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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Mailbag Part 2: College Free Agents, Petrus Palmu, and Pettersson>McDavid

If the Canucks were deeper I wouldn’t mind this idea, but they just don’t really have the horses to run two effective units. It makes more sense to just load up PP1 with the best 5 players available and try to give them as many minutes as possible. We can revisit this idea if and when Adam Gaudette shows he can have success on the man advantage in the NHL the way he did playing for Northeastern.

When Jeremy Davis unveiled his SEAL model last summer, it did indeed rank Liiga as being slightly superior than the AHL. As far as what happened with Petrus Palmu, I’m as confused as you are. On the one hand, it’s possible that his small size and the smaller ice surface made for a painful adjustment. On the other hand, it’s also possible he wasn’t really utilized properly given how strange some of the decisions of the Utica Comets’ coaching staff have seemed this season from the outside looking in. My best guess is it’s probably some combination of both. If Palmu had really blown the roof off, he’d probably still be there, but it’s hard to do that if you’re getting limited opportunities.

Brett Leason comes to mind. He’s absolutely torched the WHL this year, scoring 64 points in 31 games to lead the Prince Albert Raiders in scoring. He’s in his draft+2 year, and wasn’t a huge offensive producer prior to this season, so the chances of him making an impact at the NHL level are much smaller than those of his teammates. A quick look at his backstory indicates there could be something there, though. Leason spent much of his junior career buried in the lineup of an absurdly deep Try-City Americans team that had a whopping ten players score more than 40 points in 2016-17. Leason didn’t really break out until he was traded to the raiders in October of 2017, so there’s a case to be made that Leason is simply a late bloomer or just couldn’t get enough opportunities in Tri-City to get noticed by an NHL team.

I’m of two minds when it comes to PP1. You’re right to point out that Hutton’s a good passer and could be a good fit with guys like Boeser and Pettersson on the first unit. He’s also younger and the Canucks are going to have to figure out what to do about the power play in the post-Edler era.

The only problem is that Alex Edler has a shot, and the same can’t really be said for Ben Hutton. Oddly enough, I think having a defender with a good shot is pretty overrated when it comes to having an effective power play. Shots from the point have a very low chance of going in, and generally teams yield much better results when they focus more on getting the puck to the high-percentage areas. That having been said, to do that, you have to have a defender on the ice that opponents will bother to cover. If the team killing the penalty doesn’t respect the shot of your defender, that limits the power play’s ceiling.

This is all just a long-winded way of saying that I think that job is probably Edler’s until he either moves on or someone takes it from him, and while I like the idea I don’t think Hutton has shown quite enough to do that yet.

Initially, I thought the $6.9 million figure Nylander’s contract came in at was enough to keep Boeser’s contract somewhere in the same neighbourhood, but since he’s returned he’s been on fire and looks like he could easily hit 30 goals this season. If that’s the case, he could end up getting north of $7.5 million AAV.

As for Pettersson, it’s just way too early to guess. He’s had a better start to his career than most of the highest-paid youngsters in the sport. If he keeps that up he could get Connor McDavid money, but it’s a little early to say with any certainty that he can keep this pace up over a full career.

With Juolevi out, I think the chances Alex Edler is re-signed have greatly increased. There’s a long way to go betwwen now and October 2019, and we haven’t heard a lot about what the Canucks plans will be in free agency, so I can’t really speculate as to what the pairs are going to look like. What I can do is tell you what I’d like to see, assuming there are no trades and Edler returns next season:

Edler-Stecher

Hutton-Gudbranson

Hughes-Tanev

If Chase Priskie (D) elects not to sign with the Washington Capitals following his NCAA season, then he would be at the top of my list. I haven’t gotten to watch a lot of the NCAA this season, but looking solely at production, the other names that stand out are Taro Hirose, Ryan Kuffner, and Odeen Tufto, assuming I didn’t just make all those names up off the top of my head. To be honest, it doesn’t look like a particularly strong class this year when taking a cursory glance. We’ll have a better idea of who the big names will be as we inch closer to the end of the season.

This is such a tough question because there’s just so much room for movement up and down the rankings right now. Edler and Tanev are slowing down, and when the numbers and on-ice play aren’t living up to the expectations they’ve set in the past, you start to wonder if age-related decline is finally catching up to them.

