Åman on a mission to remain a regular in Canucks’ lineup, but it won’t be easy: Year in review

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
27 days ago
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In the two years since the Vancouver Canucks signed Nils Åman as a free agent, the 24-year-old Swede has logged 111 regular season games and five more in the playoffs. Based on that alone, the signing in the summer of 2022 was a shrewd move on the part of the hockey club. The Canucks found a player on the open market they were able to plug into their lineup. The question now is whether Åman has shown enough in those first two NHL seasons to remain an everyday player moving forward as the organization attempts to improve over the offseason. 
After starting this past season in AHL Abbotsford, the Canucks recalled Åman in November, and he remained on the big league roster for the duration of the season. In 43 games, he scored three goals and added four assists. Originally signed as a centre, Åman has struggled in the faceoff circle throughout his time in the NHL and, this past season, won just 45.6% of his draws. As a result, he found himself shuffled to the wing, which is where he’s likely to be slotted on the depth chart moving forward. One of the issues there, though, is that Rick Tocchet demands strong wall work and board battles from his wingers. And despite standing 6’2”, Åman is not overly physical. He registered 31 hits this past season and blocked 22 shots.
The underlying numbers suggest Åman spent far too much time defending with the Canucks controlling 46.9% of all shot attempts at 5-on-5 while the team was outscored 14-10.
And those possession numbers dipped in the playoffs where Åman was a healthy scratch for the entire Nashville series and drew into the line-up for the final five games of the Edmonton series. In the post-season, he carried a 37.6% individual Corsi in limited ice time. In his five playoff appearances, Åman topped out at 10:52 of ice in his Stanley Cup Playoff debut and crested the 10 minute mark on just one other occasion. In those five contests, Åman managed to generate just a single shot on goal, did not pick up a point and took only 13 face-offs.
So what exactly is Nils Åman and how does he figure in the Canucks plans moving forward? He has the security of a two-year contract extension and is signed through 2025-26 at an annual average salary of $825K. The deal will play him $775K in actual salary next season with a bump to $875K in the second year of the pact. At that rate, however, the entirety of his contract can be buried in the minors.
At this stage of his career, Åman is likely close to his ceiling in terms of development. He’ll turn 25 in February and to this point hasn’t demonstrated flashes that would suggest there is much more to offer offensively. In the American Hockey League, Åman had eight goals and 15 points in 15 games to start the season and earned his recall with strong two-way play. But in the NHL, he appears to be a fourth line contributor who has held onto a job by adding a penalty killing element to his game. If his face-off success rate was higher, he might be able to carve out more of a role in that regard. 
As things stand, Åman will serve as a barometer of sorts for what the Canucks plan to do in their bottom six next season. Can they bring him back and have him as one of their 12 forwards on a regular basis? If so, how does that make the hockey club better? If improving the bottom six is on the club’s summer wish list, then Åman’s roster spot certainly seems like it could be in jeopardy if the Canucks add low-cost free agent options in the weeks ahead. He will also be challenged from below with players like Vasily Podkolzin, Arshdeep Bains and Aatu Raty looking for opportunities with the big league club.
If Nils Åman starts the season in the Canucks opening night line-up, he needs to bring more to the mix than he has to this point in his career. There are simply too many nights when it’s hard to know if he’s even in the line-up. The best case scenario for everyone involved might be for Åman to be the team’s 13th forward. That was he stays in the NHL, but when healthy, the Canucks will have 12 forwards ahead of him that they feel give the team a better shot at being successful.

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