0
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Even if the Canucks defence takes a step back this season, it won’t be for nothing

For the first time in years, the defensive core stayed healthy.

The Canucks did not need the have Utica Comets on speed dial. The positive of that means obviously nobody got hurt, but it also meant that management couldn’t see Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, and Jalen Chatfield at the NHL level, which would have been nice, especially given the events of this offseason.

With Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher leaving town, two gaping holes were left on the blueline. One was filled by Nate Schmidt, who Jim Benning acquired him from the cap-strapped Vegas Golden Knights for a third-round pick. Schmidt is a legit top-four defenceman and makes the Canucks’ top four better.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

However, with limited cap space to play with, as it stands, the Canucks will rely on one of Juolevi, Rafferty, Chatfield or even Jack Rathbone, to fill in for the sixth defensive spot.

The goalie tandem of Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko is unproven and could see a regression in GAA.

Defensive woes

Season NHL Rank Goals Against Average (GAA)
2017-18 26 3.16
2018-19 18 3.02
2019-20 21 3.10

From 2017 to 2020, the Canucks were 23rd in the league in goals-against per games played with 3.09, tenth in goals-against allowed with 721, while the penalty kill clicked at 79.9, for 19th overall. However, some AHL players were playing prominent minutes in those early years.

Alex Edler, Tanev and Stecher were the only defenders who remained with the club for all three of those years. Finding consistency is crucial when maintaining a good defensive game, and having pairs that gel together is of the utmost importance (see the Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg pairing).

For you soccer buffs, take a game of soccer as an example. If your two centre backs are consistently changing, the communication breaks down, which causes chaos and confusion, thus leading to high danger chances and ultimately, goals. The same can be said for hockey.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The defence remained somewhat the same as it was in the 2017-18 season, but built off the 26th ranked and climbing nearly ten spots. Be it from playing with the same player and knowing each other’s tendencies learning Green’s system, or Jacob Markstrom being downright fantastic, having a group that knows each other saw a decline in goals against.

In the 2019 offseason, Jim Benning vowed to reshape the defence corps and brought in Tyler Myers, Victoria native Jamie Benn and depth defenceman Oscar Fantenberg.

Bringing in three new players and a full season of Quinn Hughes, there were bound to be growing pains for players to find each other’s space and rhythm, and it showed once again with a slip of 3.02 to 3.10, despite stellar play from Markstrom all season long.

Potential to be great

The Canucks defence will have a few new faces this season, which could lead to another decline in team cohesion and therefore lead to another season where the team will be in the bottom half in the GAA department.

Having team chemistry is a crucial element when having success, and that’s especially true on the backend. All six defenders have to be in sync with each other — be it five on five or with a man down — but as the saying goes, a team defends as a unit, which includes the forwards in communication and keeping your defensive shape.

However, the good news is there will be less turnover on the backend in the foreseeable future after Edler and Jordie Benn have moved on. This new core will start gelling this season through thick and thin, and Hughes, Schmidt, and Myers will all likely be in the fold for at least the next four years.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The potential lineup for the 2021-22 season looks as follows:

Hughes Myers
Juolevi Schmidt
Rathbone Rafferty/Chatfield

The core on the back end is shaping up to be dangerous if they can reach their potential. Give this group a few years to gel, and soon enough, they will turn into a cup contending blue line. Hughes will be anchoring the top pair, Rathbone has been the team’s best defensive prospect for a few seasons now, and with the potential emergence of Juolevi, the left side will be a forward’s nightmare.  The backend will look rather pleasing in the next few years than it did during Green’s first season.