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Photo Credit: © Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

How the Vancouver Canucks can maximize Adam Gaudette’s value

The Vancouver Canucks have had a bit of a fun history with their 5th round selections from the past decade. Ben Hutton, Gustav Forsling, and Frankie Corrado are a few of the notable picks, and who can forget Ludwig Blomstrand?

The latest though, and probably most successful one they’ve had, is Adam Gaudette.

Gaudette entered the league with more fanfare than you would usually see for someone taken that late in the draft. He had just scored 30 goals and added 30 assists in 38 games with Northeastern University, good enough to earn him the Hobey Baker Award. Despite that, Canucks fans still probably weren’t expecting him to be a top 6 forward, especially since Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat have the top two center spots locked up for the foreseeable future.

That being said, there was the hope that Gaudette could step in on the third line and center a more offensive-minded bottom six trio that would add the scoring depth that the Canucks have been struggling to find. Last season was a good step in that direction as he put up 33 points in 59 games (he was also not much of a factor in the playoffs, but that’s a different story). Those kind of numbers are what you would hope to see from a third liner and he seemed to be moving towards being a solid piece of the Canucks, but he has fallen a bit flat with only two goals through 13 games for Vancouver this season, even finding himself getting to know Loui Eriksson a little bit better as he’s found himself a healthy scratch.

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Gaudette’s slow start to the season has been a bit overshadowed by solid play from Tyler Motte and contract season Brandon Sutter, though there is still cause for concern in Gaudette’s play not only this year, but for the future of the team as well. The fault does not all fall on Gaudette though, as the team and management have struggled to find consistent linemates for the 24-year old.

The early season results

As I said, Gaudette only has two points through ten games played, both of which are goals.

On top of that, his metrics when it comes to creating chances and playing defensively are not all that impressive.

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To be fair, Gaudette has never been much of a defensive specialist and while the Canucks would love for him to take a step in his own end, it’s not necessarily expected. What is expected though, is that his line will be able to create something offensively when the top six is being bottled up. Not only has that line struggled to convert, but they haven’t been able to create chances effectively to this point. The second power play unit has also struggled more than it did last season, which is where Gaudette found 12 of his 33 points last season.

The third line has also seen a few different iterations this year with Gaudette in the lineup. The team started the season with Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen flanking Gaudette, which had a pretty good CF% (corsi for percentage) of 62.50%, and a decent high danger chance rate as their HDCF% (high danger chances for) of 57.14%. The issues in Gaudette’s game seemed to arise when Jake Virtanen was put on his line , which is probably equally as surprising as Clare and Dale from The Bachelorette not lasting. I mean his name was Dale, come on.

When JT Miller slotted back into the lineup, Virtanen slid down to the third line with Roussel and Gaudette. The CF% with those three on the ice dropped to 50.00%, while their HDCF% went way down to 14.29%, as those three were only able to muster one high danger chance in their time playing together. Gaudette and Virtanen are both able to finish, but also lack the creativity needed to make that line a constant scoring threat.

The other line that Head Coach Travis Green featured Gaudette on had Sutter at center with MacEwen on the other wing. That line had a CF% of 41.18%, but a HDCF% of 60.00%.

Gaudette has seemed to have the most success with MacEwen as a duo, as Gaudette hasn’t been on the ice for a goal this season without MacEwen there. This was also a trend last year, as with almost 40 minutes played together the two had a goals for percentage of 71.43%. While apart, that goals for percentage fell to 43.14% for Gaudette. So it seems like MacEwen may be an ideal linemate for Gaudette, or at the very least is a better option at the moment than someone like Virtanen, but the Canucks are still struggling to find that other player for the third line. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be anyone ready to step up and join Gaudette and MacEwen to complete that line, and this season has been a micro chasm of Gaudette’s time in Vancouver as he has yet to find extended time with any two players.

The future of the third line

With that in mind, Gaudette’s future with the Canucks lies in what the team views as an ideal deployment for the third line. Gaudette can be a feature on a scoring third line, whether that’s at center or on the wing is still up for debate, but his tendencies seem to be leaning towards being a winger in the long term. The NHL is in a state where good teams need three solid scoring lines, but generally one of those need to have some defensive upside as well. So far, Gaudette has shown few positives in his own end, but that hasn’t been as much of an issue since Bo Horvat’s line has been able to handle the matchup role when needed.

