Sunday’s matinee matchup against the Detroit Red Wings marked the 50th game of the 2018/19 season for the Vancouver Canucks, and just like high school students across British Columbia, it’s time for the team to receive their report card.
As a whole, the team has already outperformed expectations this season. Most pundits—and even a large percentage of dedicated fans—did not foresee the Canucks holding down a playoff spot at the All-Star break, but that’s exactly where they are.
At the season’s outset, the Canucks had one of the weakest rosters in the league on paper—and their position in the playoff hunt is definitely an occurrence of the “sum being greater than its parts” variety. Still, a cursory look at which Canucks are performing above, at, or below expectations shows that most of the team is doing quite well on an individual basis—and that the organization is getting about as much out of this roster as it could have reasonably hoped for.
Pettersson is in the midst of the greatest rookie season in franchise history, and all of the ways in which he’s outperformed realistic expectations on a statistical basis have already been discussed ad nauseum. Instead, let’s talk about another category in which Pettersson has exceeded expectations—durability.
Pettersson has missed 11 total games with an injury, but any other player would have also been injured by having their head smashed into the ice or their leg contorted in three different directions. On both occasions, Pettersson returned to the ice with minimal downtime, proving that he’s far from fragile.
Horvat just keeps getting better. Despite a recent cold snap, he’s still on pace to demolish his previous career highs in all offensive categories. That’s on top of Horvat carrying an ever-increasing defensive load and juggling a decidedly unimpressive rotation of wingers. With everything that Elias Pettersson has accomplished, it says a lot that Horvat still probably deserves the title of “most valuable player.”
Goldobin is a difficult player to place on this report card. On the one hand, he’s already shattered his previous offensive totals and sits fourth on the team in scoring. On the other hand, he remains in Travis Green’s dog house for his perceived lack of effort away from the puck. Defensive shortcomings have always been a factor in his game, so it’s fair to say that Goldobin is exceeding expectations offensively and meeting them defensively—and that he’s thus Exceeding Expectations overall.
At age 32, Edler is having perhaps the best season of his career—and the calls for him to be moved at the Trade Deadline have subsequently died down. He leads the team in average icetime by more than two minutes per game, and his defensive numbers remain strong despite consistently going up against the opponents’ best players. Edler has also chipped in an inordinate amount of offense, ranking fourth on the entire team in points-per-game.
Roussel is looking like he’s worth every penny of his heavily-criticized UFA contract. Not only has Roussel come as advertised as an agitator extraordinaire—drawing more penalties than the team’s top offensive talents—he’s also contributing more offense than anyone could have expected and sits second on the team in primary assists.
Alex Edler has undoubtedly been the Canucks’ best blueliner in the 2018/19 season, but second place probably goes to Hutton. His two-way game has improved by leaps and bounds as the year has progressed, and Travis Green obviously recognizes the progression as he’s given Hutton the second-most minutes on the team. The fact that Hutton is also on pace to surpass his previous offensive bests is just a nice bonus on top of it all.
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Markstrom was expected to share the crease with either Anders Nilsson or Thatcher Demko this season, but he’s been dominant enough over the last two months to solidify himself as the team’s definitive starting netminder. For the first time in his career, Markstrom is playing with consistency, and he’s giving the Canucks a chance to win on most nights—even when they don’t deserve to.
There isn’t a single measure by which Motte is not currently drastically exceeding expectations this year. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the NHL in 2018/19, yet he’s become perhaps the most consistent and reliable component of the Canucks’ bottom-six forward corps. Motte has nearly as many points this season as he did in the first three seasons of his career combined.
Biega still can’t get into the lineup consistently, but maybe coach Travis Green should start calling his name more frequently. Biega has performed relatively well in each of his 14 games, and his underlying stats say that he’s one of the Canucks’ top-six options on the backend—and not the kind of player the Canucks should risk losing on waivers. To wit—Biega has as many shots on goal in 14 games as Tim Schaller has in 32.
After a scintillating rookie season, Boeser was expected by many to suffer a sophomore slump. Instead, Boeser is scoring at a more-or-less equal pace to last year, and his version of a “slump” is apparently just failing to take a significant step forward. He still looks like a player who can reach another level of production—perhaps consistent point-per-game status—but that sort of offensive progression may have to wait until his third NHL season.
