for once the NHL season gets underway?
We spent most of the fall scratching and clawing for topics to discuss. There was a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo being tossed around, but the void left by actual hockey to analyze was abundantly clear. It got so bad that some of us - I'm not one to name names - began dissecting charity games, picking on poor souls like Jim Vandermeer.
But now, the NHL is back, and we've been left with the task of jamming months worth of story-lines and strategy into a few weeks. Not that anyone is complaining, though, because it's so much better than the alternative.
As could have been expected, the main storyline that has grabbed the headlines has been 'Strombabble'; a term Thomas Drance affectionately came up with for anything and everything to do with the animal that is Roberto Luongo trade talk. Is he going to Toronto, now that Dave Nonis is in charge? Is Philly really interested? Who knows.
Something that we do know however is that there is a gap that needs filling in the middle of the second line, with Ryan Kesler a ways away from recovering from his offseason surgery. Unless the Canucks acquire a center in return for Luongo, that role will be filled in-house.
Options that have been bandied about but make me uneasy include either Alex Burrows (with Zack Kassian hopping along for a ride with the Sedins) or Chris Higgins (departing the right wing, on which he thrives). Jordan Schroeder is an option, but having watched a ton of Chicago Wolves hockey this year, there were far too many times where he left me feeling lukewarm.
There's one final option that isn't quite as sexy as the others, but may have some merit, and it's Andrew Ebbett. Can he fill in for Kesler, and solve the riddle down the middle?
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Because of Andrew Ebbett's size - he's generously listed as 5'9'' - he's toiled on the fringes of the NHL, bouncing around on the waiver wire and securing a series of two-way deals. But he he has shown enough, both with the Wolves this season and with the Canucks in his cameo appearance last year, to warrant a longer look with the Canucks.
He clearly has some scoring touch, as he has posted 225 points in 239 career AHL games. That includes 21 for the Chicago Wolves this season, which puts him just behind Brett Sterling (an AHL lifer) for the team lead. Obviously AHL production doesn't necessarily automatically translate to NHL production, but he has actually shown an ability to produce at the NHL level in the past too.
As Ben Kuzma so astutely pointed out yesterday, Ebbett has some (albeit brief) exprience when it comes to centering a scoring line; he played alongside Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne back in '08-'09. While Ebbett didn't exactly light the world on fire production-wise, his line with Ryan and Selanne handily dismantled opponents in about 300 5v5 minutes as a unit (with some help from the bounces). Ebbett posted nice possession numbers that season, racking up 32 points in 48 games (including 11 on the power play) in under 14 minutes of action. That's nothing to scoff at.
Let's take a look at his underlying numbers in that 2008-09 campaign, and the ones from last season:
You may have noticed the discrepancy in the way in which he was deployed between the two seasons. In his one successful prolonged run in the NHL, he was sheltered by Randy Carlisle, starting a large chunk of his shifts in the offensive zone. He also played with far more talented players on his wings in 08-09, which partially explains why his on-ice shooting percentage was so much higher, and the 24 assists in 48 games. You'll note that he only had 1 assist in 18 games last season, but considering his poor fortune and odd deployment, there's no reason to believe that Ebbett couldn't be a reasonably effective playmaker as a stopgap-option in the top-six.
Now, unfortunately the numbers from last season need to be taken with a grain of salt because of sample size. Ebbett only managed to suit up for 18 games, as he battled a broken foot and a fractured collarbone, injuries that kept him on the shelf for most of the year. Still, he was asked to do something that, given his track record in the minors, was relatively foreign to him. He went up against tougher competition in a more defensive role, yet still managed to push play in the right direction for the Canucks.
I'd like to briefly refer back to Rob Vollman's VUKOTA projections from November, as the following is his excerpt for Ebbett:
Ebbett first broke into the NHL at age 26 in fine style, scoring 32 points in 48 games for Anaheim in 2008-09, but has just 26 points in the 112 games since. Part of the reason is getting buried on the depth lines, where his linemates haven't shot better than last year's 6.5% since that big season. Still, he is capable of scoring at a nifty 2.0 points per 60 minutes in the right situation. Rob went on to project him for somewhere in the range of 29-35 points (in a full 82-game season), which I'm sure the Canucks and their fans would be quite pleased with.
Drance recently wrote about the potential reluctance the Canucks may feel in experimenting with lineups given the nature of the shortened season. While Ebbett may not have the upside of a Schroeder, he likely won't do anything to hurt the team in the short team. He won't take much off the table if he's asked to pitch in short-term and keep the seat warm for a talent like Ryan Kesler.
Back in July, little was made of the re-signing of Ebbett, to a 1-year two-way contract. Yet he may just turn out to be exactly what the Canucks need in the first few weeks of the season. Chalk this up as another reason why Mike Gillis is a general manager in the National Hockey League, and I'm a person who sits behind a computer writing about things after they have already happened. That's for those scoring at home.