On the flip side, Hutton and Stecher are quickly improving to the point that it’s fair to question whether or not they caught up to or even surpassed Edler and Tanev in terms of where their skill sets are at right now.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s hard to answer this question because it’s tough to know what exactly a lot of these defenders are at the present moment and what they will be going forward. That’s how I end up getting screamed at for suggesting Troy Stecher might be the Canucks’ best defender. (I remember a time when you’d get screamed at for suggesting the opposite. How quickly things change.) Nevertheless, I’ll give it my best shot.

My biggest concern regarding Alex Edler was that at 32, he’s on the downswing of his career, and that his recent injury would exacerbate his decline. Since returning, he hasn’t missed a beat, though, so I’m comfortable calling him the Canucks’ best defender for the time being.

To be honest, I’m really not convinced you can call Chris Tanev the team’s second or even third-best defender anymore. It’s easily forgotten, Tanev has earned his reputation on the back of his entry defense and underlying shot-based metrics, which have both been steadily declining for three years. As much as it pains me to say it, I’d probably slot him in as their fourth best defender after Stecher and Hutton. Where you rank those two is largely dependent on how much you weigh quality of competition into your decision-making, but frankly I’m tired of talking about QoC and of defending Troy Stecher, so we’ll just breeze past that.

As far as the question of whether or not the Canucks have a clear-cut #3, I honestly don’t care much for defining defensemen on those terms. Depending on what the coaching staff wants, a team’s second-best defender will often play on the second pair and the third-best on the third pair, etc. For example, Marc Edouard-Vlasic plays mostly on the Sharks third pair. Does that make him their #5 defenseman?

What I will say is that I think the Canucks have an aging defenseman who could maybe carry a second pair on a good team for a brief period until age catches up with him (Edler), and another two who have the potential to be top-four defenders on a good team provided they’re paired with a superior, play-driving partner.

I just don’t think he really showed enough during his time here to prove he deserved to stick around. In 2017, he got an 8 game stint with the Comets and put up an .897 save percentage. He’d go on to put up a .906 save percentage in the ECHL and follow it up with an .887 save percentage last season. With the addition of Michael DiPietro, there just wasn’t any reason to keep him in the system with those numbers. He had a good NCAA career, but not every good college goalie you take a flyer on is going to be the next Curtis Joseph. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

Looking at Fenwick against is a good start in terms of quantifying how good a team is in their own end, although it’s important to consider that these numbers can often be products of the system a team is playing.

I’ve been increasingly impressed by what zone entries and exits have been able to tell us about a player’s two-way and defensive profile. Specifically, I think a player’s entry defense can tell us a lot about how he stacks up compared to his peers at defending his own blueline. The three most typically sited microstats cited when describing entry are Breakups/60, or the number of times a player disrupts the opposition’s neutral zone breakout per 60 minutes of 5v5 play; possession entries allowed/60, or the number of possession entries conceded per 60 minutes of 5v5 play; and possession entry % allowed, or the percentage of conceded entries where the opposition has possession.

Harman Dayal wrote a great introduction to these stats and how they pertain to the Canucks that you can read here.

Please don’t take this personally, but I’m really starting to hate questions like this one.

I think the world of Elias Pettersson. I always have. If you don’t believe me, read the profile I wrote on him this summer. 

Unfortunately, I’ve still managed to get raked over the coals more than once for suggesting Elias Pettersson might only be a really good, maybe even elite player, rather than the greatest player of his generation and/or all time. It puts me in a no-win situation.

Suggesting Pettersson is or could be better than McDavid is the type of thing that gets dismissed as embarrassing homerism by anyone who isn’t already a Canucks true believer, but if I say he isn’t, it forces me to put a negative slant on what he’s accomplished this season, and I don’t want to do that. Last week, I said he could turn out to be one of the truly elite players of his generation, on par with players like Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Nicklas Backstrom. He has a real shot at being the best player in Canucks history. If that’s what happens, we should be doing cartwheels.