On the one hand, Virtanen has clearly established himself as a genuine NHL talent in 2018/19. On the other, his production has come back down to Earth as the season has progressed and any hopes of him putting up a true “breakout” campaign are quickly fading. Virtanen was on a 12-game pointless streak before his assist against the Red Wings, and he will now be lucky to reach 20 goals on the season—but did anyone really expect him to maintain his early-season pace? This still qualifies as a good year for Virtanen.
Baertschi’s story in 2018/19 has been dominated by his injury woes, but he’s continued to perform as a valid top-six winger whenever he’s actually been in the lineup. At this point in his career, it’s probably too late to expect Baertschi to take another step forward, but he looks to have settled in as a consistent 50ish point producer. He is what he is, and that’s something that the Canucks don’t have a lot of on their roster.
Stecher has yet to take the next step forward in his career, but that’s alright. As a player who started his NHL career later than most, Stecher’s upside was always going to be limited—but he’s already developed into a solid bottom-four blueliner, and that’s quite an accomplishment for an undrafted NCAA signee.
The debate about whether or not Gudbranson is actually playing competent hockey right now is ongoing, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t currently having his best season as a Vancouver Canuck. Whatever your opinion of the attributes Gudbranson brings to the ice—physicality, crease-clearing, and uppercutting fools—you have to admit that he’s at the very least bringing them consistently in 2018/19.
Granlund has been much-maligned this season due to Travis Green’s insistence on keeping him on the powerplay’s second unit, but he’s remained a steady presence in the bottom-six and is one of only four Canucks to play in all 50 games thus far. His lofty 2016/17 totals were probably an anomaly, and Granlund is currently playing about as well as can reasonably be expected of him for the remainder of his career.
Beagle has come exactly as advertised. He’s a heart-and-soul player that dominates the faceoff circle and brings an incredibly consistent effort level. Beagle was signed to be a premium option at the fourth-line center position, and he’s certainly been that.
It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore that Tanev is having a tougher season than usual, despite being unusually healthy. Once a fancy stats darling, his advanced numbers are down across the board and—though fans will attest that the “eye test” isn’t quite so unforgiving—he’s not shutting down the opponent’s best players with the same efficiency as in prior seasons. Tanev remains a competent shutdown defender, but he isn’t the shot-suppressing machine that he’s been in the past—and that could scuttle any chances of trading him for a massive return at the deadline.
Sutter has struggled with injuries, but he’s also scoring at the lowest rate of his NHL career—aside from the rookie season in which he scored six points. With Bo Horvat taking on much greater defensive responsibilities, Sutter’s role on the team is quickly becoming redundant, and he’s become an obvious candidate for a trade out of town—if the Canucks can find any takers.
Eriksson remains a valuable depth winger and a reliable defensive presence, but any reports of him “bouncing back” in 2018/19 are greatly exaggerated. Despite a recent stretch of hot play, Eriksson is actually scoring at a slower pace this year than he did in 2017/18—and any hopes of him stepping into the void left by the Sedins’ retirement were clearly misplaced.
Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs once told anyone who would listen that Leivo could be a legitimate top-six talent in the NHL if he was only given a chance—but that doesn’t seem to be the case. After a red-hot start riding shotgun with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, Leivo has cooled considerably and—although there are still occasional flashes of brilliance—he doesn’t look to be anything other than the complementary player the Leafs were willing to jettison.
After signing a rich UFA contract and proceeding to contribute a miniscule amount on the ice, Schaller has become the undisputed whipping boy of the 2018/19 season. Touted as a fan favourite in Boston with limitless energy, Schaller has arrived in Vancouver as a nearly-invisible presence and nothing short of a disappointment.
Pouliot is a mercurial player. Every so often, he’ll bust out some moves that remind you of why he was drafted eighth overall—his assist against Buffalo on Friday being a prime example. Still, Pouliot just doesn’t do anything consistently enough to justify the opportunities he continues to receive from coach Travis Green.
As an NHL rookie fresh out of college, it’s not entirely unexpected that Gaudette has failed to stick in the lineup and is currently re-establishing his game in Utica. Most probably expected his production to be a little bit higher than a 20-point pace, but it’s hard to call Gaudette’s performance in 2018/19 a true disappointment—just slightly below expectations.