Photo Credit: NHL.com

The Final Plea for Nikolay Goldobin to be on the First Line

I’ve been down this road a hundred times, out here on these mean streets trying to convince people there’s a future for Nikolay Goldobin in a Canucks uniform; that he’s more than capable of playing on the first line, and then they go out and add JT Miller and Micheal Ferland. You’d think would bring my campaign to get Goldy on the first scoring line to a screeching halt.

You would be wrong. I’m going to make one more last ditch effort to try and convince the fine people of Vancouver that all parties involved would benefit from Goldobin playing alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

So, for the last time this offseason, it’s time to #FreeGoldy.

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Nikolay Goldobin was the apple of Jim Benning’s eye back at the 2017 trade deadline, headlining the returns on what may have been the best TDL of his career. Goldobin was intended to be a significant boon to the team’s rebuild efforts, as Benning was eager to point out in  his post-deadline press conference:

“This trade helps us with our goal of continuing to build a younger, skilled team for the future”

Unfortunately, there were issues integrating Goldobin into the Canucks’ system from the outset. His offensive-minded game was met with skepticism by Willie Desjardins in his debut.

Watch as he apparently doesn’t play the system and instead gets a step on a defender when his team is trying to exit the zone and it results in a breakaway goal:

Goldobin has flashed this kind of offensive ability throughout his career, do you think he has gotten slower or less skilled since March 3rd, 2017?

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It’s incredibly unlikely that Goldobin’ speed and skill has somehow diminished since that day and with the work he put in over the working out with Nikita Razdolskiy; who also works with other NHL players such as Nikita Gusev, Dmitry Orlov and Mikhail Sergachev; he’s capable of being one of the breakout players at training camp in Victoria.

I spoke with Razdolskiy about what he’s looking to instill in Goldobin’s game:

“He needed more endurance, (we’ve) worked on cardio. He did very small shifts, he would work 25-30 second shifts and be tired, so we have been working on cardio all offseason. We have been training him with some CrossFit stuff. Sometimes we have been using Vancouver’s program that they sent to him in an email, sometimes we (are) training in the program that I run. We are focusing on shooting and (Goldy) shooting more. Goldy likes to play with Elias, they are very good friends. (Goldy) can score a lot more but he might be a little bit nervous.”

Nervous isn’t exactly how you want your scoring wingers to feel come game time.

One way to quell those nerves would be to play alongside his buddy Elias Pettersson, who had a lot of success alongside Goldobin  at the beginning of last season, all while dragging Loui Eriksson behind them.

Line tool provided by NaturalStatTrick.

Over his first 35 games of the 2018-19 season, Goldobin played with Pettersson for some portion of 30 games. During that span, Elias Pettersson went on a tear, putting up 17 goals and 18 assists. Obviously, teams eventually adjusted to tailor their game plan around shutting Pettersson down, but it’s clear that Goldobin was more than just a passenger on that line.

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During his time spent with Goldobin, Pettersson’s goals per 60 Minutes were much higher and his goals against per 60 Minutes were much lower than when Pettersson was away from Goldobin. Pettersson’s chemistry with Goldobin is even something he himself noted, saying in November, “we’re pretty good offensive guys. We think hockey the same, all three of us,” when talking about the line of Goldobin, Brock Boeser and himself.

This is my final plea for Goldobin to be on the top line alongside Elias Pettersson and Jim Benning has gifted me with a blessing and a curse in JT Miller.

I’ve written about JT Miller. Hell, I’ve even written about why JT Miller should be on the Boeser-Pettersson line. But what’s become clearer to me over time is that JT Miller would best serve the Canucks’ as their third line centre.

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Hear me out.

If JT Miller centres the third line, that gives the Canucks a new-look bottom-six, giving Jake Virtanen and Sven Baertschi a new, highly skilled linemate and Miller a chance to recreate the success that Miller saw in Tampa alongside Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli in a third line role that saw him have a 15-3 goal share at five-on-five. That’s a story for another day, though.

Goldobin Brings an Offensive Awareness that not many Canucks Roster Players Possess

Goldobin possesses a number of skills that complement Pettersson’s play nicely. Watch here as Goldobin as he brings the puck into the offensive zone, circles around to lose his man and then is able to read the play and see that Pettersson has a chance to generate a rebound, Goldobin then goes to the open side of the net to receive a beautiful pass from Pettersson and buries it in the open cage:

Goldobin understands that players in the offensive zone are constantly in a state of flux. You can’t be at a standstill because the play is always evolving and if you’re going to ride shotgun with Elias Pettersson, you don’t need to be where the puck is, you need to be where the puck is going to be. Pettersson is playing chess when defenders are playing checkers and Nikolay Goldobin is ready to be Pettersson’s bishop. There is a reason why Elias Pettersson finished the season with a 19.4% shooting percentage and that is because he knows that being selective with your shots and believing in the “one extra pass” mentality can be very beneficial to a scoring line.

Pettersson’s goals come from a variety of different spots on the ice, with many coming off the rush or being set up in the “home plate” area.

