Dakota Joshua was a welcome fit for the Vancouver Canucks’ bottom six
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
One situation Canucks fans have grown accustomed to over the years is change. A whole lot of change.
The dwindling number of untouchables on the team has made owning a jersey for any bottom-six forward a headache. As each of the last few seasons came to a close, so too did the opportunity for players picked up off waivers or signed at the beginning of the year to be more than a temporary placeholder for the organization.
26-year-old Dakota Joshua was thought to be heading down a similar path when he signed a two-year, $1.65 million contract on July 13, 2022. Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Joshua was flipped to the St Louis Blues in 2019 and had yet to play a full season in the NHL.
As one of the smaller of seven Canucks free agency signings last year, Joshua was a physical presence at a low price, becoming the newest auditioning cast member of the Canucks’ third and fourth line.
Despite his imposing 6’3,” 206 lbs stature, Joshua by all means was a late bloomer on the team. By the “Rick Tocchet act,” Joshua had 9 points: 6 goals and 3 assists. A mere four games before Tocchet’s arrival, Joshua logged only 5:25 of ice time, and was a -1 with four penalty minutes in a Canucks loss to the Flordia Panthers.
Unlike the first half of the season, Joshua found a groove early into Tocchet’s takeover, recording three points (2 goals and an assist) in his first three games under new coaching. Joshua still had some extended point slumps, but he was playing a season-high 18 minutes, and getting opportunities to do so alongside top-six players.
“Toch’s brought a good breath of fresh air into this organization that we needed,” said Joshua about the impact Tocchet had this season. “It’s been a good relationship. We didn’t get a full season together, but I have to be happy with how it’s gone so far to this point.”
Joshua concluded his first year in a Canuck jersey with 23 points: 11 goals and 12 assists. Putting together a 20-plus point season after being a flight risk of being the 13th forward was an unexpected surprise for everyone but the Michigan native, who has hovered around 20-plus points at nearly every stage of his development, dating back to his time with Ohio State University.
“This year was a big year for me, playing a majority of the games, and getting a full season under my belt for the first time,” Joshua said about establishing himself as a full-time NHLer. “It did a lot of good for me, but I still feel there’s a lot more to my ceiling that I haven’t reached yet and that’s what I’m looking to do this summer and bring it into next year to be more impactful.”
Joshua showed positive signs of beginning to find his ceiling by being one of only five Canucks to have a powerplay, shorthanded, and even strength goal. He reflected on using the penalty kill as a stabilizer for productivity. “Getting more ice time, having a role and a place on this team, and being a big part of grinding out wins is something I want to do and the penalty kill helped me do that down the stretch here,” he said.
Embracing his identity as a penalty killer, Joshua credited a change in mindset to what helped the team overcome what was heading toward the worst penalty kill in history. “A big thing this year was confidence, and we didnt get off to the right foot, so we had kind of had that weary feeling every time we took a penalty early on. Once Rick got here, the mentality behind that I feel changed, and there wasn’t any doubt going out to kill, but trust in knowing that we were going to kill this off.”
While making big changes offensively, as seen with the fifth-highest shooting percentage on the team, Joshua’s heavy side of the game flourished as well. He had the second-most hits on the team, which is an even more pivotal stat with the loss of hits leader Luke Schenn heading into next season. And for the 50 minutes Joshua spent in the box, he managed to draw 54 minutes, which is pretty unexpected for a big guy.
Joshua elevated himself through the lineup by delivering the style of gritty, up-close-and-personal play that got him signed in the first place. Or if you’d rather have it in Wyatt’s terms: ruthless aggression. What’s more effective than a hardnosed forward who can cause a team to turn the puck over in front of the net? One who can do so while packing a punch.
Nevertheless, Joshua’s skill doesn’t come at the price of his strength. His bread and butter might be utilizing his sheer size to get into dirty areas at the front of the net to tap home loose pucks, but he can also deliver the same results on an odd-man rush or with the puck on his stick.
That said, a player is only as good as their last season. And if last year was the audition for Joshua, this season is the show. In his final year of a two-year contract, if Joshua can achieve a 40-point season, not only does he guarantee himself another contract either with the Canucks or elsewhere, he generates a profitable return for the team if they decide to shop and replace his position, as a left winger, with an AHLer like Nils Hoglander, instead of letting him walk.
“Consistency is the main thing and just being someone you’re going to get the same thing out of every night,” said Joshua on what he hopes to bring to the team next season. He hopes to achieve that by “being productive right from the get-go instead of kind of feeling it out,” which he felt he did to start the year.
It might not have been his consistency that made him stand out, but those glimmering moments that he kept creating for himself are why Joshua not only kept himself in the lineup but outlasted other bottom-six players who were either traded or scratched. He’s worked his way from a lineup afterthought to a roleplayer that can make a difference both up or down the lineup.
Recent articles from Isabella Urbani