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Photo Credit: theprovince.com

Canucks Army Preseason Prospect Rankings: #6 Nikolay Goldobin

Let me say in no uncertain terms: I love Nikolay Goldobin. I love that he’s fast. I love that he is an unapologetic one-way player, and I love that he makes weird folk-art statues of cows made out of scraps of wood.

He strikes me as exactly the type of player Don Cherry would hate, which truly makes him a man after my own heart. But therein lies the problem. The league is largely populated by what are essentially, whether they want to admit or not, slightly more elegant Don Cherries.

pGPS (and it’s predecessor, PCS), is in my opinion the most interesting and enlightening thing Canucks Army has ever produced. But it has limitations. The biggest is that by nature it cannot address the fact that players do not exist within a vacuum, and using games played as a measure of success is something that only exacerbates this issue. pGPS can tell you how many statistical cohorts of a given player went on to play 200 or more NHL games, how much those players produced on average, and what the expected value of the player you’re analyzing will be. What it can’t tell you, and this is it’s biggest flaw, is how many cohorts should have been successful, productive NHL players. The concept of “should” is very nebulous, and not something that many analysts, traditional or statistical, would have much use for, given it’s subjectivity. That doesn’t mean it’s not an important consideration, though.

The implicit assumption of a predictive model like pGPS is that NHL executives and coaches don’t make mistakes, that the NHL is a perfect model of meritocracy. But we know this isn’t any more true of the game of hockey than it is of society at large, and only the most simpering partisan would believe it to be as such. Each player has a unique set of circumstances, a unique set of obstacles to overcome, and a finite number of spots open to them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think there’s a version of the NHL that exists, or could exist at some point in space-time, where there’s no question as to whether or not Nikolay Goldobin belongs on an NHL roster. In this respect, you could consider this profile a spiritual sequel to the one I wrote on Jordan Subban a few days ago. They’re both players with very specific high-end skills who struggle with the defensive side of the game and may never see the light of day because of it.

In some ways, Goldobin’s first game as a Canuck told us all we needed to know about him as a player. He scored a beautiful goal, maybe on of the best Vancouver had seen all season, but he cheated to do it, and he was swiftly punished for it by then-coach Willie Desjardins, who let Goldobin rot on the bench for all but 30-odd seconds of the remainder of the game. That’s Goldobin in a nutshell. Flashy and defiant in the face of authority. It’s a great way to get the fans on your side, but it’s probably a losing proposition if you’re looking to have a long, successful pro hockey career.

What Desjardins struggled with regarding Goldobin, and arguably the game of hockey in general, is the concept of risk management. There is no such thing as risk-free hockey. It has risk bred into it’s DNA. There is risk inherent to every decision a player makes, every selection made in the draft, every trade,  every transaction.

What Desjardins failed to understand, and what most of us in the game of hockey still struggle with, is that cheating isn’t inherently bad. All a player has to do is be successful at it one more time than he fails to be a useful player. I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, but Goldobin might be that player.

John Tortorella has said a lot of silly things over the course of his career, but he was absolutely right about one thing: safe is death.

Nikolay Goldobin? He’s the opposite of that.

Qualifications

We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).

Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.

Scouting Report

I’ve seen Goldobin described as a “pure goal-scorer” more than a few times in the past, but I think referring to him as such is a case of unnecessary pigeon-holing. Instead, I see him as a very gifted player with a complete offensive toolkit. His most immediately noticeable asset is his wrist shot, but he possesses the explosiveness and creativity to set up teammates as well. In short, he’s the type of player that gives depending players fits. Give him too much space, and he’ll make you pay, but get drawn in too much, and suddenly the puck is on his teammate’s stick and in the back of the net.

When it comes to players of Goldobin’s ilk, there are often concerns about defense. Those concerns are usually overblown, but in Goldobin’s case, he’s guilty as charged. In his limited time with the big club last season, he posted some of the league’s worst defensive numbers, controlling a paltry 42.7% of shot attempts and allowing 67.7 shot attempts against per hour while on the ice. Some of this can probably be attributed to playing with Brandon Sutter, but he still struggled to get his numbers up to a respectable number with better linemates.

