In the aftermath of the 2011 playoffs one of the most widely held opinions, from fans and media alike, was that the Vancouver Canucks’ brass needed to upgrade the team’s second line during the off-season with the acquisition of a legitimate top-six forward to play alongside Ryan Kesler.
Shackled by cap constraints, Mike Gillis has been relatively quiet during the free-agency period with the signing of German left winger Marco Sturm registering as the only significant new acquisition for the franchise.
While Sturm will certainly be in contention for the coveted second line role, he’ll face serious competition for the spot from several incumbent wingers.
This is the first post in a series that will examine the Canucks’ candidates for second-line duty.
First up, we take a closer look at Mikael Samuelsson.
2010-11 stats: 18 G – 32 A – 50 PTS, + 8, 36 PIM
The right winger set the bar high in his rookie season in Canuck blue, establishing career highs with 30 goals and 53 points in 2009-10. The Mariefried native also produced an impressive corsi rating of 14.75, second only to Daniel Sedin among Canuck regulars in 2009-10.
Following his impressive first season in Vancouver, fans were, by in large, underwhelmed by Samuelsson’s goal output in 2010-11, but a close examination of the right winger reveals that the Swede’s dip in production last season was quite predictable.
Samuelsson’s shot totals and ice-time in his two seasons in Vancouver are nearly identical, so why the dramatic drop-off in goals?
His shooting percentage during his first year in Vancouver was 13.7, more than five percent higher than his career average. In 2010-11, Samuelsson’s goal total fell by 12 as he found the back of the net at a rate of 8.4 percent, right in line with his career shooting percentage of 8.3.
Samuelsson has a proven track record at the offensive end. In 2010-11, he was tied for fourth on the team in points, fifth in assists and was third on the roster with 215 shots.
Though his corsi numbers have gradually slipped, from 18.95 in 2008-09 with Detroit to 10.80 in 2010-11, the Swedish winger remains firmly on the positive side of the ledger with regards to possession and time spent in the offensive zone. Playing alongside Kesler – a defensive zone faceoff specialist – for much of last season, Samuelsson’s offensive zone starts ratio was just under 50 percent. The Swede finished more than 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, a clear reflection of Samuelsson’s solid corsi rating.
He also has familiarity with Kesler in his favour, as no Vancouver winger has played more even-strength minutes with the American center than Samuelsson over the past two seasons.
While not a complete liability, Samuelsson doesn’t bring much to the table defensively. In 2010-11, he blocked a mere 21 shots, 17th most on the squad. Samuelsson is not an option for the penalty-kill, logging a total of 2:32 while shorthanded last season. He produced 36 giveaways, fifth most on the Canucks, and on the forecheck, he ranked 12th on the team with 25 takeaways, a far cry from Jannik Hansen’s 42.
Despite an imposing 6-foot-2, 213 pound physique, Samuelsson rarely plays the body. He finished 14th on the Canucks with just 76 hits in 2010-11. Never a speedster on the wing, the 34-year-old’s limited mobility will further be tested by his off-season abdominal surgery to repair his adductor tendon and sports hernia suffered in game-five of the Nashville series.
Recovering from surgery, Samuelsson will be in tough to retain his spot on Ryan Kesler’s right side. Moreover, the increased competition for top-six minutes will likely hamper Samuelsson’s chances to amass even-strength totals reminiscent of his sparkling 2009-10 season.
However, with the departure of Christian Ehrhoff, Samuelsson should see more time on the first-unit of the power play. Last season, Samuelsson averaged just 2:29 per game on the man-advantage, his lowest average since 2003-04, but still managed 21 power-play points. With increased minutes alongside the Sedin’s and Kesler, those numbers could increase in 2011-12.
Those expecting Samuelsson to reach the 30 goal plateau in 2011-12 are in for a rude awakening, but the Swede is a good bet to produce 18 to 20 goals and 40 to 45 points.