It’s only been three games in my dataset since the deadline, but a lot has changed. Canucks head coach Travis Green formed a new top line, plugging in the newly acquired Brandon Leipsic to play with the best two forwards this organization has to offer in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
The line was performing incredibly well until a scary injury to Boeser on Monday cut his season short. As a result, Green’s forced to create yet another new top line. The combo of Leipsic and Horvat will remain intact with the improving speedster, Jake Virtanen, joining them on the newly vacated right wing.
Additionally, with Sven Baertschi and Loui Eriksson’s seasons also over due to injury, even more opportunities will open up for the young players on this squad to display exactly what they can add to this team in what has become a 15 game audition for next season.
Nikolay Goldobin is seemingly hanging on by a thread, averaging the least amount of ice-time among qualified players. These injuries are a blessing in disguise for the creative distributor; he merely has to take advantage of this opportunity.
The post-deadline defensive pairings of, Alexander Edler and Erik Gudbranson, Michael Del Zotto and Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot, Remained consistent up until an abysmal first period on Monday night while hosting the New York Islanders. Green shuffled pairs one and three, opting to try the Hutton – Gudbranson experiment again while reuniting Edler with Pouliot who have performed well offensively when paired.
Since the deadline, the Canucks have hosted the New York Rangers (6-5 OTL), Nashville Predators (4-3 OTL), and the New York Islanders (4-3 OTW) at the time of my writing this, producing four points in three games while avoiding losing in regulation time.
Without any further adieu, let’s take a closer look at how the team is performing, using data and some micro-stats I’ve been tracking.
JV18 earning a look on the top line.
Leipsic generating plenty of opportunities.
Goldobin making the most of his limited playing time.
Hutton leading defenders since the deadline. pic.twitter.com/QxOWOLnlnw
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) March 8, 2018
Leipsic leading the way ?
Hutton has 5 of the 13 controlled entries by d-men.
Horvat ?? pic.twitter.com/NdjsYAGbO1
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) March 7, 2018
First, let’s take a look at 5v5 Primary Shot Contributions and Zone Entries
Brandon Leipsic – The Toronto Maple Leaf and Vegas Golden Knight castoff is reunited with former Portland Winterhawks head coach, Travis Green. Green immediately awarded Leipsic with a spot on the top line with Horvat and Boeser and the early vote of confidence paid off. Not only is Leipsic tied with Horvat for the team lead in points since his arrival with five, but he’s also leading the team with 11 controlled zone entries and is second on the team with 19 primary shot contributions.
Below is a clip of a Leipsic controlled zone entry followed by a “royal road” shot assist, setting up Jake Virtanen for the third goal on Monday night against the New York Islanders.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) March 6, 2018
It’s encouraging that Leipsic has been so heavily involved in generating offensive opportunities early on with the Canucks. His early showings display he’s not just a passenger along for the ride on the top line, but he’s capable of creating offence himself. Let’s hope this trend continues when JV18 takes Boeser’s spot on the first line.
Another interesting note on Leipsic — it appears he had a fan in Toronto who likely wasn’t happy about opting to protect Matt Martin over the speedy winger in the expansion draft. Check out these recently liked tweets by current Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager, Kyle Dubas.
Leipsic is a player. Skill, speed, smarts, work ethic, 2 way play all there. That's a guy you bet on.
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 6, 2018
Quite a night for Brendan Leipsic, 2 G, 1 A including the OT winner (and three penalties)!
— Scott Cullen (@tsnscottcullen) March 6, 2018
Perhaps Dubas saw something in Leipsic’s games that others didn’t? Analytics that!
One last note on Leipsic — after three penalties taken versus the Islanders, I became concerned this was a potential characteristic of the often overlooked winger, so I checked it out. No need to worry Canucks fans, he’s not a penalty-taking machine. In fact, he’s drawn one more penalty than he’s taken this year. Consider Monday’s penalty differential a blip on the radar rather than a triple bogey.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) March 6, 2018
Bo Horvat – He’s been in beast mode over the three-game sample I’ve analyzed, leading the team in total zone entries with 18, and primary shot assists with ten. Entering the zone has never been a problem for Bo, but he’s never really viewed as a natural distributor. Horvat’s at his best when he’s not only creating offensive opportunities off the rush but when he’s generating offence off the cycle and possession game in the offensive zone. That’s precisely what he’s been doing lately and has been improving upon all season. I look forward to seeing if he can continue to do this without Boeser by his side. We saw Boeser produce without Horvat earlier in the season; now we’ll see what Bo can do without Brock, a good test for the team’s number one centre.
Brock Boeser – Quite simply, Boeser was being Boeser on the newly formed first line until the unfortunate injury to his back. He’s tied for first on the team with 13 shots while continuing to distribute when necessary. I have to admit; I was really looking forward to tracking that line for the remainder of the season. Get well soon, Brock.
I’ll just leave this Boeser magic here. Shoutout to Leipsic for the backhand, behind the goal line, royal road shot assist — dang!
What a move. What a shot. What a goal
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) March 1, 2018
Daniel Sedin – Daniel continues to impress with his limited ice-time, taking ten shots at 5-on-5 which is three more than Horvat in just under 16 minutes less of time on ice. He’s continued to produce with four points in three games since the deadline all while having a 58.33% share of shots. As the season goes on, the twins continue to prove there’s still plenty of game left in the tank.
