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Photo Credit: © Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Tucker Poolman had an injury-plagued Canucks debut and looks to be an immediately regrettable signing

When Tucker Poolman signed with the Vancouver Canucks on July 28, 2021, there w a number of people around the league who assumed that the $2.5 million price tag they initially read was his compensation for the entirety of the contract.

When it soon became apparent that not only had the Canucks signed him for four years and that $2.5 million was his annual compensation, eyebrows were definitely raised. And, unfortunately, Poolman didn’t really give any of those eyebrows any reason to lower as he made his debut for the Canucks in the 2021/22 season.

  Games Goals Assists Points Plus/Minus
2021/22 40 1 2 3 +2
Career High (Prior) 57 4 12 16 +2

If Poolman’s first year in Vancouver was defined by anything, it was absence. Poolman suffered his first injury in October, followed it up with a suspension in November, and then got COVID-19 in December. That was followed by a bout with a mysterious, migraine-related issue that kept him out of the lineup from late January until early April.

Poolman made his return on April 4th, 2022, and lasted just four minutes and change before exiting that game with similar symptoms to what he had experienced before. He stayed on LTIR for the remainder of the season, and is still there now.

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But, really, what more can be said about it than that? Poolman suffered through some serious bad luck in 2021/22, and it kept him out of the Canucks’ lineup far too much for him to make a full impression.

Nevertheless, we’re here to evaluate what he did while he was on the ice, and there’s plenty to say about that.

A quick glance at Poolman’s basic statline above shows a complete and total lack of offence, but that was to be expected. Aside from a burst of production in his first full NHL season, Poolman has always been a defence-first defender with little scoring skill to spare. The Canucks might have detected some untapped offensive potential when they offered him that big contract, but it wasn’t the primary motivator.

On a per-game basis, Poolman played about as much for the Canucks as he had throughout his career in Winnipeg, though his rate of production lagged behind a bit.

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  Avg. TOI Goals-per-game Assists-per-game Points-per-game
2021/22 17:00 0.03 0.05 0.08
Career Average 16:49 0.04 0.10 0.14

But, again, Poolman wasn’t brought in to score. He was brought in to be a defensive specialist, coming off a playoff series in which he played a bunch of minutes against Connor McDavid, didn’t let the Oilers superstar score, and helped the Jets to a four-game sweep.

Unfortunately, that’s not the sort of play that the Canucks received from Poolman, either.

Matchup-wise, Poolman did face off against better-than-league-average competition, albeit in limited minutes.

From HockeyViz.com

A good chunk of Poolman’s ice-time came against top-six opposition, and more of his shifts started in the defensive zone than not. Poolman blocked shots well enough, and he managed to be on the ice for more even-strength goals for than even-strength goals against.

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That all sounds pretty positive, and it’s not to be entirely discounted. Poolman may not have made a major difference defensively, but he did hold his own.

  EV Goals For EV Goals Against EV Goal Differential Defensive Zone Starts Hits Blocks Takeaways Giveaways
2021/22 21 20 +1 53.0% 33 73 7 15

The cracks start to show upon a closer examination of the numbers, however. Anyone watching the games probably noticed Poolman’s propensity for poor decisions with the puck, and that’s measured in his abnormally-high number of giveaways. Even that stat doesn’t accurately capture the number of times Poolman fumbled the puck at the line, or put his teammate in a bad position with a questionable pass.

The Canucks, as a whole, had a big issue with getting the puck out of their own end, and Poolman might have been their very worst at it.

This questionable play in the defensive zone should be reflected in Poolman’s advanced statline, and to some degree it is. His control of high-danger chances, in particular, stands out as a problem. But overall, Poolman’s possession numbers and both shot and chance control look fine.

  Corsi xG% Shot Control Scoring Chance Control High-Danger Chance Control On-Ice Shooting % On-Ice Save %
2021/22 49.40% 51.47% 50.51% 48.10% 43.37% 7.00% 93.20%

Even-strength stats from NaturalStatTrick.com

How could that be?

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The answer, of course, is Quinn Hughes.

From Dobber’s Frozen Tools

Poolman played almost half of his even-strength minutes in 2021/22 paired with the Canucks’ best defender (and another 15% of those minutes alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson). Playing with such talent is obviously going to have a demonstrable impact on a defender’s Corsi, plus/minus, and the like, but it can’t make up for everything.

Taken under this context, Poolman’s numbers start to make a lot more sense. This is a player buoyed by some excellent partners, but who still managed to hurt his team all too often via gaffes, questionable coverage, and a lack of quick decision-making ability. When Poolman was out there, the puck was very often going in the wrong direction, and it was his fault a good chunk of the time.

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From HockeyViz.com

No measure reflects that more than Poolman’s “WOWY” numbers. They depict Poolman holding back the offensive production of his most frequent partners to a major degree, even if some of them seemed to improve their defensive play alongside Poolman to compensate.

All told, it was not an encouraging start to a contract that was widely mocked in most hockey circles the second it was signed. Injuries and illness aside, however, it wasn’t a total disaster, either, and those who seek out optimism can probably find evidence in the aftermath for at least some hope of a better second season in Vancouver for Poolman.

Those on the more pessimistic side of things have probably already made up their minds.

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