Jannik Hansen licks his lips, presumably at the prospect of having a breakout campaign offensively on the 1st unit PP.
Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick.
When the Canucks lost David Booth for four-to-six weeks due to a needlessly controversial groin strain suffered during the club’s fitness testing process on Sunday, the club suddenly found themselves down two-thirds of their second line. Losing Booth’s play-driving ability and secondary scoring seems like a tough blow for a Canucks club that struggled to score in their first round series against the Kings and relied an awful lot on puck-luck, stellar goaltending and their defensive shell down the stretch last season.
So should Canucks fans expect the 2013 version of the team to depart significantly from the uptempo stylings the paying public had grown accustomed to watching over the course of the the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons? Or is it possible that Booth’s injury won’t change the tempo the Canucks play that much and in fact might actually provide other players on the club with a significant opportunity to step up and prove they belong in an NHL top-six?
Click past the jump for more.
Having run Vancouver’s projected offensive numbers rigorously for Play Now Sports, I tend to think losing David Booth for a 17-20 game stretch to begin the season will have a statistically significant impact on Vancouver’s offensive output this season. That said, it shouldn’t be anything disastrous.
According to my model, the Canucks are now projected to score one less even-strength goal and three fewer power-play goals over the course of the season as a result of Booth’s extended absence (this analysis, by the way, assumes that Kesler misses somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten games – a pretty big if). That could be worth a full win in the standings to the club, which is certainly important especially over the course of a shortened 48 game schedule. So it’s an important loss, but it’s not necessarily devastating.
Partly this is because there are some potential spillover benefits that the Canucks could incur as a result of Booth’s injury – and I’m not talking about the LTI cap-space that Booth’s injury provides Laurence Gilman. For example, Zack Kassian wasn’t originally pencilled into the top-nine to begin the year. While Kassian has battled consistency issues in the AHL so far this season, based on his skill level alone he’s a clear cut top-six forward. Hell he might have as much "raw offensive skill" as any Canucks forward whose last name isn’t "Sedin" or "Kesler."
Even in Booth’s absence, it’s far from a sure thing that Zack Kassian will skate the thirteen and a half minutes usually given to second line forwards on the Canucks. But the young power-forward certainly finds himself in a more favorable situation for his long-term development, as a result of Booth’s injury.
Another player who I could potentially see benefitting enormously from Booth’s extended absence is Jannik Hansen ("well duh" says the peanut gallery). When he first made the Canucks for partial seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, Jannik Hansen was a speedster type who seemed to lack much in the way of offensive upside and certainly was a limited player physically. But he learned to compete and figured out what he had to do to stay at the NHL level. Through sheer force of will he turned himself into an absolute terror on the forecheck, an under-rated playmaking forward and he even managed to chip in 16 goals last season.
The thing with Jannik Hansen is that I’m not sure hat he’s done more than superficially tap into his offensive abilities. For example, when I see the velocity he gets on his (usually inaccurate) slapshot – I see a guy who could pot twenty goals in top-six minutes if he could get a few more of those shot attempts on net.
Also, when I think about other Canucks players who developed under Alain Vigneault and appeared to be limited offensively until they put it all together – I begin to wonder if Hansen is on track to have a breakout campaign in the top-six. To whit, let’s look at Ryan Kesler’s first three seasons as a regular in the NHL (stats from hockeyreference.com):
You might remember Ryan Kesler’s go to move of "skating through the entire opposition’s defense and whiffing on a weak deke shot move" that was a trade mark of hi game in the mid-aughts. In all seriousness, Kesler was already a dynamite two-way player in 2007-08 but until he played on Mats Sundin’s wing the following season (alongside Pavel Demitra R.I.P) there were questions about whether or not he’d ever morph into a legitimate top-six weapon. Of course he did, and he’s posted seasons of 59 points, 75 points, 73 points and 49 points in the four seasons since that time.
Another example we might look at is Alex Burrows, who scratched and clawed (and bit and hair-pulled) his way into the league as a fourth-line grinder. Until he was matched up with the Sedin twins in 2008-09 (mid-way through his third season), he was a bottom-six fixture with a go-to breakaway move. Here’s his first three seasons as a regular in the NHL (again courtesy hockeyreference.com):
Since then, Burrows has been the signature triggerman for the Sedin twins compiling 167 points over the course of 234 games.
Which bring us to Jannik Hansen, who at age 26 is entering his third season as a full time NHL forward with the Canucks. Here’s how his production has jumped, while playing significantly the same role (third line and lots of penalty-kill ice-time) over the past two seasons:
Sure, some of Hansen’s jump in production last year was percentage driven (he shot 11.7% last season, a 3.7% jump over the year previous) and some of it is the result of skating several games with the Sedin twins on the top-line. Those are necessary qualifiers, of course, but still: I can’t shake the hunch that Jannik Hansen is well poised for an offensive breakout season in 2013 – especially if he sticks on the first power-play unit (where he was practicing with the twins, Jason Garrison and Alex Edler at practice on Wednesday). Oh and by the way, I remain convinced that David Booth would’ve been given those plum first-unit minutes had his groin held up.
With David Booth out of the lineup, it’s probable that the Canucks will score fewer goals than they otherwise would’ve in 2013. Obviously that’s not a good thing, but before we despair and rant about Alain Vigneault trapping it up, we’d do well to remember that this spot of adversity could pay off over the long-term. If Booth comes back at full speed in late February and joins a hockey club on which Zack Kassian has already cut his teeth some in the top-six, and Jannik Hansen has emerged as a bonafide top-six winger – the Canucks will be the better team for it.
And if he doesn’t? Then at least I got to use groin and happy ending in the same blog post headline!