The great thing about Pettersson’s shot chart is that he expands the high danger scoring area. A typical 25+ goal scorer finds a good portion of their goals coming inside 15 feet but Pettersson is able to expand that high danger scoring area to nearly 40 feet from the net. There’s a precedent for other high-end offensive talents being able to do the same. Let’s use Johnny Gaudreau as an example.

Goldobin’s offensive awareness is a key to unlocking Pettersson’s goal scoring. His ability to create space while drawing defenders out of position in the offensive zone creates more oppotunities for Pettersson to unleash his elite shot.

Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin do not score a lot of goals in tight like we see with a high majority of players in the NHL.

Rebound statistics provided by MoneyPuck.

These three offensive players all thrive away from the net and though you could make the argument that a bigger Micheal Ferland or JT Miller type would be an effective linemate alongside these two as a net-front presence, I would argue that players want to play with linemates that play a similar type of game to themselves. This is another reason why Nikolay Goldobin fits in well with Pettersson and Boeser on the Canucks first scoring line.

Goldobin isn’t meant to be the main scorer on this line, instead playing the role of set-up man, using his ability to create space in the offensive zone for shooters like Boeser and Pettersson. Goldobin plays the type of game that benefits skilled players around him and that is likely part of the reason why Pettersson enjoyed playing with him and the two developed such a good relationship off the ice. Goldobin and Pettersson had each other for the team’s secret Santa where Goldobin gave Pettersson a pacifier and baby food while Pettersson returned with a bottle of vodka for his Russian buddy.

Botch called it before the season even started last season: these three players should be together to unleash offense like we haven’t seen in Vancouver for years. Goldobin helps the Canucks generate zone entries and is comfortable handing the puck on all parts of the ice, his defensive game has improved and his offseason trainer mentioned that we should expect a more aggressive Goldobin this season:

“Goldy knows he needs to play more aggressive, when we were younger he was a very aggressive player, I know him like family, he knows he needs to be more aggressive.”
-Nikita Razdolskiy

The Defensive Side

Many believe Goldobin’s play style is not what coach Travis Green wants out of his players. With the newest additions of Micheal Ferland and JT Miller, we may never get to see Goldobin have another opportunity alongside Pettersson and Boeser; which would be tremendously disappointing. Goldobin’s ability to lower goals against when alongside Pettersson is actually pretty shocking when you see it laid out.

The problem is that Nikolay Goldobin’s goals against per 60 minutes is also very high when he is away from Elias Pettersson. His 4.03 GF/60 away from Pettersson isn’t a great look, but is comparable to Brock Boeser’s GF/60 when he is away from Pettersson (3.58 per 60 minutes). The real spike in goals against, however, is when these two wingers are away from Pettersson. Pettersson has a GA/60 of 4.98 when he is away from Goldobin and Boeser.

When these three are playing together you might mexpect to see a high GA/60 based purely on reputation, but this is when all three are most successful at keeping the puck out of the net, with a GA/60 of 1.75 over the 160+ minutes that they played together. They only allowed four goals against in that time and were able to control 71.43% of the goal share at five on five.

So the lack of effort that people speak of hasn’t hurt Goldobin when he’s played in his ideal role alongside Boeser and Pettersson, partly because the Boeser-Pettersson-Goldobin line starts 81% of their faceoffs in the offensive zone. While that may seem like a knock against them, the team is best served when these three are in that position. That’s why they have Jay Beagle and Bo Horvat, who can win defensive zone faceoffs, and in Bo’s case, successfully transition defensive zone faceoffs into offensive zone scoring chances.

The Final Final Plea

The Canucks shouldn’t give up on Nikolay Goldobin just yet. There is still so much raw offensive potential and if Goldobin comes back more aggressive in puck battles and is able to get a bit of puck luck alongside some consistent linemates,  he is primed to have a breakout season.

That season starts with him on the Canucks first scoring line.

Goldobin is 23, Boeser is 22 and Pettersson is 20 years old, with these three all being so young this could be the first scoring line of the Canucks for a long time to come.

Skeptics would be advised not to write the kid off just yet, because he has proven that he can be a contributor when he is used in the right position and Pettersson gains a nice bump offensively and defensively when he is alongside Goldobin. He is only 23 years old and has been pulled in so many different directions in his NHL career and he may just need some stability to let his skill shine.

  • TrevorLindensbicep

    I’m all for spreading the skillset and salary across the lineup. Let’s give Goldy a chance on the top line with Boeser and Petey. Best case scenario we will have a lethal on-two punch combo with a sneaky 3rd line uppercut to finnish the job. I see Ferland, Horvat and Virtanen on the 2nd line with Virtanen potentially being a 20 goal scorer. Miller should centre the third line with Eriksson and Pearson on the wings and hope Eriksson finds some spark again. 4th line is wide open, but with players like Sutter, Beagle, Motte, Leivo I think there will be no problem building a 4th line for any occasion or need the coaching staff se fit. Thank you and greetings from Sweden