Goldobin is one of the Canucks’ most impressive prospects from an analytical perspective, carrying an expected success percentage of 52.5%, with an expected points/82 of 41.4. As you might expect, there are a quite a few offensive forwards among Goldobin’s statistical cohorts, including Mikkel Boedker, Joffrey Lupul,  Jason Zucker, and Brad Marchand.

Interestingly, Goldobin’s expected success percentage has steadily improved from year-to-year, while simultaneously his expected production has fallen by 3-5 points in each of the past three years. This strange inverse relationship between the two statistics is almost certainly meaningless, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

My biggest concern regarding Goldobin is that he’s going to need to get sustained NHL action at some point very soon, but given the team’s most recent signings, it doesn’t appear that there will be any room for him this season. That doesn’t bode well for a player who’s probably already fighting an uphill battle given the nature of his game.

Though they’re incredibly rare, there are players that manage to consistently be sub-50% in shot attempts and above 50% in goals-for. Whether Goldobin can be that player is another story. He certainly looks like the type of player that could fit that mold, but he’ll need to improve his two-way game even to get to that level. If the Canucks hit a home run on Goldobin- and that’s a big if- he’s got all-star written all over him. What’s far more likely is that he settles comfortably into a Sam Gagner-type role, needing to be sheltered at even-strength, but capable of wreaking havoc on the man advantage. The biggest question is whether or not the Canucks have the patience and understanding to let him do that. Their track record with young players is hit-or-miss, and Goldobin is bound to be among the most frustrating players they’ve ever dealt with.

  • Peezy F

    A storyline that was kind of lost at the end of the year was that in limited ice time and not seeing a second of PP time, Goldy managed to score 3 goals in 12 games. Excited to see Goldy and Boeser fight it out for that 2nd line spot this camp.

  • Betty

    Instead of praying that Goldobin can become one of the incredibly rare players with a positive goal ratio and negative shot ratio, why not get him to work on the defensive side of his game? Say what you will, after his benching by Willie and being called out by Sutter, he began to play a more sound defensive game.

    If you need to manufacture your offense by cheating, that’s not a lot to offer a team. Luckily, Goldobin has the tools to be an incredible offensive player while still being able to defend hard. He’s got great wheels, coming back on defense should be easier! But his problem isn’t just backchecking, it’s battling against the boards, which is where a large chunk of the game is played. Sven Baertschi became infinitely more useful once Willie got him battling against the boards and in front of the net. Similarly, Goldobin could be a legitimate first or second line player if they could get him to defend properly.

    This isn’t Don Cherry lite, this is Babcock, Bowman, Quenneville, Trotz et al. What do you expect the Canucks to do? Have a game plan for every line that Goldobin isn’t on, and then when Goldobin’s on, play with 4 men back and Goldobin wandering around hoping one of those 4 guys can beat the 5 attackers and hit him with a breakout pass? Tell every other player they need to be defensively accountable except for Goldobin? And what if Boeser turns out to have better hands/wheels than Goldobin? Do we now have two floaters? Or is that only because we’ve decided Goldobin doesn’t do defence?

    Think of it from an odds perspective. What’s more likely, we get Goldobin to clean up the defensive side of his game so he’s no longer a shot hemorrhaging liability, or he defies all statistics and reason to become one of those GF positive while corsi negative players, who have to be sheltered and managed carefully at all times?

    • Peachy

      He doesn’t have to be that sheltered though; imagine a fourth line of Gaunce / Goldobin / Gagner.

      At 5v5, they play exclusively against 4th and (occasionally) 3rd lines, and I would be very surprised if they couldn’t keep a 50%+ GF. That line would also offer + utility at 4v5 (Gaunce) and +++ utility at 5v4 (Gagner, Goldobin).

