Catching Up With Old Friends: Former Canucks Defencemen

Earlier this week, I took you for a ride down memory lane, looking at how Canucks of old are faring in their new environments. With the exception of Ryan Kesler, the list was comprised mainly of players that are best suited to the bottom-six. Seeing as the Canucks ice about three and a half third lines on any given night, I’ve little in the way of grievances.

I’ve since drawn a list of defencemen from that same time frame, which runs from the 2011-12 season to the one we’re currently enjoying, to have a look at how they’re doing too. This ought to be fun.

I’ve rounded up the five defencemen to have left Vancouver’s system since 2011-12 to continue their NHL careers elsewhere and took a brief glance at the numbers. 

The results, in their own way, are a little encouraging:

Former Canucks Defenceman Current Team GP G A 5v5 Pts/60 5v5 TOI/60 5v5 On-Ice GD 5v5 Corsi For%
Jason Garrison Tampa Bay Lightning 38 3 14 1 15.2 +11 54.5%
Keith Ballard Minnesota Wild 14 0 1 0.4 11.1 -4 44.1%
Raphael Diaz Calgary Flames 21 0 1 0.3 10.6 -4 40.1%
Kevin Connauton Columbus Blue Jackets 26 6 6 1.4 13.3 +3 46.6%
Brad Hunt Edmonton Oilers 11 1 2 0.7 15.5 -6 48.9%

This year’s list is considerably less loaded than last’s, specifically because Christian Ehrhoff just misses the cutoff. That said, there are a few quality pieces here who could likely provide a boost to Vancouver’s moribund blueline. The Canucks are just one injury into their blue line and Luca Sbisa is playing top four minutes. I’d give any member of this list consideration over Sbisa if given the opportunity. Then again, I didn’t need these base statistics to reaffirm that.

Lets see what their usage indicates:

Canucks - Ex-D

There are hardly any world beaters here. Seeing Raphael Diaz all hunched up in the corner by himself is a little disappointing though. I was a fan of the Diaz acquisition last season, and while I hardly lost sleep over losing him, I felt their trading him for a fifth-round draft pick was absurd; all the more so when one considers how well Vancouver drafts. It’s nice to see Jason Garrison bouncing back too. With the concern surrounding his footspeed, I can’t blame Jim Benning for dumping that contract post-haste upon taking the reins of this franchise. 

Jason Garrison

Make no mistake about it, the Canucks did Garrison dirty. Despite Vancouver signing Garrison to a six-year deal just two off-seasons ago, a deal which included a no-trade clause, Jim Benning did everything in his power to expedite his departure. The Canucks originally had a deal in place to move Garrison to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Patrik Berglund, which would’ve been great, considering the Canucks are short a second line center and all, but Garrison declined to waive his no-trade, before being asked shortly thereafter if he would do so to move to Tampa Bay. The Canucks received a second-round pick in exchange for Garrison, which they later used in a separate deal to land Linden Vey. 

Since joining the Lightning, Garrison has rebounded nicely from last year’s disastrous outing. Something about Florida just brings the best out in Garrison. Tampa Bay’s current lineup sees Garrison returning to prominence in a top-four role, with Andrej Sustr as his partner. The effect Garrison is having on Sustr’s possession performance simply cannot be understated. Sustr’s possession numbers increase roughly 6% when paired with Garrison, which is huge.

Garrison’s role on the power play has shrunk considerably with his new club.’s current configuration of the Lightning lineup doesn’t include Garrison on either the first or second unit power play. That said, Garrison still sees nearly two minutes a night with the man advantage. Garrison’s shot rate has dropped considerably, down nearly 20 shots per 60mins, though this has less to do with a declining Garrison and more to do with the plethora of shooting options that Tampa Bay has in place.

Keith Ballard

There are few things I miss from the Alain Vigneault era more than the constant bickering about Ballard’s deployment. Or rather, the weekly cries of inhumanity levied on the Canucks former bench boss when he’d banish Ballard to the press box.

