Christian Wolanin is evidence rebuilding the defence depth doesn’t need to be expensive

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
1 year ago
Ever since being called up in mid-February, Christian Wolanin has been a pleasant addition to the Canucks defence corps. The 27-year-old defenceman has recorded two assists over the nine games he’s played with the big club.
In addition to his solid raw numbers in the box score, Wolanin’s advanced stats have also been strong. It’s difficult to pull too many conclusions from such a small sample size, but Wolanin has also looked the part of a capable NHL defenceman, not making too many mistakes during his minutes.
This strong start to his Vancouver Canucks career builds on top of what’s been a wonderful AHL season for Wolanin. He’s fought his way into this opportunity and has made the most of it.
Wolanin’s brief NHL success — though he has almost a full year of really good professional hockey when you include his AHL season — is a win for the new management regime. They decided to give him a contract slot this past offseason with a two-way deal despite him already being 27 years old and never having stuck around in the NHL. The fact that he’s shown he can play at the NHL level is a success for the professional scouting department.
As the Canucks look to overhaul their defence group — a project that was jumpstarted by the Filip Hronek trade — they’re going to need more pro scouting wins like Wolanin. With the cost of a top four defenceman very high around the league at the moment, the Canucks need to find gems in the rough to fill out their bottom-pairing and depth positions, something that they’ve now proven they can do with Wolanin.

Wolanin’s steady NHL performance builds on AHL success

When the Canucks announced that they had signed Christian Wolanin this past offseason, it raised some question marks. What was a re-tooling team doing giving up a contract slot to a 27-year-old that had played a grand total of 70 NHL games over the previous five seasons? Any and all questions about the signing have disappeared as Wolanin has made short work of forcing his way up the depth chart into an NHL spot.
His play this season in the AHL has been too good to ignore. He’s recorded 55 points across 49 games and has been one of Abbotsford’s best players. This strong play earned him a chance with the big team as he was finally given a chance to play at the NHL level with the Canucks.
Wolanin has now played eight games with the Vancouver Canucks, averaging 16:16 minutes per game. Since he’s been called up, the only players that have been on the ice for more Canucks goals at 5-on-5 are Andrei Kuzmenko and Elias Pettersson. Wolanin has carried his AHL success into the NHL and looks to be a very serviceable player.
Wolanin leads Canucks defenceman in a ton of different statistical categories since he’s been called up. With him on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks are only allowing 1.08 goals per sixty minutes (the best mark on the team,  and they’re creating 35.04 scoring chances per sixty minutes, again the best on the team.
Only eight games worth of data isn’t enough to do much with but it’s hard to deny that Wolanin has been impressive during his NHL audition. He’s making a strong case for an NHL contract next year, either with the Canucks or somewhere else, and continues to move up the depth chart.

What this means for fixing the Canucks’ 5-8 defencemen

The Canucks are looking to revamp their defence. It’s no secret that it’s been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses for some time now and that process was sped up with the acquisition of Filip Hronek. The Canucks now have one elite defenceman in Quinn Hughes, one very good defenceman in Hronek, and a bunch of replaceable defencemen behind them.
Over the past year, we’ve seen NHL-proven defencemen get traded for a lot. Acquiring a top-four defenceman takes a lot of valuable assets whether that be draft picks, prospects, or centres. The Canucks paid that price for Hronek and may have to do it again if they want to bring in another player, as they don’t have any prospects in the pipeline who project to be top-four defencemen within the next two years.
If the Canucks are going to pay up for players like Hronek, they need to get the most out of their bottom-four defencemen. The bottom pairing and the 7th and 8th defencemen, players who will definitely see ice time throughout an NHL season due to injuries, need to be able to play at a quality level and the Canucks can not give up assets to find them. Every mid-round pick is valuable to a team like the Canucks and even trading what may seem like valueless assets is less than ideal.
The Canucks managed to find Wolanin and acquire him for nothing but a contract slot. The pro scouting department can chalk up a win for that one. Now finding a way to continue to mine that player acquisition channel and beat other teams to serviceable NHL players that can either stick on the roster or be flipped for picks will be huge for the Canucks. Re-tooling without selling out for assets is an extremely difficult task but the Canucks can make it possible if they can find NHL talent for free like they did with Wolanin.

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