Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG files
My daughter started her first year of hockey this season. She has a growing interest in the Canucks, and even chose #17 for her jersey because she likes Ryan Kesler. She’s a smart girl. The other day, my budding superstar asked me a great question. "How many of the Canucks have only ever played for the Canucks?". I started adding them up and it turns out that there are quite a few.
Is this the reason for the Canucks success this year?
The Vancouver Canucks have a healthy contingent of homegrown talent. Taking a look at litany of players who have suited up for the Canucks, there is a good chunk of them that have developed in the Canucks system. Of the top 21 skaters (based on GP) and their two main goalies, here are the players that have only ever worn a Canucks sweater in the NHL:
Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen, Alex Bolduc, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Tanev, Cory Schneider.
That’s 11 players out of a standard 23-man roster. So almost half. We can probably safely assume that Alex Bolduc will not see any more ice-time this year, unless a huge rash of injuries hits again. And we know that the Canucks fourth line looks solidified as Glass, Lapierre and Higgins. And reports of Edler’s injury have him returning right around the start of the playoffs. So as the Canucks start the playoffs, they will still be left with 9 players out of their starting 20 players (12 forwards, 6 defense, 2 goalies) that have played all of their NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks. To me, the most impressive part is that 5 of their top 6 forwards are products of the Canucks system.
Is this the reason for the Canucks success this year? Has the organization’s patience in these players finally paid off?
If you look through that list of 9 players that will likely start the playoffs for the Canucks, every single one of them has taken their fair share of abuse from Canucks fans and media. The Sedins were called "the sisters" for years. Burrows and Hansen were tagged as players with heart but not enough NHL-level skill. Kesler seemed to take forever to finally blossom, as did Edler. Bieksa and Raymond were the subject of constant trade rumours this year. And Cory Schneider has had a rough start to his playing career at every level, leaving some to doubt if he was prepared to play real NHL minutes.
But the Canucks stuck by them all. Offering patience when needed, playing time in the minors to help round out their game, and top minutes to get their game to an elite NHL level. And the players have responded in spades. The Sedins are two of the top 3 scorers in the league, with Daniel leading the charge for the Art Ross trophy. Lest we forget that Henrik won both the Art Ross and the Hart trophies last year. Kesler is now becoming a perennial Selke candidate, and this year buzz is forming about him possibly contending for the Hart trophy as well. Bieksa and Edler are regarded now as the Canucks top two defensemen. While they may be having down years this year, Raymond and Burrows has career years last year. Jannik Hansen has been the Canucks’ unsung hero this year. And Cory Schneider is easily the best backup goalie in the league, putting up some stellar stats.
It is a bit of a perfect storm. These players traverse three different GMs and two different coaches. They came to the NHL from different developmental leagues; Europe, WHL, US college. It is therefore impossible to say that any one factor is responsible for the success that these players are having. Maybe that means that this is mainly due to the players themselves. Maybe they feel that the patience shown to them by the club has afforded them some comfort and relief and taken off the stress. "If you believe in me, that’s all I need. Your belief is all the motivation I require to be the best player I can be.".
Whatever the cause, we see the effect. The Canucks are the top team in the league. They have 2 of the top three point-getters, two of the top 3 goal scorers, and the top set-up man. They are first in power play, second in penalty killing, third in goals per game, and second in goals-against per game. They play well as individuals, they play as a team. And most of that is thanks to the players developed in the Canucks system. The team’s patience and the fans’ patience has finally paid off.