      You’re right that the team needs to be built around that as a concept, but I don’t think it’s out of reach, and I suspect it would do more to help a team win compared with a 4th line of Skille / Gaunce / Dorsett (for example).

    • Fred-65

      Good post, but here’s some thing to think about your/Jackson McDonald comments I can tell you could have been sated about Pavel Bure too. Pat Quinn used to pul his hair out trying to get Bure back into his defensive zone, the difference is Quinn never benched Bure. His offense was his defence NHL Defensemen were scared stiff of being caught out by Bure, …. so they tended to fall back further when he was on the ice. Now Goldobin is maybe no Bure but I do tend to believe his offense is his best defence

      • Chris the Curmudgeon

        I kinda agree with Fred as well as Betty. Getting him up to a minimal competence in defence, and also finding a way to let him scare the crap out of defenders with his speed and scoring prowess, would be a delicate balancing act. But, it would be preferable to drilling the creativity out of him altogether.

      • Forward Thinker

        I might agree if Goldobin was as fast and gifted as Bure, but he is not. Bure was faster than almost every Defender in the game but now most defensmen can skate. Also, the Canucks in Bures time were really good defensively. As it stands we have three floaters: Goldobin, Gagne and Vanek. That is too many to cover for.

    • Billy Pilgrim

      Bit of a straw man argument from Betty. Jackson was not suggesting that Goldobin can forget about defense. the article states that “he’ll need to improve his two-way game” even to become a sheltered scoring forward like Sam Gagner. The article is about what Goldobin can become if he does work on his defense.

    • Forward Thinker

      I agree with all your points. I have played with guys like him….let others do the work so he can scoop the glory. Ultimately his team mates get tired of that….especially when he uses his goal totals to demand a wage higher than those who are doing his share of the hard work. Maybe that was behind Sutters comment. That kind of player needs to sit in the minors until they learn to play the whole game. If he cannot lean play the whole game, I would trade him. He should fetch a good prospect or high draft pick from a team who has the horses able to cover his deficits. If I were Benning, I would tie his contract bonuses to his defensive progress.

  • myshkin

    you can’t win without a few snipers and if he has a few defensive weak spots, it’s up the coach to find the right match ups and line combinations. willie didn’t have the nhl experience for creating good match ups and hiring another rookie coach isn’t going to solve the problem.

    • RoCkFaThEr

      Very good observation myshkin…
      However I feel both Willie and Greener are two different coaches altogether…
      We all know how Willie panned out but I am more optimistic with Travis Green’s up-tempo style of play.
      A player of Goldobins caliber, should flourish under such systems

    • Forward Thinker

      I do not agree that Green has not enough experience. Every coach has a first time in the Nhl. He has a strong background and knows the players he will be coach going forward. He will know what he has and assessing the oppositions strength and Weakness is not that hard when you have seen many of those players when coaching against them in the minors.

      • confused canuck

        I’m confused. Willie D had a better record in the AHL and won the Calder Cup. Why should Travis Green be any better with zero NHL experience and a worse coaching record than Willie in the AHL?

        • RoCkFaThEr

          To confused canuck…
          I can’t really explain the why, but I will use Mark Crawford as an example.
          He was a third / fourth line plug player who gained vast experience and knowledge playing the game who became a fairly successful coach.
          One can hope that Travis Greene can do the same at the NHL level.
          When Willie was coaching in the AHL he had a very stack team, Travis did not.
          Willie never played in the NHL, Travis did.
          Fingers crossed.

          • confused canuck

            To rockfather…

            I’m still confused. By your logic Gretzky, Oates and Butch Goring should be among the best coaches of all time because they were also great players. But their terrible coaching records tell us that’s not the case. Scotty Bowman never played an NHL game and he is undisputedly the best NHL coach of all-time.

            Sorry, but your opinion carries no weight whatsoever. Green is therefore no better than Willie, in fact many say he coaches the same way, so be afraid, be very afraid.

