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Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Conor Garland’s first season as a Vancouver Canuck was full of spins and turns, but what’s next?

Probably the biggest addition to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2021 offseason was Conor Garland. The diminutive winger came as part of the massive deal with Arizona and had many Canuck fans excited to see what he could bring. Pencilled into the top 6 and signed to an extension before the season even began, Garland had a lot of expectations placed on him.

So, did he live up to the billing?

A Hot Start

Garland made a great impression in his opening stretch with the Canucks. Fans were awed by his skating ability and puck control, not to mention his penchant to spin his way out of trouble. Through hard work and goals like this one against the Kraken, it was hard not to think that the Canucks had found a mainstay for the top two forward lines.

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In Garland’s first six games with Vancouver, he racked up three goals and five assists. The winger continued to be one of the most consistent players in the Canucks’ lineup as the season began to slump. In fact, halfway through December, Garland had a point in 60% of his games, second only to J.T. Miller’s 70%.

His playmaking ability showed with 69.2% of his assists being primary, leading all Canucks over 16 games played at that time. Garland proved to be a nuisance on the ice on top of that, drawing the third-most penalties in the NHL by January 5th and providing plenty of work along the half-boards and in scrums.

Defensively, Garland also showed that he wasn’t a liability. Though Vancouver gave up 87 goals through December 14th, Garland was able to maintain a 5v5 xGA of 0.45 per game, ranking him as the 6th best Canuck forward in that regard. It showed with the eye test too, with active stick work and hounding the puck whenever it was in his own end.

Now, we’ve mentioned December 14th an awful lot through this first part of the article, and you’re about to see why.

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Missing out on the Boudreau Bump

While the entire Vancouver Canucks franchise had new life breathed into them with a full regime change, Garland didn’t seem to get the memo. Unfortunately, the Canucks’ most consistent player up to that point became consistently pointless. After recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on December 14th, Garland would only add one goal and one assist through to February 8th.

The impact it had on the team was luckily mitigated by the rest of the team surging, but a slump like this was a little concerning especially with how long it lasted. Garland did record 6 points in 10 games during the month of February, but another stretch from February 27th to April 9th saw him go goaless in 21 games.

However, Garland wasn’t invisible on the ice. In fact, his xGF at 5v5 play increased from 0.53 to 0.64 during that span, suggesting that puck luck was a factor in putting goals on the board. While the lack of production stands out, his impact was still among the best on the team.

Garland’s possession numbers also continued to meet the eye-test expectations. The Pearson-Miller-Garland line was where he found the most success, contributing to a shared 55.4 CF%. Individually, he finished the year with a 56.0 CF%, controlling the play even when he wasn’t lighting it up on the scoresheet.

And, despite the slump, Garland managed to fight his way out of it and really spin it around.

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Finishing off Strong

After getting the monkey off of his back on April 9th against the Sharks, Garland would go on a tear during the playoff push. By month’s end, he had 5 goals and 11 assists through the final 12 games played, showing much more of the production from the beginning of the year. That included a three-assist performance against the Kraken with beauties such as this one.

What’s impressive about this regression to the mean is that Garland still managed to improve on his career numbers. Even with that rough stretch of a couple of months, he finished with career highs in assists and points — a final tally of 19 goals and 33 assists — easily beating the 39 points he had in 2020-21.

It’s also encouraging to see this when his deployment has been changed significantly as well. Garland did not get first-unit powerplay duties and saw his offensive zone starts reduced from 70.6% to 57.3%. Despite this, the winger’s expected plus-minus jumped from 3.5 to 7.3 and xGF from 32.7 to 54.1. Essentially, Garland managed to step up both offensively and defensively in much harder deployment.

And for someone with an allegedly bloated contract, Garland produced quite the bang for the buck. His deal was 7th most efficient amongst forwards in terms of point production, behind JT Miller and most of the fourth line.

What’s next

As a byproduct of being a Vancouver Canuck, his name was never far away from trade rumours. This was especially the case since Garland was one of the few players that both produced at a value that was tradeable. His contract, production, and versatility, all make him an appealing option on the market.

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This is why the Canucks shouldn’t part with him, at least not unless it’s for an offer they can’t refuse.

Vancouver’s long lacked someone like Garland, who is still 26 years old and on a cost-controlled cap hit. His impact this season was something that got him a lot of attention, and it comes during a very turbulent year to say the very least. Garland will be much more settled in come next year, both with some stability management-wise and in his second season with the team. His performance could yet see a jump.

In all, Conor Garland’s 2021-22 season was one that had its up and downs. But the hard work and perseverance never wavered, finishing with career highs and setting the winger up very nicely for the season yet to come.

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