Maybe it’s a silly thing to worry about, but I can’t help but think of Alex Edler, who was long considered to be a massive disappointment because he could never live up to the insane “next Lidstrom” hype and instead “only” turned out to be one of the best defenders in team history. If possible, I’d like to set the bar for Pettersson’s performance slightly lower than “best player of his generation”. That doesn’t seem like to much to ask.

  • Killer Marmot

    On the flip side, Hutton and Stecher are quickly improving to the point that it’s fair to question whether or not they caught up to or even surpassed Edler and Tanev in terms of where their skill sets are at right now.

    Stecher has been impressing me all season. Pity he can’t shoot. We could use some offense from the right side. Also a pity his brain has been put through the Martel mixer.

  • Great mailbag all around, very thoughtful comments. Nice to see Edler being recognized for his contributions after JD’s baffling “Edler is a buyout candidate” statements from last year.

    Minor typo: “With Juolevi out, I think the chances Alex Edler is re-signed have greatly increased. There’s a long way to go betwwen now”

  • NeverWas

    Solid response on the pettersson questions… that said, and without the scrutiny of being a politically correct and public writer…. 40>97 all the way!!! Wheeewwwww!!!! Pettersson is going to be the GOAT!!! #DekeyPetey #TheBest #legendary and dont forget about potentially the most leathal shot in the NHL and future top canucks GOAT in goal scoring Mr. Brock boeser! #theflow #brockstar #AllStarMVP

  • wojohowitz

    During the eight game losing streak who did the Canucks miss the most; Pettersson and the offence missed Boeser, The defence missed Edler, The PK missed Sutter. Horvat missed Beagle for faceoffs.

    • LACANUCK

      You are correct. This is where GMJB doesn’t get the credit for supporting his younger players. Take both Beagle and Sutter out of the equation and Bo is double shifting PK and Dzone faceoffs instead of driving O. Now contracts can be debated but the Oil, for example, didn’t have the right vets around to allow all those #1 picks to develop. Instead they were tossed in the pool and expected to figure out how to swim.

    • DogBreath

      Its not a slight – its reality. We all need to pump the brakes and let him prove himself out before he gets these premature comparisons against the best. He’s only 25 games into his career. You’d think we were TO fans …

      • Erik Lonnrot

        Right? Those comparisons are all huge compliments. The Red Wings coach even compared him to Datsyuk. He is, and is going to be an amazing player, the fact that he may not be the best player in the league should not be held against him.

    • LACANUCK

      It’s a fun sports talk radio game. Sitting around the bar, drinking some loud mouth soup and pontificating. Getting EP at #5 seems to be a stroke of genius. The kid is both Danny and Hank rolled into 1. A center/winger that can pass and shoot. He a Brock will score many goals for many years to come. It’s pretty exciting

  • Rodeobill

    Having hope and feeling optimism is something canucks fans have long been derived, so it is understandable that we get psyched up about EP and Boesor, but lost underneath all the hype they get to some degree is Horvat! If EP and Boes were just playing OK, Bo would (deservedly) be getting some serious media attention right now. He has continued to develop since his days of “second line center ceiling” each year to being in the conversation to be among some of the best centers with a 200 ft. game in the league. Imagine if he keeps going? For the deal that he is on?

  • Kanuckhotep

    fun as it is it can be perceived to be a maladroit exercise comparing, say, Petey to McDavid and/or Matthews. To me it’s like comparing Mozart to Beethoven, Hendrix to Jeff Beck or Da Vinci to Michelangelo. But comparisons are as unfair as they are inevitable. Personally I’m as happy as a pig in the proverbial to have had Benning draft Petey. Let’s just say Connor and Auston are great players but so is EP40 but in a different way .

  • TD

    Pettersson scored several nice one timers from Hutton, but has barely even attempted one since Edler returned as the passes are never in the right spot. I’d rather see Hutton on PP1. I don’t think it takes a great shot, if it does then Hughes can’t be the PP QB as his shot is not strong at all. Needing the big shot was more important when not using the umbrella and the PP was setting up the D at the point. Now the shots come from the two guys on the sides.

    Does anyone else think they need more movement. The PP is very static with most players only moving a couple feet.