  • Doodly Doot

    Goldy is a Canucks management bellwether. Will their system encourage him to become an elite journeyman or send him into a tailspin? I have faith in Greene to inspire Nikolay to fix the part of his game that underlays his brutal +/-. That likely will lead to a mix of time between Utica and Van. My fingers are crossed for patience and success from both sides. A fistful of electrifying goals from this young man will, for me, help make the years ahead of rebuild go down a little smoother. And who knows, maybe even evolve an elite NHL goal-scorer along the way.

  • Spiel

    Strikes me as the poor man’s Nail Yakupov with many of the same deficiencies as Yak.
    Hopefully Goldobin is a little better than Yakupov at figuring out what it takes to be an NHL player.

    • pheenster

      Who is himself a poor man’s Alex Semin. Stupendously talented, now out of the league (and apparently out of the KHL as well) due to an aversion to work of any kind. The days of skating by on natural skill alone ended quite some time ago.

        • pheenster

          The distance between Kessel and Semin is huge, and best illustrated by their playoff performance. Even when he was producing with Washington, Semin downed tools the instant he wasn’t being paid. Kessel has been a significant playoff producer since he joined a team that actually, you know, makes the playoffs.

    • Doodly Doot

      I wonder if the system in Edmonton hurt Yak in the early going. I’m sure Van is trying to avoid just that. They can teach Goldy the defensive side of the game, but his offence definitely cannot be taught. That needs encouragement and opportunity. Yak, so far, is a cautionary tale.

      • Forward Thinker

        I agree. Defense is a learned skill and can be taugh as long as you are dealing with a player who is willing to learn. The problem with Yak and Semin, both thought they should be exempt of the work because they could score goals. I Goldobin takes that sams attitude, he should be traded before the rest of the league figure that out.

        • confused canuck

          I’m confused. San Jose already traded him… because they already figured it out. That would mean many other teams have as well, except the Canucks, doesn’t it.

  • I can’t see how Goldobin could want to be a defensive liability. It will only hurt him come contract negotiations because management can argue that his point production is only at the expense of his teammates. The analytics will kill him. As long as he’s not a defensive anchor that vanishes in the playoffs, we can forgive some defensive shortcomings if he can compensate with goals and a good attitude.

  • Honey Badger Fan

    OK San Jose, jokes over… can we have Jannik Hansen back now.

    Clearly you gave this kid up for a valid reason and that’s because he refuses to be a two way player. Inexcusable when even Alex Ovechkin can be taught to be defensively responsible an essentialelement in todays NHL!

    C’mon Sharks, you’re playing Hansen on your top line and we even had to retain salary to a division rival… you mugged us fair and square, just like Benning when he said ”this is a team we can turn around in a hurry”… c’mon SJ have a heart, give us our honey badger back!

    • Dirty30

      No way in heck SJ is making that trade! LOL! They actually let Marleau walk to keep Hansen.

      Next you will try to trade Sutter for two-time SC champion Nick Bonino and ask for a prospect and pick as well! My God, who in their right mind would make that trade? If they were really incompetently intoxicated they’d then sign Sutter to a huge contract without ever seeing him play.

      You’ll never find a trading partner that stupid.

      But thanks for the chuckle … I think …

      • Terry Dactil

        I could see Hansen re-signing for us, he was gutted to leave, probably still has a house in Van, would be a fantastic mentor for the kids and maybe take on some coaching down the line. Can’t understand why Benning didn’t protect Hansen and leave Sutter up for grabs though as Vegas likely wouldn’t have taken on that albatross contract imo.

        • Probably for the following reasons: Benning sees Sutter as a foundational player so he’s not letting him go, Sutter plays centre, Hansen had more trade value because of his performance and lower salary, and Hansen is a pending UFA at the end of this year (no guarantee he’ll resign with the Canucks).

