Christian Wolanin is playing too strong for the Vancouver Canucks to ignore
Photo credit:© Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang1 year ago
If there’s one Canucks player that has made the most of this year’s preseason, it’s Christian Wolanin. Signed to a two-way contract in July, Wolanin arrived on the West Coast as a depth defenceman with low expectations. At 27 years old, he hasn’t yet managed to break in as a full-time NHLer and has spent the majority of his time in the AHL.
During this year’s preseason, Wolanin has made sure that Canucks fans familiarize themselves with who he is. He’s been one of the standout players throughout camp and had a statement performance in a blowout loss against the Edmonton Oilers, a game in which he was one of the few players that had a positive impact.
Wolanin’s performance has given the Canucks hope that he can be a contributor to the NHL roster this season. In the past, the Canucks have been decimated by injury issues and their depth has been tested. With this year likely bringing much of the same due to the brutal nature of the NHL and the Canucks’ tough travel schedule — they’re 7th in projected travel miles — it’s likely that the Quebec native will get a chance on the big stage at some point this season.
Wolanin’s strong play thus far shows that Allvin was justified in this flyer of a contract he handed out this offseason. Professional talent evaluation is an area that the Canucks organization has struggled with in recent seasons and while Wolanin is just one small example, it’s a solid start.
What has Wolanin shown thus far throughout preseason?
Despite being forced into plenty of difficult situations this preseason — such as being the top defenceman for an AHL-caliber Canucks squad against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers — Wolanin has impressed fans, media, and the coaching staff alike.
He’s been good offensively and has helped the Canucks create chances while on the ice. While Wolanin is not going to wheel around the offensive zone like Quinn Hughes, he has made many impressive passes and has ripped a few dangerous shots toward the net, though his best effort thus far has only hit iron.
He’s a smart defender that thinks the game well. His strong hockey IQ is often on display when making a first pass that results in a clean zone exit and a chance for the Canucks to move up ice. It’s these simple plays where Wolanin has made the best impression, though he also has the capability for a highlight reel style dish as seen in the clip below.
Before you get too excited, Wolanin is far from perfect. His game still has warts that limit his potential at the NHL level and the largest is likely his skating. He’s not a top-end skater, an almost necessity in the modern NHL as defencemen need to keep up with forwards that seem to be getting faster and more agile every season.
He’s done a strong job at ensuring that those deficiencies aren’t fatal to his performance this preseason and has allowed his strengths to shine. With Wolanin on the ice at 5-on-5 so far this preseason, the Canucks are controlling 60.39% of the expected goals.
This is the third-best number of any skater and the best among defenceman, proving that good things happen for the Canucks while he’s on the ice. While the sample size is too small to make any huge claims, it is an encouraging start and all we have to work with.
Where does this put Wolanin on the Canucks’ depth chart?
The only other thing that Wolanin could have done to improve his chances of making the Canucks is learn to play the right side. As a left shot defenceman, Wolanin faces more competition and a tougher road to the NHL roster. However, the fact that he’s still around while Wyatt Kalynuk, Brady Keeper, and Danny DeKeyser have been cut is impressive.
An injury to Travis Dermott has also helped open a spot in the Canucks NHL defence group. It seems likely that Jack Rathbone will be given every opportunity to play and first crack at NHL minutes, though the young prospect hasn’t forcefully willed his way to that position this preseason as Wolanin has.
If Dermott remains out for the start of the regular season, it seems likely that Wolanin will start the season as a healthy scratch with the Vancouver chapter of the Canucks. In the case of injury, of which there will surely be many, Wolanin will get a chance to take the ice. When that happens, everyone will be hoping that he can show that same magic he did on a preseason October night, defending valiantly against Connor McDavid as his team iced a roster that might contend for the Calder Cup.
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