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If the Canucks continue with Horvat and whoever his linemates are as a secondary matchup line then that opens the door for Gaudette’s line to be more offensively focused. This would mean the search for a middle six forward would continue for the Canucks, whether that be via player acquisition or in the prospect pipeline.

The current state of that pipeline is a bit bare when it comes to sure-fire NHL prospects, and it’s where the loss of Tyler Madden in the Tyler Toffoli trade hurts a little more. This horse has been beat, but losing a potential top six forward (Madden) for a proven top six forward (Toffoli) wasn’t a totally bad move in my books, but retaining neither of them put the Canucks in a tough spot both now and in the future. That also has an impact on Gaudette, as that makes it tougher for him to find consistency in linemates and extended production.

The only prospect that realistically has a shot at cracking the NHL lineup next year is Vasily Podkolzin. Ideally, Podkolzin would find a spot on Horvat’s wing, but he may find himself on the third line to start. The issue with Podkolzin being the lone NHL calibre prospect in the Canucks’ system right now is that means that Gaudette either has to be the third line center of the future or the team has to find someone that can center him and MacEwen, whether that be someone like no-longer-18-year-old Sam Bennett via trade or an upcoming UFA.

If Gaudette does end up at center that opens up a few more options. The Canucks could retain Tanner Pearson, leaving him as an option on Horvat’s wing or he can slide down to the third line if Podkolzin does emerge in the top six. It will also be quite a bit easier to find a younger winger than it would be to find a young center for the future of the third line.

One of the bigger problems for Gaudette so far has been inconsistent linemates. He has played with a lot with the common bottom six forwards of the team, but hasn’t had constant linemates for a long stretch of time. If the Canucks can figure that out they should be able to set themselves up better for when the anchor contracts are no longer on the team, though they may have to wait for those contracts to be gone before they can really start filling out the lineup.

One of the biggest pieces that put contending teams over the top is a competitive third line and as of now the Canucks don’t have that. Gaudette may be a part of a line like that when the Canucks are ready to go all-in, but there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to surrounding him on that line.

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The Trade Route

There is also the possibility that Gaudette’s future isn’t in Vancouver. Gaudette’s point totals last year may have been a bit favourable for him, as his underlying stats show he may have gotten more production than he should have considering how many chances he had a hand in creating.

There may be more upside in Gaudette’s game, but there is also the chance that he isn’t a long-term option as a third line center and won’t improve on last year’s totals. As of now, Gaudette is one of the few movable pieces on the roster that would have some value around the league. There are the obvious players like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, etc. that the Canucks would probably not entertain moving, and then there are the players like Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, etc. that other teams would laugh at them for offering. Gaudette finds himself in between those two groups. His contract is expiring after this season and given the opportunity elsewhere you could make the case that he has the potential to be a top six forward.

The issue is the return would probably not be worth the risk. Jimmy Vesey is a player that I would consider relatively comparable to Gaudette. Vesey put up 35 points in his third NHL season and was then moved for a third round pick. I do think Gaudette may fetch a second-rounder from a good team after a 33 point season as he is a center and comes cheap, but at that point, it would still be in the Canucks’ best interest to bet on Gaudette adding more to his game as he develops.

There are a lot of question marks around Gaudette’s future, and they may not all be answered this season. If the Canucks intend on keeping him, they have to do a better job of surrounding him with players that can make him better, rather than players like Roussel and Virtanen that make Gaudette the focal point of a line.

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MacEwen is a good start and seems to have a potential future in the Canucks’ bottom six, but both Gaudette and MacEwen need one more piece (at least) added to the team that can help push the line a little bit further and control play more often. This is the route I think the team needs to take, because as I’ve outlined, the potential return in a trade probably won’t be enough to offset yet another hole in the lineup. The Canucks do need to give Gaudette a fighting chance at success though, as his current linemates aren’t doing that much to help him improve his game.

If the Canucks don’t see him as a legitimate option on the third line then they need to capitalize on his value now. In a flat cap world, they may be able to get a bit more than they normally would for a player like Gaudette who probably won’t be due for a major contract after this season.

Regardless, the next couple years may be the tipping point for Gaudette’s career and whether or not the Hobey Baker Award winner can find himself in an NHL lineup night in and night out.