Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Leivo should still play an important role on the Canucks

There’s no doubt the Vancouver Canucks went through a transition this offseason. They have added players that fans and management alike hope will be significant contributors to the team’s improvement en route to their first playoff berth in four years.

Among those new players, J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland should be considered improvements on what was a lackluster top-six forward group other than their budding – or already present – stars in Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.

Those two wingers should be able to lift the quality of the forward group overall, but they won’t necessarily fix everything. Ferland is a streaky goalscorer who may not always play a full season, but brings the type of hard-nosed game the Canucks have been lacking. When it comes to Miller, there’s experience and enough offensive production and play-driving ability to warrant giving up a first-round pick in a vacuum, but it remains to be seen whether he can translate his success riding shotgun with Steven Stamkos to the Canucks’ top-six.

The additions of Ferland and Miller are liable to leave a couple of wingers on the outside looking in. Among Canucks regulars, the forwards that averaged the most even-strength time-on-ice per game were Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Brandon Sutter, and Josh Leivo. Handing players like Virtanen and Sutter less minutes makes sense as the Canucks attempt to win more games than they lose next season, but Leivo has flashed enough skill to deserve a look in the team’s top-six.

Upon his arrival from Toronto in the middle of last season, Leivo averaged his highest overall time-on-ice in the NHL throughout the six years he’s bounced between the Toronto Marlies and the Maple Leafs. Leivo was able to score 10 goals and 18 points through 49 games for Vancouver while averaging just under 16 minutes a game. That’s not the most impressive stat line by any means, but it’s really the underlying numbers that shine a light on what type of player the 26-year-old winger can be.

The just-over-half-season Leivo played in Vancouver doesn’t make for the biggest sample size, but during that time he was able to keep an impressive on-ice shot attempt percentage of 54.12. When compared to the rest of the Canucks last year, Leivo stands on top by this metric and by a sizable margin. The next best forward on Vancouver last year was Brock Boeser with an on-ice shot attempt percentage of 50.24%.

viz by Sean Tierney / data by EvolvingWild

When looking at the underlying shot-based metrics, Leivo comes out looking like the Canucks’ best two-way player, but summing up his entire performance for Vancouver isn’t necessarily so straightforward.

Goals Above Replacement (GAR), measures all of an individual’s on-ice events and weighs them in a way that will produce a single metric that shows how many more “goals” the player is worth than the average waiver wire pick-up. It’s generally considered to be a superior judge of a player’s contributions that underlying shot-based metrics.

Last season in his 49 games played, Leivo had a GAR of 3.9, making him worth 3.9 goals or 0.7 wins above replacement-level. Since it is a cumulative stat, he didn’t get as much opportunity to produce as others — like how Horvat and his full 82-game season had him at 8.1 GAR. It’s impressive, nonetheless. Leivo’s GAR of 3.9 is good for fifth-highest among Canucks forwards last season, despite the fact that he played the least amount of games of any player in the top five.

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Separating his even-strength production from his special teams, Leivo’s EV GAR of 5- since his presence on the power play and penalty kill actually lowered his total GAR – sits at 135th among all forwards with at least 200 TOI. That may not seem all that impressive at first glance, but it still puts him in the 73rd percentile of forwards, and indicates top-six production in almost half a season’s worth of games played last year.

To some degree, Leivo’s success can be attributed to playing with the right teammates. He played over 300 minutes alongside with Pettersson and Boeser, and another 160 with Bo Horvat. He was thrust into the top-six last year and was able to perform with high-calibre linemates. So shouldn’t that be enough to consider him for one of those six positions?

Understandably, it’s hard to justify giving a key role to a player that might appear at first glance to be riding the coattails of superior linemates, but the fact that he was able to produce with those players and both sides benefited from his presence on that line should be enough to justify sticking with the status quo.

At this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Canucks will have Leivo in a depth offensive role to start the year and with the new additions on the wing, he might spend some time in the press box. If his production falters because he’s with mediocre linemates, he could eventually see a spiral down the depth chart.

There’s no doubt that this team will improve on last season’s offensive totals. With a bolstered forward group and another year of development from their young players, there’s a sense that this team could have two solid forward lines. Whether either will include Leivo remains to be seen, but looking at how well he was able to play with the likes of Boeser and Pettersson, he deserves an extended look in the top-six.

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As a line, Boeser, Pettersson, and Leivo outscored their opponents 14 to 12 while on the ice and were able to keep a 56.37 CF% and a 52.73 xGF%. That should be a clear indication that the team should stick with that combo to start the season, but obviously it’s up to the coaching staff to decide how they want to to implement the new players and if they see Leivo as a long-term option.

