Making the case for Arshdeep Bains in the Vancouver Canucks’ opening night lineup
Photo credit:Instagram via @abbotsfordcanucks
By Dave Hall2 months ago
Folks, the preseason is here.
And we’re about to take a wild ride down a road where 22-year-old Arshdeep Bains makes the Vancouver Canucks’ opening night lineup.
It’s that exciting time of the year when every NHL fan indulges in bold predictions and heated debates about which players will secure coveted spots on their respective teams’ rosters and who will take a backseat to develop in the minors.
In regard to the Canucks, there are quite a few names worthy of discussion for those final spots, both upfront and on the backend. One name that might not be at the forefront of these discussions to the casual viewer, but certainly deserves some further attention, is Arshdeep Bains. Undrafted, the versatile winger is coming off an impressive debut (professional) season, finishing fifth among Abbotsford skaters in scoring with 38 points (13-25-38) over 66 games, and became a nightly top-six threat as the season progressed.
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Bains as a fringe player for the Vancouver Canucks on opening night. After all, he’s a relative newcomer to the professional scene and does not sport an eye-popping stat line thus far. However, perhaps it’s not all that of a stretch to consider him NHL-ready for a bottom-half role?
Let’s rewind for a second. For those who haven’t been following closely, the local Surrey native is in the midst of writing a classic “feel good” story, one that any sports fan can certainly appreciate. From a career-high of 51 points in 63 games during his sophomore year with the Red Deer Rebels to ultimately topping the entire Western League with an impressive 112 points in his final season, eventually earning an NHL contract as an undrafted player. It’s a tale that we just love to see.
He is now just one of four active players to have earned an NHL contract as an undrafted player out of the WHL, who has also hit the 100-plus point plateau, along with Tyler Johnson (CHI), Dryden Hunt (CGY), and Chase Wheatcroft (DAL).
Fast-forward to today, and Bains finds himself in the thick of his first real attempt to secure a spot on an NHL roster. Putting up high-end point totals may have ultimately earned him his ELC, but his game brings much more substance than that. Yes, scoring goals is one thing, but how he accumulates his points tells a far more significant tale. Don’t get it twisted, the kid has his share of highlight-reel goals, yet, many of his points come from the gritty, hard-fought areas many 100-plus (WHL) point scorers rarely venture into. This is the kind of stuff that injects him directly into the mix of this club’s final roster talks.
You don’t have to tell Rick Tocchet twice
Not only has Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet already deployed Bains alongside Pius Suter and Conor Garland during training camp skates, but carried that trio into his (Bains) first pre-season match, to boot — substitute Suter for Aatu Raty. While he may not be a shoo-in to crack this roster, it is clear that this coaching staff is willing to give him every opportunity to win them over. Of course, it’s important not to look too far into training camp lineups, and yet, skating on a line that certainly resembles that of an NHL energy line is certainly not something to take lightly.
It doesn’t take long to get a sense of the type of playing style Rick Tocchet values, especially in his bottom-six forward group. Even when mistakes are made, he is quick to reflect and emphasize effort levels. And let me tell you, Bains consistently leaves everything on the ice, leaving no questions about his commitment.
The Canucks have faced criticism in recent years for lacking energy and emotion, especially during challenging times, and he is precisely the type of player who can provide that quick “pick-me-up” when the team – or, the arena – needs it most. He’s gritty, relentless, and gives his all on every shift.
You can expect him to mix things up, like this, on a nightly basis.
Canucks fans do not need a reminder as to where the club placed with regard to their Penalty Kill over the last few years – Okay, they finished 32nd, 32nd, and 31st over the previous three seasons, respectively – and the PK is certainly another area where Bains can add significant benefit to this lineup.
While he may have been given just a brief sniff (30 seconds) during his first pre-season match, his attention to grow and excel in this area played a major role in his elevated use last season in Abbotsford. Head Coach, Jeremy Colliton, grew significant trust in his ability throughout the year, eventually looking to him as one of the club’s primary go-to’s with the man down.
