Mike Duco had a controversial start to his Canucks tenure, but since, he’s done nothing but impress. He looks like he’s straight out of the 19th Century with that villainous facial hair; and his penchant for targeting the opposition’s stars (or those players taking liberties with Canucks skaters) has earned him praise from the team’s closest observers. As was pointed out today on Twitter: Mike Duco plays hockey like a guided ballistic missile.
Duco demonstrated his tactical nuke usefulness yet again on Saturday night against the Flames. When Duco felt that former Vancouver Giant Lance Bouma was crossing the line and taking runs at Canucks blue-liners, he skated by the Flames bench, pointed at Bouma and told him he was going to get him. Here’s what Duco told Botchford post-game: " Bouma took a couple of runs at our D-men, so I skated by the bench and told them I was coming for him. On the next shift, he accepted the challenge and we went at it. It was a good feeling, getting my first [fight] in this year. I felt like I got the better of him." Hockeyfights.com users agreed with Duco’s "I got the better of him" assessment, and scored the fight as a clean victory for the spitfire. That gives him one more victory on his fight-card this season than Dale Weise has.
In 5 games with the Canucks, Duco has two points (both primary assists) but he’s sporting a 108 PDO and has an on-ice shooting percentage of 20% – so that production level is a mirage. Based on their respective levels of AHL production, I’d be skeptical of anyone claiming that Duco possesses more "offensive punch" than Dale Weise does. Duco is also getting it handed to him from a possession stand-point, though to be fair he is starting more often than not in the defensive zone (what a surprise for a Canucks fourth-liner).
Regardless of what Duco’s production and underlying numbers look like, his "guided-missile approach" potentially brings value to the team in a subtle, and non-traditional way. To illustrate this, let’s go back to the preseason, when Duco started two conflagrations by targeting the oppositions stars.
First, in Edmonton, he laid out Taylor Hall with a clean-hit. That hit caused Theo Peckham to go momentarily batty, as he left the bench to protect the Oilers’ blue-chip sophmore winger. Then, in another preseason game against the Ducks, Duco annoyed Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf to the extent that he dropped the gloves against the Canucks fourth liner. By the end of the game, Duco was so far under Ducks coach Randy Carlyle’s skin that he sent out J.F. Jacque to mug Duco – an act that earned Jacque a suspension, and Carlyle a fine.
By the end of the preseason, Duco was the stand-out fourth liner, and probably would’ve earned a shot on the opening night roster if not for Volpatti’s dramatic one punch on Brad Winchester in the second to last tune-up game. According to Botch, a major reason Duco didn’t make the opening night roster had little to do with Duco’s play, and much more to do with the team wanting to get "the beard" some time with Mac-T to work on his two-way game and penalty-killing.
What Duco brings to the ice better than any potential fourth line winger currently in the organization, is a level of awareness and premeditation beyond that provided by the likes of Weise, Bitz or Volpatti. Duco is smaller than those three, but he’s the most prickly. He promptly takes exception to borderline hits – like those doled out by Bouma on Saturday. He also wants to light up the opposition’s best players, and will actively target them physically – something we’ve never seen from Dale Weise.
And this here is where Duco has the potential to provide the Canucks with real value. His on-ice actions through a handful of games, have consistently made opposing team’s see red. With opposing team’s doing everything of late to avoid the meat-grinder that is the Canucks power-play, I’m of the opinion that the Canucks should give Duco enough games to properly test whether his "guided missile approach" can consistently lead to undisciplined opposition penalties. If Duco can increase the amount of power-play ice-time the Canucks receive by routinely drawing instigator penalties or retributive roughing minors, he can indirectly become an offensive force for the Canucks.
While I’m skeptical that "fights" swing momentum or have any tangible correlation with winning: if Duco can annoy top-six forwards to the extent that they drop the gloves and are forced to miss five-minutes of the game: then Duco can indirectly become a defensive force too!
While Duco will return to the Wolves at some point in the near future (because, as Harrison Mooney pointed out today: "Duco is waiver-exempt and Weise isn’t") the diminutive agitator deserves a shot to let his jerk-puck flag fly. For a team like the Canucks, whose bread is buttered on the man-advantage, Duco’s firebrand contributions could in time prove invaluable.