Getting Younger, Bigger, and Stronger (Part I)

Should Gillis target Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin this summer?

When Brian Burke came to Toronto in late 2008, he promised a philosophical shift to bring in “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.” The results have been mixed, but Burke has made it a priority to add those things to Toronto’s roster (Phil Kessel notwithstanding). The jury is still out whether or not that you need those elements to ice a winning team (the flavor of the month Los Angeles Kings definitely fit the bill), but at the very least Burke introduced truculence to our vocabularies.

At his recent season-ending press conference, Mike Gillis outlined his general plan for the future.

“I think we need to get younger, [and] I think we need to get bigger and stronger.”

Read past the jump for more!

Like Burke back in 2008, Gillis said a lot with only a few words. Getting younger, bigger, and stronger is not something that happens overnight (nor is it easy). The Canucks got younger, bigger, and stronger with a few trades last season, most notably the acquisitions of David Booth from Florida and Zack Kassian from Buffalo. Both players had flashes of brilliance mixed in with large stretches of inconsistency. In Booth’s case, he was able to contribute positively in other ways asides from scoring – Cam Charron wrote last week on how Booth’s production is better than you may think.

Charron found a list of 111 NHL forwards who had more ice time and scored at a lower rate than Booth. Doing some simple math, that equals more than a line of players per team. From Charron:

“Booth had an excellent scoring chance differential and underlying numbers. His defensive game and play-driving ability is top-tier in the NHL.”

Advanced stats are great in situations like this, as they are able to fill in the blanks in many straw man arguments.

Look at what Jordan Nolan and Dwight King have done in Los Angeles. Both are big (King is 6-3 and close to 240 pounds, while Nolan is the same height and about 10 pounds lighter) young (both are only 22 years old) forwards, and it isn’t a coincidence that the Kings have played a lot better since they were called up from the AHL. Darryl Sutter quite early on saw that his team’s identity was size and strength up front (especially after the Jeff Carter trade), and the immersion of these two helped to establish a physical presence on each line.

Vancouver’s 2011 1st round pick, Nicklas Jensen, isn’t far off from the NHL, and he would inject size, skill, and youth into the Canucks lineup. I wouldn’t count on him cracking the roster this fall, but it isn’t entirely out of the question.

Assuming Mike Gillis and his management team head into the offseason with youth, strength, and size at the forefront of their thought process, who are some realistic targets? And no, Corey Perry and Milan Lucic don’t count, unfortunately. Here are three:

Kyle Beach – Chicago Blackhawks

What better place to start than with the mercurial young winger from Kelowna? Beach suited up in only 19 contests in 2011-12, all in the AHL. Beach is a familiar name to Canucks fans, as he is the guy that many fans and media wanted to select back in 2008. The Canucks ended up selecting the Cody Hodgson show, and Beach went one pick later to Chicago. Beach has yet to suit up for an NHL regular season game. In his final WHL season, he dominated offensively, scoring 52 goals in only 68 games. He added another seven in seven postseason games. Beach also had 186 PIM that season (spent with the Spokane Chiefs).

Why would the Canucks want him?

Size and skill, primarily. The team took a chance on Zack Kassian, a player with a checkered past in junior hockey, like Beach. Beach’s past tantrums and attitude issues make Kassian look like a Lady Byng candidate, but the thought of the two young wingers in the same lineup is intriguing, to say the least. Can you say ‘Bash Brothers 2.0? Eat your heart out, Fulton Reid.

Why Would Chicago Get Rid of Him?

The Blackhawks and Vancouver are unlikely to make a trade of any sort. Chicago balked at moving Andrew Ladd to Vancouver before the 2010-11 season, and they did so again last year with Troy Brouwer (although the Canucks were unlikely to meet their demands of a high draft pick). However, the Hawks do have needs up front and on the back end, and they could be interested in injecting some speed up front (Mason Raymond, for example). The Hawks will give Beach a shot at earning a spot with the big club this fall, but his future in the organization is up in the air.

Nikolai Kulemin – Toronto Maple Leafs

When the Leafs drafted the now 25-year-old back in 2006, he weighed about 180 pounds. In a little over four years, Kulemin has bulked up to 225 pounds. I’m not going to question his training regime, but 45 pounds is a lot of weight to add, even in a few years. The gains paid off, as he scored 30 goals in 82 games in his third season with the Leafs (2010-11). Kulemin was one of the biggest offensive disappointments in the league this past season, though, scoring only seven goals in 70 games.

