Analyzing and evaluating Jason Dickinson’s early play for the Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
2 years ago
After a disappointing 2020-21 NHL season where seemingly everything went wrong, Canucks general manager Jim Benning and his group were active over the offseason retooling the roster. With the Seattle Kraken joining the league as the NHL’s 32nd franchise, every team had to expose a few players from their roster for the newcomers to choose from. For organizations with an abundance of talented players — not the Canucks — this meant that the only way to get value for unprotected players was to trade them before the roster deadline.
After watching other teams make savvy deals before the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft in 2017, Benning made one of his own as he took advantage of the fact that the Dallas Stars had too many quality players to protect and acquired centreman Jason Dickinson. He was viewed as a dependable defensive centre who might finally fill that third-line role that the Canucks have been desperately trying to solidify for many years now.
While playing in Texas, Dickinson put up great underlying defensive numbers. Among all forwards who played at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey in 2020-21, he allowed the ninth least shots per sixty minutes. He was rightfully targeted as the type of player that the Canucks could desperately use as they’ve bled quality shots and scoring chances for the past few years, culminating in a dead-last finish in scoring chances allowed per game last season.
Dickinson has now played 15 games for the Canucks this season with a variety of different linemates in a few different roles. Has he shown enough that the Canucks should pencil him in on the third-line for the foreseeable future? Is he living up to the new contract that he signed this offseason? Has he proved management right in their belief that he has untapped offensive upside? Let’s take a look at how he’s done on both sides of the puck and come to some conclusions.

Dickinson’s defensive performance 

Dickinson is widely regarded as a defence-first player and his ability to frustrate opponents and keep pucks out of his own net is the biggest factor in why the Canucks traded for him. However, there are always concerns when a player moves from a tight, structured system like the Stars to one like the Canucks where they haven’t been able to stop a nosebleed. In addition, the Canucks have less defensively savvy players to skate alongside Dickinson, another factor that raised questions about how effective he would be after his move to Canada.
So far this season at 5-on-5, Dickinson’s most common linemates have been Vasily Podkolzin, Matthew Highmore, and Conor Garland. One is a rookie, one is a fringe NHL player, and the last is Garland, who is a great player but known more for his offensive exploits than his defensive play. Despite having a cast of wingers who are far from reputable NHL defenders, Dickinson has continued to show the shot suppression ability he did in Dallas. At 5-on-5, the Canucks only allow 23.72 shots per sixty minutes, a mark that is almost three shots better than anyone else on the team.
Not only has he been one of the best Canucks at limiting shots, but he’s also got the best mark on the team in terms of goals allowed per sixty minutes at 5-on-5. Both of these numbers point to Dickinson being one of the Canucks’ better defensive players at 5-on-5 thus far, and that has been the case but there are some other factors that need to be mentioned. The first is that Dickinson has enjoyed a 96.92% save percentage while on the ice at 5-on-5 which has helped his numbers. That is unsustainable and will have an effect on what these numbers look like at the end of the season.
The other factor that needs to be mentioned is that defence isn’t just played at 5-on-5 and Dickinson was brought in to be one of the team’s main penalty killers. It’s been well documented that the unit has been downright awful throughout the early part of this season and one of the biggest reasons why the Canucks are near the bottom of the standings. While he’s far from the sole reason for the PK struggles, Dickinson’s numbers start to crumble when he’s on the ice down a man. Out of all the regular penalty killers, the Canucks are allowing the most shots per sixty minutes, high-danger chances per sixty minutes, and expected goals per sixty minutes.

Dickinson’s offensive performance

While Dickinson didn’t show much offensively with the Stars — his career-high in points is 22 — the Canucks thought that there might be unrealized potential in that area. So far this season he’s managed to score just one goal and add one assist, not exactly the most encouraging of offensive outputs. It’s not that he’s been getting no opportunities — he’s sixth among forwards in 5-on-5 shots — but they haven’t been very dangerous and he isn’t a good enough finisher to punish goalies on average scoring chances.
In terms of being a playmaker, he hasn’t fared much better and so far it seems as if the Canucks might’ve been ambitious in thinking that he had this hidden offensive skillset locked inside of him. However, the Canucks have been a dumpster fire this year, and maybe some more time with his new teammates and actually winning a few games will help Dickinson get on the scoresheet.
Ensuring that Dickinson gets to play with talented wingers will be the only way for the Canucks to fully explore this side of his game. The Canucks are creating over 32 5-on-5 scoring chances per sixty minutes when Dickinson plays alongside Podkolzin or Garland but that number drops to 23.38 when he’s paired with Highmore.

Evaluation and final thoughts

Dickinson signed a three-year deal with an average annual value of $2.65 million this offseason that will keep him in Vancouver through the 2023-24 season. The Canucks should feel good that they’ve got him locked up at such a reasonable cap hit as he’s shown that he can be an effective defensive forward for the team. While an offensive breakout would be appreciated, it doesn’t need to happen for this to be a good deal for the Canucks.
The Canucks penalty kill is going to get better, it’s only a matter of time. While it may leave them a hole too large to dig out of in terms of the standings, it will make Dickinson’s impact on that area of the game look better. Something that will speed that process up is if he can raise his faceoff win percentage as it’s currently at a career-low 38.1%.
Between Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Dickinson, and even JT Miller, the Canucks have made centre a position of organizational depth. For a cost of only a third-round pick, they managed to add Dickinson to this group and lock him up for a few years, ensuring that they’ll have a defensive stalwart as a chess piece.
What have you thought of Dickinson’s play as a Canuck so far?

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