Henrik Sedin – The three-game primary shot contribution chart doesn’t exactly do Henrik any favours. We know he doesn’t shoot and for whatever reason, he hasn’t been setting up many opportunities at 5-on-5 since the deadline. I don’t expect this recent dry spell to continue. On the season, Hank is leading the team, setting up just under 16 shots/60; the closest to him is Goldobin setting up 13.39 per hour.
These two are clearly capable of contributing to the team on the ice. Not only as offensive zone specialists at 5-on-5, but they are still primary options depended on to gain the zone on the powerplay. Once they do gain the zone, it’s still Hank’s PP to run. If the Sedin’s want to come back while taking a pay-cut, I have plenty of room and time for them in my lineup.
Nikolay Goldonbin – Goldobin must approach every shift from now until the end of the season as an opportunity to earn Green’s trust. This is a critical time in his career to prove that he has progressed and won’t be a liability without the puck. If Goldy’s compete level can match his skill-set, the Canucks have a player here; if not, I’m not sure how much longer this management team keeps him around.
Green is doing his best to help Goldobin succeed; he’s being deployed over 86% of the time in the offensive zone with offensively minded players. This deployment has undoubtedly aided his over 60% share of shots, and the PSC chart shows he’s been productive at creating offensive opportunities when given a chance.
Jake Virtanen – Virtanen has been playing some of the best hockey of his career recently, and it’s showing on the primary shot contribution chart over the last three games. He’s tied with Boeser for the team lead with 13 shots, but what’s more encouraging is Virtanen’s been distributing the puck lately and showing signs of improvement in his 5-on-5 game. His eight primary shot assists tie him with Leipsic for second on the team, and he’s had a positive share of shots with a Corsi rating of 51.9%.
“I’m trying to make myself better every day, taking advice from coaching staff and trying to be consistent.” Jake Virtanen discusses turning a corner with his game. pic.twitter.com/uBCxK6D2XM
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 7, 2018
Darren Archibald – A feel-good story this year, Archie has produced more on the scoresheet than anyone expected with five points in 12 games and two in three since the deadline. The counting stats are a nice bonus, and man, does it feel good when Archibald scores.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) March 6, 2018
That said, there’s room for improvement in his underlying metrics. The Canucks are only controlling 39.84% of the shots at 5-on-5 in the limited sample of his season, which is a definite red flag. Whether you believe in Corsi as a predictor or a measurement of a players ability is irrelevant — when you’re out-shot that badly, you’re not going to survive in the NHL for long. He’s being deployed heavily in the defensive zone with a measly 21.05% offensive zone start percentage which isn’t helping. Furthermore, playing primarily with the defensive zone specialist Brandon Sutter isn’t doing him any favours either. However, with all that considered, he still must find a way to do more to either drive possession, or prevent shots against if he hopes to be part of the solution in Vancouver.
Tyler Motte – Newcomer Tyler Motte has found himself flanking Sutter, which isn’t an ideal situation for the offensive-minded winger. His shot-share and zone starts are similar to Archibald’s, but Motte has shown signs of life as he’s tied for third on the team in individual zone entries. Motte is a shooter, and you can see that as he hasn’t produced a 5-on-5 shot assist yet with the Canucks. Furthermore, Motte hasn’t provided more assists than goals since 2014-15 with the University of Michigan. I don’t view Motte as a fourth-line shutdown or even prevent defensive winger, so until he’s out of that role, it’s difficult to evaluate his game. With the recent injuries, we’ll see if Green gives Motte a few more offensive opportunities.
#Canucks Zone exits since the deadline Vs.
Del Zotto's control rate + microscopic fail rate ⭐️
51, 27, 5 are all approaching a 50% controlled exit rate ??
Gudbranson showing signs of improvement as he's nearly 4% over his season average ?? pic.twitter.com/EjBLQCYrCP
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) March 7, 2018
Erik Gudbranson – A slim rise in his controlled exit rate and he’s been setting up shots more often than usual. There have been small improvements in Gudbranson’s game but not enough to alter his shot share of 42.70% since the deadline. To his credit, once he was taken off of the top pairing, he performed well in two periods of play alongside Ben Hutton. The third pairing is where Gudbranson belongs, so let’s hope he stays there.
Ben Hutton – It appears Hutton has put in the work off the ice to get rewarded on the ice. His offensive zone starts are near 75% which are playing a factor in his team-leading 62.65% shot share. Hutton’s been making the most of his time in the offensive zone as he’s generated 15 primary shot contributions in three games, leading all defenders and good for sixth on the team.
Derrick Pouliot – Pouliot has been performing well recently, and he appears to have more poise and confidence with the puck. His shot share of 62.24% is good for second on the team since the deadline. His 12 primary shot contributions are good for second among defenders.
Well, that’s enough micro-stats and data for now. Once we hit the ten game mark for the new players, I’ll start putting some per 60 charts together so we’ll have some data to compare their production to the other wingers on the team.
I wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update on a massive project I’ve been working on. I’m building a database on the top eligible defencemen for the upcoming 2018 entry draft which will include over 50 individual and on-ice contributions. My next Canucks Army article will be a preview of the project where I compare two defenders using the data I’ve collected. Looking forward to it!