His playing style aligns perfectly with the demands of effective penalty killing, and there’s no doubt he can bring that same effectiveness to the NHL level, even with the Canucks taking obvious steps to address this weakness in the off-season.
On the offensive, Bains did enjoy just over three minutes on the team’s secondary powerplay unit in his first pre-season match. This is no surprise. Be it his monstrous league-leading WHL year, or his rookie campaign in Abbotsford, seeing time on the man-advantage has been a staple to his success throughout his career. Whether it be working the wall, or inflicting havoc as a net-front presence, there is no denying his ability to provide a secondary boost.
Oh, and sometimes he can save the day, even when his team is up a skater.
Backdoor offensive boost
The Canucks’ bottom-six forward group struggled to contribute significant numbers on the scoresheet last season. In fact, let’s take a look at the club’s secondary scoring from 2022-23:
Dakota Joshua: GP: 79, G: 11, A:12, PTS: 23
Sheldon Dries: GP: 63, G: 11, A:6, PTS: 17
Nils Åman : GP: 68, G: 4, A: 12, PTS: 16
Phillip Di Giuseppe:GP: 30, G: 6, A: 6, PTS: 12
Nils Höglander : GP: 25, G: 3, A: 6, PTS: 9
Jack Studnicka: GP: 47, G: 4, A: 4, PTS:8
Vasily Podkolzin: GP: 39, G: 4, A: 3, PTS: 7
*Curtis Lazar: GP: 45, G: 3, A: 2, PTS: 5
*Tanner Pearson: GP: 14, G: 1, A: 4, PTS: 5
*An asterisk indicates that they are no longer with the organization.
Am I saying that Bains would come in and produce at a top-six rate? Absolutely not. Yet, it’s obvious that he comes equipped with a solid track record of putting up points and isn’t afraid to pay the price to get them. As mentioned, he carries skills worthy enough to slot in on a secondary power-play unit, if needed, and it’s not unrealistic to believe that he could eclipse the 20-point mark at the NHL level as a result – something that all but one of their players in the bottom-six failed to achieve last season.
I know what you are thinking, and yes, 38 points in his inaugural AHL season may not necessarily scream “NHL-ready” production. However, with a toolkit that offers so much more than his ledger shows, there is far more room for growth in his second year as a pro.
On the shortlist
Realistically, Bains will have his work cut out for him to etch his name on this opening night roster. With names such as Dakota Joshua, Phil Di Giuseppe, Jack Studnicka, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander all knocking on the door of a crowded forward group, it’s going to take continuous hard-nosed efforts to overthrow those final spots.
However, Rick Tocchet has been vocal about his unwillingness to hand jobs to anyone and expects top efforts on a nightly basis, no matter how many NHL games one has played. Dakota Joshua, a name that is in direct competition with Bains as a bottom-six banger, has been on the hot seat for lacking said effort level. In an interview with Sportsnet 650’s, Brendan Bachelor on Wednesday, Tocchet mentioned “Like everybody, you’ve gotta fight for some jobs here, and feel that he needs to himself going. His fitness level has to increase”.
Comments like this should be music to the ears of a player such as Arshdeep Bains, who tailors his game to play like this on a nightly basis. Given his track record and reputation as a constant two-way threat, there is a case to be made for Canucks’ brass to detour from their original plans and take a flyer on a low-risk, high-reward option for their opening bottom half.
In the event that Bains falls short, he will return for his second go-around in Abbotsford. As a developing young prospect, this is certainly not the worst-case scenario, as it allows him to take on a heavier top-six role as a leader in the room, building off of what he accomplished last season. Furthermore, with Abbotsford a stone’s throw away, and injury woes nearly inevitable, the 2023-24 campaign should offer ample opportunity for a minor league call-up.
And you better believe that he will be on the shortlist for his first cup of coffee.
The Vancouver Canucks have three pre-season matches remaining on their schedule, all of which take place at Rogers Arena.
Recent articles from Dave Hall