Photo Credit: Chris Jerina of AHL in Photos.
With a few notable exceptions, Canucks fans are educated regarding their team (our readers are, at least). Most of you know that Jordan Schroeder was “stolen” by the Canucks when they picked up 22nd overall back in 2009 (he was slated by many to be a top 10 pick, and he slid dropped due to concerns about his attitude and size and strength). Since then, his development has had more downs than ups. He left college early to join the AHL’s Manitoba Moose after the 2009-10 season. In his professional rookie season, Schroeder struggled to produce consistently, finishing with 28 points in 61 games (he missed 16 games with a high ankle sprain).
Read on past the break
This season, Schroeder faced a fresh start, both in terms of team (the Chicago Wolves took over for Manitoba as the Vancouver AHL affiliate), and coach (Craig MacTavish replaced Claude Noel). Noel and Schroeder didn’t have a horrible relationship, but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye last year.
We have seen the improvements in Cody Hodgson’s game from spending last summer training with Gary Roberts and Steven Stamkos (among others). Schroeder spent his offseason working with another gym-rat – Devils winger Zach Parise. Like Parise, Schroeder is an undersized, skilled forward. He came to camp with a noticeable increase in muscle mass, and it translated into his on-ice performance, with better puck protection, and a greater willingness to engage in puck battles in the offensive zone.
Schroeder got off to a slow start offensively in Chicago, as did the rest of the team. MacTavish was trying to get a feel for his team, and it took the players a little while to establish some chemistry and unity. Schroeder scored five goals and had only nine points after 24 games. Since that point in mid-December, he’s scored nine goals and added 10 assists in 25 games. According to MacTavish, Schroeder is excelling in a role where he is counted on as a difference maker each and every game.
"He’s gone from a guy who was a bit of a peripheral player, not in the way he plays the game, but in terms of his value to our hockey club, to a guy who has a very prominent role and somebody we count on every night to play 20-plus minutes. He plays on the power play, he kills penalties. He’s as effective a player as we have five-on-five and he makes players around him even better, so he’s really improved."
Often times it takes college and junior players a little while to succeed at the AHL level (Cory Schneider is a great example of this). It could be argued that Schroeder left college prematurely, but hindsight is always 20/20.
In the Canucks Army preview on Schroeder last fall, Thomas Drance raised an interesting point regarding Schroeder’s low shot total from 2010-11.
One thing I notice when looking at Schroeder’s stats last season, is that he really doesn’t shoot the puck as much as a potential "sniper" with a "solid-shot" should. He only averaged 1.42 shots per game last season, and though he shot for a reasonable percentage (8.7%) – I’d guess that’s a big factor explaining his relative lack of production last season.
Schroeder has already scored four more goals this season in 12 less games. According to Schroeder, the best advice he received from Parise was to “shoot the puck.” He’s certainly taken that advice, and his "shots per game" rate is up a full shot per game! It doesn’t take advanced stats to figure out that more shooting more will lead to more goals.
Schroeder was moved from wing to center quite a bit last season, but he has spent this season at his natural pivot position. Many undersized centers convert to wing at the NHL level (Parise is an example of one), but Schroeder never looked comfortable there.
Vancouver is one of the deepest teams in the league up the middle, with Sedin-Kesler-Hodgson likely sticking around for the foreseeable future. On the surface, it would appear that Schroeder is stuck in the AHL. This has led to his name surfacing in trade rumors as the deadline approaches (especially with his recent strong play). If Schroeder is able to help the Canucks land a legitimate top-four defenseman who is signed or can be signed for a few years, then using him as a trade asset may be the best move.
Moving him just because the organization is strong up the middle, however, isn’t an advisable strategy. You can never have enough quality centers, and we saw that last year with Malhotra’s injury (the Lapierre trade was an understated move at the time, but it was vital to Vancouver’s playoff success), and early on this season with the injury to Kesler.
Generally I am not a big fan of trends in production, but in Schroeder’s case, his recent improvement isn’t just about pilling up points. Schroeder’s spike in production could simply be a hot streak, but he is showing great improvements in all facets of the game. Often times players start hot out of the gate, but fade as the season wears on (fitness, mental toughness, and so on). He is doing the exact opposite. Like MacTavish mentioned, Schroeder playing more minutes, in all situations. He’s a really smart player, and it is showing on the penalty kill. Both his awareness and anticipation are fantastic. He is a great skater and has the shot and hands we all know about, but the consistent effort and involvement are the two biggest and most important improvements in Schroeder’s game this season.
It is doubtful he makes the team next season, as Lapierre and Malhotra are both under contract. However, with the inevitability of injuries, he could find his way onto the team for a stint or two pretty soon.
What does MacTavish think about Schroeder’s NHL arrival time?
"His development is coming along just fine and we fully expect him to be there ASAP."