Outside of J.T. Miller, many Vancouver Canucks forwards underperformed last season.
Whether it was due to an extended slump or acclimating to a new environment, they simply didn’t meet the expectations that were set for them based on prior performance.
A number of defenders fit the same mould, but only to an extent; the two blueliners that will be discussed exceeded expectations defensively but were lacklustre on offence, which is why they’re categorized as “curious cases.”
The good news is that all of these skaters are due for a bounce-back next year, albeit in different ways. Whether that’s enough to help the Canucks make the playoffs remains to be seen, but, at the very least, it would be a step in the right direction.
Expectations were high for Boeser after coming off a career year in 2020–21, but he struggled for most of the season and produced at an underwhelming rate.
The most concerning part about Boeser’s game was the lack of offence that he generated. It often felt like he was a passenger during many plays. The 25-year-old winger has oscillated between being a legitimate play-driver and a secondary piece for his entire career, but the one consistent part of his game has been his reliable finishing.
That changed last year as his five-on-five shooting percentage dipped to a career-low 6.92%, which is almost half of his career average of 13%. Boeser might not be the sniper that he was during his electric rookie campaign, but a shooting percentage of under 7% is definitely unsustainably low for a player of his calibre.
This is reflected in his underlying numbers too, as Boeser was expected to score 11.87 goals at five-on-five but only potted nine. That might not seem like a big difference, but considering he’s only had one season prior in which he underperformed his expected numbers — and that was by less than a goal — it’s certainly worth considering.
His finishing struggles last year (left chart) are especially noteworthy when compared with his 2018–21 seasons (right chart):
The more important thing to monitor is whether Boeser’s play-driving improves, but one thing is pretty much for certain: he’ll start scoring more goals again soon.
Don’t let his lacklustre numbers fool you; Garland had a commendable first season in Vancouver when deployment is factored in. Deployment, here, is the operative word, since his lack of power-play time is what held back his overall production.
At five-on-five, Garland was elite. The diminutive winger scored 2.62 points per hour, which was 28th in the entire league among all players who logged at least 500 such minutes and tied with some guy named McDavid.
He was also tied for first on the Canucks alongside Miller with 47 points at five-on-five. Nobody else on the team scored 30 (Elias Pettersson ranked third with 29).
Unfortunately for Garland, he only logged 1:35 per game on the power play, which is roughly half the amount that the first unit typically sees. Assuming Miller is traded, Garland could take his spot on PP1 and see an uptick in usage as well as a chance to play with more offensively gifted players.
A hypothetical first unit with Garland instead of Miller would definitely be an adjustment, but one that also has potential. Instead of Miller playmaking from the half-wall, Boeser can take his spot and line up for one-timers while Garland becomes the playmaker down low, essentially replacing Boeser as the one setting up Horvat for shots from the bumper — which could be a seamless transition considering Garland and Boeser are both right-hand shots.
The only question would be whether Garland can be a good net-front presence, but if it works, then it’s possible that he puts up around 65 points next year instead of the 52 he produced last season.
Höglander was one of the only players who didn’t experience the “Boudreau bump” last year, and he might’ve actually played worse under the team’s new coach. He only produced 1.26 points per hour at five-on-five after scoring 2.03 in his rookie campaign, but inexplicably, it wasn’t for a lack of chances generated, especially considering where some of his metrics ranked on the team:
|Expected goals per hour||Scoring chances per hour||High danger chances per hour|
|2.78 (second)||31.98 (first)||12.29 (first)|
By all accounts, Höglander was one of the most dangerous players in terms of generating chances, both in quantity and quality too. Yet the team somehow only scored 2.02 goals per hour at five-on-five with him playing, which isn’t a bad number, but is still a far cry from his 2.78 expected figure.
Like Boeser, much of Höglander’s struggles can be attributed to a decline in finishing ability. His player card shows that he was an above-average finisher in his rookie season but struggled mightily last year, but since Höglander’s only been in the league for two seasons, the sample size isn’t large enough to say whether he can be counted on to bounce back in that area.
Even stranger was Höglander’s impact on his teammates. One would expect that other Canuck skaters would benefit from playing with a scoring-chance generating machine, but the inverse happened.
|Expected goals per hour at five-on-five with Höglander||Actual goals per hour at five-on-five with Höglander|
As you can see, the four forwards that Höglander saw the most ice-time with all scored fewer goals per hour than expected, and outside of Dickinson (and Pearson to a lesser extent), none of them are poor finishers.
So even if Höglander continues to struggle to finish on his own, there shouldn’t be any reason why his teammates will continue doing the same. If it does, though, all we can do is shrug and blame it on good ol’ Canucks luck.
The curious case of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers
OEL and Myers are lumped together because
their necks/60 they both exceeded expectations defensively but underwhelmed on offence.
|Goals against per 60||Expected goals against per 60|
|OEL||1.98 (87th percentile)||2.49 (52nd percentile)|
|Myers||2.09 (82nd percentile)||2.54 (43rd percentile)|
Their percentile rankings include all defencemen who logged at least 500 minutes of ice-time at five-on-five, and while those numbers are sparkling, their expected figures are much more pedestrian.
Both defencemen’s strong actual numbers are largely buoyed by receiving the highest save percentage at five-on-five in the entire league (.930%), and the goaltending that OEL (.940%) and Myers (.932%) played in front of was even better.
Of course, the blueliners contributed to the impressive save percentage, but it’s pretty obvious that Thatcher Demko played a larger role when looking at their respective isolated defensive impacts.
Myers’ defensive contributions look especially inflated considering his expected goals against were still below average, which makes sense given his chaotic nature.
The good news is that both defenders will likely bounce back offensively since all of their underlying numbers at five-on-five were unsustainably low.
|Individual Points Percentage (IPP)||Shooting percentage||Career shooting percentage before last season||Goals||Expected goals|
|OEL||32.73 (second lowest of career)||1.55 (career-low)||5.4||5||6.34|
|Myers||23.81 (tied for career-low)||0.85 (career-low)||5.8||1||5.79|
Neither will usurp Quinn Hughes in points anytime soon, but they are probably in line for a small bounceback in scoring. Both OEL and Myers will likely regress defensively, though, and the latter probably moreso due to his playstyle.
Either way, the Canucks will continue leaning heavily on the two veterans, and their performance will be crucial to the team’s success next year.
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