In theory, the Canucks were getting a top-four defender with considerable offensive upside when they acquired Ballard from the Florida Panthers. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning in an ugly two-year trend of Florida dumping the contracts of once good players, with deteriorating bodies and skill, on an eager Vancouver squad. Vancouver bought Ballard out just two-offseasons ago, cutting ties once and for all.

The hip-checking defenceman has seen his star fall at an even greater pace since being ditched by Vancouver. Ballard has been used primarily as a depth piece by the Wild. The hip checks are still there and every bit as crushing as they were in his time with Vancouver, but unfortunately, Ballard has proven a massive possession liability. 

Ballard last suited up for the Wild on December 9th, a game in which he suffered a devastating concussion. He’s since considered retirement:

“That’s still more important to me than playing hockey. But I’m not going to make that decision right now. I’m going to let this play out and see how I feel. Hopefully things clear up and I can get back and play. But if it’s a choice between trying to stick it out and play and maybe say you’re feeling well when you’re not and getting hit again or just deciding it’s time to be done, that’s a decision for down the road. But it’s something I’m going to think about.”

Kevin Connauton

As far as prospect casualties thrown into trade deadline “rental player” acquisitions, losing Connauton was hardly a tear jerker. His development within the Canucks organization had stalled to the point where there had apparently been conversations about converting the former third-round pick to forward. As such, Connauton was as expendable as they come. Vancouver used him as a trade chip in the acquisition of Derek Roy at the 2012 deadline and never looked back.

I’d always assumed that, at his best, Connauton would be a power play specialist reserved for a depth role. Basically, a high end Yannick Weber. In his first season with the Dallas Stars, that’s more or less the level of play Connauton provided. Lindy Ruff sheltered the hell out of Connauton and the young defender held his own.

Connauton’s second season with the Stars didn’t go so well. It didn’t last that long, either. With the emergence of other young defencemen such as Jamie Oleksiak, Jyrki Jokipakka, Patrik Nemeth, and John Klingberg, Connauton became expendable and was placed on waivers. 

The Columbus Blue Jackets were the lucky winners of the Connauton sweepstakes. Since joining #Lumbus, Connauton has gone on an offensive tear, registering 10-points in 18-games with the Jackets. Much of this is percentage driven, of course, but it’s nice to see him flourish all the same. 

Raphael Diaz

Count yours truly among the silent majority that couldn’t have been happier to see the Canucks acquire Diaz last season. I’d long considered his defensive shortcomings vastly overblown and was a fan of his breakout ability and ability to contribute offensively. And at the cost of Dale Weise? Gillis made out like gangbusters. But what Gillis giveth, Gillis taketh away. No sooner than Diaz had found his groove with Vancouver and he was sent packing for the New York Rangers in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

Diaz bounced back and forth from the lineup to the press box during the Rangers run to the Cup finals last season. It appeared as though Diaz never quite found his groove in Vigneault’s system. As a result, he struggled to gain the trust of that lozenge fiend of a coach. 

This off-season, Diaz was left hanging following the free agency frenzy before finally being offered a training camp invite by the Flames. Calgary eventually signed Diaz to a one-year contract, but the Swiss defender has struggled mightily to find his game in Calgary. Diaz plays regularly alongside Deryk Engelland though, so that might explain some of his struggles. Then again, those WOWYs aren’t flattering.

Brad Hunt

Brad Hunt is so this year’s Antoine Roussel. The undersized defenceman was a member of the Chicago Wolves from 2011-13 when they were still affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks. Hunt is also a native of Maple Ridge, meaning that he wasn’t only in Vancouver’s system… He was in their own backyard this whole damn time as well!

Hunt left the Wolves for the Oklahoma City Oil Barons in the 2013 off-season. That following year, Hunt was nearly a point-per-game defender in the AHL before he was called up to the Edmonton Oilers for a three game stint. Hunt began the following season (this one) on the Oilers roster and stuck with the club for a meager 11-game stint, in which he posted just the three points. Before you even ask, yes, Hunt’s one goal this season came against Vancouver, because of course it did.