–stats via Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey–

  • J-Canuck

    First Miller didn’t just perform w Stamkos. He played up and down the Lightening lines and performed in the Rangers line up as well.
    Levio is a good player that benefited from an absence of a first line winger in the Canucks line up last year. Just because the trio of EP/Brock/Levio performed well, doesn’t mean a forward with passing skills and ability to take face offs like Miller won’t be an improvement.
    Levio is good, not great so he will play that utility role of 3rd line minutes but being able to play second as well. Ferland and Miller just bring more than Leivo does.

  • Jabs

    Leivo may be the current version Jannick Hansen. He can provide a bit of grit, get some goals and play up and down the line up. Just what you need from a third line forward.

    • J-Canuck

      Except for the speed factor, I agree completely. Hansen and Burrows were both 3rd line guys that could move up the line up.Now if the Twins had a genuine scoring winger playing with them would Burr have been moved up? No…
      Versatility is great for a player and a team. TO didn’t trade Levio because he was a first line winger with Mathews. They had too many wingers that did certain things better.
      That’s it.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Post as many advanced stats as you like.The story on the ice is, the guy got 10 goals in 49 games playing mostly in the top 6, and pretty much disappeared after the first 20 games. On a good team, I see him as a 4th line player. It’s on Leivo to earn a spot on the roster this season, and if he is not in the top 13 forwards at training camp, he’ll be on his way elsewhere. Canuck fans tend to overrate the players we have, and I’m afraid this might be the case with Leivo, but we shall see. I did like it when he fought Kesler though.

  • NastyNate

    Leivo was a great pick up and makes some of Vancouver’s bubble wingers expendable. Adding Leivo makes it really hard to see any kind of a significant role for Goldy in the top 9 and puts pressure on Baertschi to stay healthy and produce. I’m a big fan of #17’s game. He can make plays, has a very underrated wrist/snap shot and wins a lot of pucks. He also plays a heavier game and will occasionally drop the gloves. These are qualities that the Canucks need more than those brought by lighter, more gifted stick handlers like Goldobin, Baertschi or arguably the way Virtanen chooses to play.

    • Fred-65

      I couldn’t agree more with you. To me, Lievo was an asset under-appreciated. I like him better than Beartschi who in my books is a bit of a perimeter player and I think he’ll become more so after his recent, but not first, concussion. Leivo may not be the fastest but he can get around the ice, he thinks the game well, is big enough, has a good shot and if push comes to shove will drop his gloves. We have tended to lack size and Leivo helps. Frankly, he’s what we want from Virtanen. IMO Goldobin has to show superior skill to knock Leivo out the box. It dooesn’t get any clearer the 20-21 season. Having said all that he might just be worth a draft pick at the end of the season ( assuming Vcr does not make the play-offs) I like hard-working honest players and I think Leivo fits into that category.

    • J-Canuck

      I agree also, except that Levio just seemed to disappear for games at a time, then have a really great one. He needs to shoot more and bang a little more to work his way back into the top 6. At this point, at least in previous stops, both Miller and Ferland have proven they can contribute night in night out.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Josh did tail off towards the end of the season but what did he cost Benning as per his acquisition? A guy who was never going to crack the line up. Leivo is strictly a bottom six role player and not the worst guy I’ve ever seen on the Canucks. As is usually the case it hinges on a good camp and if Green appreciates what he brings and if he trusts him out there. More than anything injuries no doubt will keep #17 around as probably a fringe line up player. He ain’t great but has grit.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Pettersson and Horvat get the four best wingers on the team. Is Leivo among them? Unlikely.

    Far more valuable than Leivo’s individual stats is analysis of his impact on top quality line mates. If he doesn’t make Pettersson or Horvat better than they would be with a different winger they will play with that different winger.

    Almost every day I read a stupid comment from someone about how Virtanen should be in the top 6 because he would get more points if he was. This evaluation of Leivo isn’t a lot better.

    Leivo is a decent player but there are several wingers he will have to out perform before getting further consideration in the top 6. He can certainly hold his own there if injuries hit which is good to know but with the plethora of wingers he will be challenged to land a spot on the 3rd line.

  • Rodeobill

    I find it exciting that (at least before the season has started) we have this many options in our bottom 9. It almost makes me wish we could just roll 3 scoring and an “energy” line rather than a specifically checking line. A good checking line can make the difference some games though, don’t think we’ll give that up. I haven’t even begun to think about where the Rooster is going to play when he gets back.

    Christ. who the hell do you waive? Gaudette is definitely going down to start, I guess. Maybe Brock holds out and opens a spot until musical IR chairs start?

  • Sandpaper

    Le8vo will be a player that can move up and down the lineup, providing some scoring and physicality, as well as decent defensive ability.
    Rather him on the 3rd or 4th line than the departed Granlund, or the Loui.