          • Terry Dactil

            As i said, there was less chance of Sutter being chosen by Vegas than Hansen, and also Jim Benning could’ve easily done a deal with McPhee to make sure we kept both as many other teams did with their valued assets. That’s what a smarter wheeler dealer GM woulda done imo.

          • But if Benning is deadset on keeping Sutter, it doesn’t make sense to expose a player that he could potentially lose. So from Benning’s perspective, although you disagree, the trade made complete sense. As for dealing with McPhee, it’s hard to say what could have happened but if we look at some of the trades that did happen, are you willing to give up a 1st or 2nd round pick to save Hansen? I’m not.

    • Forward Thinker

      I would not be in a hurry to give up and n him. The Utica has a Defense first coach where Goldobin can be given a chance to learn. If he is willing to learn that part of the game, he will be a star.

  • Cageyvet

    I’m surprised by the majority of the comments here. Doesn’t anybody remember the legion of Canucks fans praying for management to draft and/or trade for skill, with the thought process being the mantra “you can teach defense, you can’t teach elite skill”.

    What I love about this kid is he reeks of legitimate sniper……in all ways. Good skater, accurate shot, obviously shoots from anywhere and often, has great stick skills in tight, and, shockingly, he sucks defensively.

    Hello Bure, Ovechkin, Hull, etc. This is not a problem unless you fail to utilize his skills properly while gradually coaching the 2-way game to a respectable level.

    This player is the litmus test of the management group for me, and in general I am supportive of them. I’m not concerned if he starts in Utica, but what he looks like in 3 years is critical for this franchise in my opinion. He could be a true 1st/2nd line winger, and a fixture on the power play if we handle him correctly.

    • LouSlips

      I know it’s a common refrain among Canucks fans that Bure never played defense, but check out “Bure’s lost shifts” on YouTube. It’s all him coming back deep in his zone on the backcheck, allowing him to be moving at full speed by the time he got to his blue line, making him basically unstoppable

      • TheRealRusty

        Most forget that Bure was pretty fond of blowing the zone early in his early years. He did eventually realize that more offense can come if he got the puck back by pursuing it like a dog on a steak. It didnt take him years in the minors to figure that out either (ZERO in fact). Goldobin oozing skill and finish like few of us Canucks fans have seen in years. Here is hoping that management doesnt ruin a potential game breaking talent in the effort to turn him into a 3rd line checker. Lord knows we have enough of those…

      • RoCkFaThEr

        Ahh LouSlips I remember well!
        The kid was so fast on his back check, but maybe that had something to do with him playing with Odjick?
        None the less, he was a very special player with his speed something Vancouver has been missing for many…. many… years!
        I honestly don’t think I’ll see anything like him playing for Van in my lifetime again.

  • surreal78

    Nice to see some lighthearted banter on here (mostly), for once.

    Kid does remind me of Bure, not due to his Russian heritage but more because of his playstyle, ebullient nature. and nose for the net. I would really hate to see that genuine enthusiasm to *SCORE GOALS* snuffed out of him by the likes of Sutter. Trying to inure him to the defensive side of the puck is not wasted effort, but I’m really hoping management and Travis Green — with whom he seemed to enjoy a good relationship with at the end of last season — let him flourish.

    Looking forward to seeing his flash-and-dash this season. He could stand to learn a little fron Sven, too.

  • canuckfan

    Gaunce at center, Goldobin and Vertanin on the wings or pick another center. Line would have speed Gaunce and Vertanin defensive numbers are not bad. I think that Goldobin and Vertanin played together with Comets when Goldy got the 4 goals. They may need to develop in Utica this year…but what a future and may be the best combination for Gaunce to have success.

  • Holmes

    Looong putt that this kid scatches out an NHL career. He looks too slow – or not quick enough – to carve up NHL defense and he looks too weak to win many battles or survive in front of the net or the corners. He’s a tweener ; he’ll drive coaches nuts with his d and his offense won’t be worth his defensive shortcomings. No chance.