    • truthseeker

      Yeah I think it’s a bit too static as well. It’s done alright because they do have EP and Brock with the big shots but I’d like to see them shift around more to create more space. I does seem a bit predictable the way it is now. But then again….Ovechkin is “predictable” too. Everyone knows exactly where he’ll shoot from and he still scores anyway. Brock’s a little like that too. So who knows. Maybe what’s even more important than player movement is faster puck movement. Some of the best goals they’ve scored this year have been when the puck is being tic tac toed around the players. The last little while it seems like they’ve been holding the puck longer and it looks more predictable because of that.

        • DJ_44

          Exactly this. And the fact that the pass from the point is one of the many ways to set up one times from the wings. Goldobin is useful as the bumper for this reason. I would also like to see them squeeze the PK closer to the net. It’s a work in progress. For today, let’s review the zone entries.

    • Fred-65

      The play from Edler to EP is not the play they’re looing for. It barely chnages the goaltenders angle and there fore the likelihood of scoring is small. The play they’re looking for is the pass across the box from Goldobin/Boeser to EP. Big movement for the goalie and a much better chnace of a goal.

  • bobdaley44

    Hutton and Stecher caught up to or surpassed Edler and Tanev? What a ridiculous statement. Play those two against the other teams top lines and watch them get destroyed. Edler might be slowing down but the only guy even close to him is Tanev. Come next year not sure you can have Hughes and Stecher in the lineup some nights against the heavier teams. Sign Edler for two more years.

    • Killer Marmot

      Stecher is leading the team in plus/minus at +11. I think that’s trying to tell us something. His possession stats are also substantially better than either Edler or Tanev.

      Times change, bobdaley44.

      • DJ_44

        Context is everything. Stecher has played well, but struggles against the top lines, or big grinding 4th lines. Edler and Tanev get the hard matches and have performed very well.

      • bobdaley44

        BS analytics. You think there’s a reason Stecher plays sub 20 every night? Go throw all three on the market and see what kind of offers you get. Stecher has no shot and is small. Is he feisty and useful? Ya for sure. But he’s expendable. Times may change but hockey is hockey. It’s all about the match ups. Tanev and Edler are playing heavy minutes.

        • Killer Marmot

          If you want to debate then fine, but don’t use the word BS on me.

          I don’t think Stecher is a finished product. Tanev is still a better defensive defenseman in many ways, especially things like breaking up opposing-team zone entries.

          But Stecher is fast becoming the best puck-carrying D they have, which is particularly valuable given the Canucks difficulty in zone exits and entries over the last few years. He’s also very good on the PK, where quickness and agility are at a premium, and will likely get increasing ice time there.

          Concerning his shot, it’s crappy as I have said elsewhere. I doubt he’ll ever spend much time on the power play. But he’s still en route to a 25-point season due to his mobility and passing. Tanev’s offense is worse.

          Stecher still has weaknesses, and his size will limit the role he plays, but Edler and Tanev have weaknesses as well. Stecher is not far off from being the better player.

  • Holly Wood

    Not sure why you cast some of the blame on Trent Cull for Palmu ‘s struggles in Utica. Many players struggle when moving up pro ranks and if you don’t make any impression on a coaching staff, it’s on the player not the coach.

    • TD

      I think Palmu suffered under the number of rookies that all arrived at the same time. Dahlen and Jasek have both developed after slow starts and are putting up increasing point rates.

  • Jock-Itch

    With Joulevi most likely needing another year of development and the lack of high end defensive prospects in the system, going the NCAA route might be a great option

  • LACANUCK

    Goodness the answer to the EP question is simple. He dominated the SHL and eclipsed the record books last year. He has had a better start to his career than most of the highest paid players right now. If he continues on this path and continues to improve his weaknesses, he will be the greatest Canuck and rival Conner and Austin. He won’t be as physically explosive, but what we saw with the Sedins, hockey IQ can carry a player to success farther into their 30s. The potential is there. BTW Jackson, I think EP puts more pressure on himself to excel than any fan or writer could.

  • bobdaley44

    Well the team is winning and playing better with them in the lineup aren’t they? They were on a losing skid when they were out. Coincidence you think? When you’re out on the ice playing against Mckinnon and Rantanen instead of Soderberg and Nieto I thing you’re gonna get a few more shots against. Now try Stecher and Hutton against that first line all game and see what happens.