Why would the Canucks want him?

Kulemin has scored 30 goals, and he is only 25 years old. He is big and strong, and he possesses the ability to play anywhere from line one to four. His value likely won’t ever be lower than it is right now.

Why would Toronto get rid of him?

The Leafs won’t actively shop Kulemin, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt this summer. The team has confidence in Matt Frattin playing in the top six full time next season (and don’t let his lack of NHL production fool you – he is ready for it), and Kulemin could form part of a package to lure Roberto Luongo to the Center of the Hockey Universe. Kulemin still saw most of his ice time with quality linemates. He simply didn’t perform as well as the team needed him to:

Frequency Strength Line Combination 2011-12
39.53% EV 84 Grabovski – 41 Kulemin – 16 Macarthur
12.68% EV 39 Frattin – 84 Grabovski – 41 Kulemin
9.58% EV 46 Crabb – 84 Grabovski – 41 Kulemin
Frequency Strength Line Combination 2010-11
59.16% EV 84 Grabovski – 41 Kulemin – 16 Macarthur
5.55% PP 84 Grabovski – 41 Kulemin – 16 Macarthur
4.58% EV 84 Grabovski – 81 Kessel – 41 Kulemin

Zac Dalpe – Carolina Hurricanes

Dalpe, Zack Boychuk, and Drayson Bowman, Carolina’s trio of talented young forwards, have all been disappointments at the NHL over the past few seasons. Dalpe’s best attribute is his skating – he is a powerful and fluid center, much like Ryan Kesler. Also like Kesler, Dalpe starred at Ohio State. He turned pro at the end of his sophomore season. In 31 NHL games, he has four goals and seven points. He was touted as many as a lock for Carolina’s second or third line in 2011-12, but he failed to beat out Tim Brent for the final roster spot. Carolina made a mistake by assuming he was ready for a spot with the team, and Dalpe made a mistake by assuming he was, too. A fresh start may be a good thing for the talented young center.

Why would the Canucks want him?

Dalpe projects as a good second line center, or a very good third line center. He models his game after Kesler, and could learn a lot playing behind the 2010-11 Selke winner.

Why would Carolina get rid of him?

Dalpe struggled mightily in 2011-12. He had the highest percentage of offensive zone starts among all Carolina forwards (although his sample size of 16 games must be taken into account), and he still struggled at driving the play forward. Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter are locks as the top two centers, and Jussi Jokinen played well there last season, winning 55 percent of faceoffs taken. He is signed for two more seasons at a cap hit of $3 million per.

Stay tuned next week as I will highlight a few more players the Canucks could target.

  • Mantastic

    45 pounds of “lean mass” is ridiculously hard to add, even over a few years. Kulemin’s was probably 25-30 pounds of lean mass and some fat. Impossible to gain that much weight as muscle only, unless you are getting injected with something.

  • Mantastic

    “45lbs of lean mass isn’t very hard to add when you’re 18…”

    I like that even when mantastic isn’t slamming the Canucks, he is still inarguably wrong. He’s consistent.

  • Mantastic

    Kulemin and Dalpe seem like good players to go after, although I’m not sure what the Canes would want. I’d be interested in Beach, but I’m not sure I’d give up any assets for him. Maybe give him a PTO if Chicago cuts him loose?

    And did the Canucks really try to acquire Andrew Ladd? I’ve never heard that one before. He would have been a good fit here.

  • Mantastic

    lean mass doesn’t mean void of fat.

    i gained 30lbs of lean mass over a year in that time frame especially the fact that he’s getting adult mass at that stage. and i did not use any performance enchancing drugs.

    45lbs is very managable with a nutrionist with that body frame.

  • NuckfiSh

    I really like the sound of Dalpe. I’ve been saying this for a while now, I think the Canucks need a young centre who is fast & plays hard in his own end… a young Kesler if you will. Obviously Coho was not those things, & that’s why he didn’t fit, and obviously Pahlsson is not realistic long-term – so i say they start the grooming process now, and start building the Kesler 2.0 replacement… Would Josh Bailey also fit that description?