Even during the 2010-11 season – when the Canucks were outrageously deep along the blue-line – right side defensive depth was something of a challenge for the club. Vancouver’s blue-line depth chart is something of an LSAT logic game, and there are tonnes of exclusions, which, seemingly make no sense. You’d think Alex Edler should be skilled enough to play his off-side, but he’s been a qualified disaster there in limited minutes. Same goes for Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard…
In the two summers since 2010-11, the Canucks have lost three mainstays who regularly filled in on the right side of the blue-line depth chart: Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Aaron Rome. While the rapid development of Chris Tanev has helped to answer some of the questions along the right-side, this remains an area where the club lacks relative depth.
One of the reasons that we were so high on Jason Garrison going into this offseason, was his ability to play the right-side. But I recently went back and watched through about 20 Florida Panthers games to get a feel for Garrison’s handle of the right-side, and I noticed that for the most part, he only spent time on the right-side when playing on the power-play…
Read past the jump.
From what I’ve seen of Jason Garrison, at even strength when paired with Brian Campbell or Mike Weaver, he primarily occupied the left-side point. This should be qualified though because anytime you’re paired with a freelance marauder like Brian Campbell, the "side" that you play is going to be inconsistently delineated. Campbell and Garrison switched sides fluidly, and that fact combined with the games that Garrison spent on the right side of Erik Gudbranson, were partly responsible for my misconception. Ultimately, it appears that Jason Garrison was a left-side defenseman for the vast majority of his even-strength minutes last season – at least from the 15-20 game random sample that I recently watched.
So, should the Canucks be worried about Garrison’s suitability as a full-time right-side defenseman? For what it’s worth Mike Gillis doesn’t seem to think so. During his two hour appearance with Matt Sekeres on the Team1040’s "President’s Week" Sekeres asked if the Canucks needed another right-side defenseman, to which Gillis responded in the negative:
Mike Gillis: "We think that with Chris Tanev and Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison (who has played the right-side, particularly on the power-play), we’re comfortable with those guys. We think they can all play. we think they’re all high end players, we like our defense the way it is. In the event that something occurs and there’s an opportunity we’ll certainly look at it."
Matt Sekeres: "Will Garrison have to play the right-side at even-strength?"
MG: "He won’t have too but, we’re going to test him out there and we’re going to look at Ballard. You know, Ballard has played very well with Chris Tanev – so we have multiple combinations we can use. Losing Sami was a blow, we were trying to bring him back but it didn’t work out so we could still be looking for one… There are also some young players who we really like who are going to push to play on our team."
Sekeres: "Who would they be?"
MG: "Kevin Connauton and we think this young guy Frankie Corrado… "
For our purposes, what’s important to note in the above statement is that the Canucks are, according to Gillis: "going to test [Garrison] out there [on the right side]," in the upcoming season. Also, one of the reasons Gillis believes Garrison will be able to play the right-side, is because of his experience playing there last season on the Panthers power-play.
If you go and look at the goals Garrison scored last season, the majority of them came from blasts while he was occupying his off side. From a defensive standpoint, I’m sure there will be an adjustment period if Garrison spends the entirety of next season playing the right-side point; but from an offensive standpoint, I can’t imagine that the learning curve will be particularly steep.
Luckily, when it comes to optimizing their usage patterns to best suit their personnel – or as Gillis has described it, "designing success" – the Canucks are as creative an organization as there is in the NHL. If Jason Garrison initially struggles playing the right-side point, and he might, then at least he can play primarily in sheltered minutes to start the season. Such a deployment pattern might make sense anyway, since Garrison’s slap-shot appears to be more effectively deployed when he plays his off side.
Here is the rub in all of this: I think there’s good reason to suspect that, permanently playing the right-side point at even-strength will be a significant adjustment for Jason Garrison. Getting a feel for gap-control on the opposite side of the rink, and effectively playing the puck off of the boards in the offensive end (which, if you play the opposite side point requires a good deal of skill, since you often need to receive and control the puck on your backhand) can be very difficult, even for NHL caliber defenseman.
It seems to me that there’s good news, and bad news on this front. The good news is that Garrison does have some experience playing the right-side, and the team can bring him along slowly (by tailoring his minutes, and deploying him most often in the offensive end) while he works through the inevitable growing pains. On a bleaker note, however, the three names that Mike Gillis mentioned as right-defense options – should Garrison be unable to make the switch – were: Kevin Connauton, Frankie "don’t call me Frank" Corrado and *gulp* Keith Ballard.
The notion that Garrison will be able to transition to playing the right-side point on a full-time basis strikes me as compelling, but it should be noted that Vancouver doesn’t seem to have much of a safety net, should Garrison struggle to seamlessly switch sides.