Half-season report cards for the Vancouver Canucks: Defence and Goaltending

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
But wait, there’s more!
If you somehow missed Part One, you’re now in the back-half of our CanucksArmy half-season report cards for the Vancouver Canucks.
Last time around, we graded the forward corps, and now it’s the defence and goaltending’s turn to fall under the lens of our assessment.
Like last time, we’ll begin with two special notes.
Special Note #1: Technically-speaking, the halfway point of the season was Game #41 against the New York Islanders. We’re writing this on Saturday morning, after Game #42 has been played but before Game #43. But we figured that was close enough!
Special Note #2: As was the case for our quarter-mark report cards, the grades you are about to encounter are individual grades, based on individual roles and expectations. They are not rankings! Based on feedback from last time, we’re also lightly considering salary.
And also like last time, we’ll leave it at that and get to it!
Ian Cole: A
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg TOICorsi
On the one hand, it feels odd to hand an ‘A’ to someone with such a simple, straightforward game. Yet, then again, Cole has been the 3D on the depth chart of the top team in the Western Conference all season long, and he’s doing so on a one-year contract at a $3 million cap hit, and all while being the oldest player on the team.
Cole handles difficult minutes against tough competition with aplomb. He’s steady, he’s physical, he’s a leading penalty killer. The only thing Cole doesn’t provide is a whole lot of offense, but that’s okay. He does literally everything else well, and it’s hard to imagine the Canucks getting any more value out of his deal than they are currently getting.
Just recently, the team has started to explore using Cole as an RD, further increasing his importance to the team.
Mark Friedman: C+
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Really, there’s little to complain about when it comes to Friedman. He’s a break-even bottom-pairing defender with some unique, sandpapery attributes that tend to draw power plays like nobody else.
It’s true that Friedman has been cleanly surpassed by Noah Juulsen, both in Tocchet’s estimation and the honest opinion of everyone watching. But that doesn’t equate to Friedman having been bad.
He remains someone the Canucks can feel comfortable throwing into the lineup at any time, and looks like the exact sort of player they might try to add at the deadline for depth if he weren’t already in hand.
Akito Hirose: Insufficient Evidence
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It’s been a frustrating year for Hirose, who didn’t exactly shine in Training Camp or during a couple of early-season opportunities. Then, he got injured in Abbotsford and has been off the ice since.
Still, Hirose is a first year pro and very much a work in progress. There’s no point in laying down any definitive judgements quite yet.
Filip Hronek: A
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Sure, sure, folks have begun to discuss the handful of flaws in Hronek’s game more openly, and that has caused the hype around him to die down a bit. The blind passes that turn into turnovers are a tad annoying. But Hronek remains A) a near-PPG defender and B) the best partner Quinn Hughes has ever had by a big country mile.
Hronek is a top-pairing-quality RHD, which is something the Canucks have not had in more than a decade. The rareness of his commodity adds inherent value to him, but that isn’t even necessary when it comes to giving him a top grade.
Hronek makes the Canucks a better team, and their best players into better players. Nobody is complaining about the trade that brought him to town anymore, and we doubt anyone will ever again. Hronek has overdelivered on any reasonable expectations. He’s not a flawless defender, but he is a fantastic one.
Quinn Hughes: A++
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What more can be said about the Canucks’ first-year captain? He’s neck-and-neck with Cale Makar for the status of top defender in the world, and is well on his way to the first (of many?) Norris Trophy in his career.
Hughes is putting up the kind of production that hasn’t been seen since the days of Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, and Brian Leetch. He’s doing that while also finetuning his ever-growing defensive game, which has already reached the point at which most would agree he’s the team’s best defensive defender, too.
Hughes is the team’s nearly-undisputed MVP, and will receive his fair share of Hart votes in the summer. There’s nothing more than can be asked of him…but we still have a sneaking suspicion that the best of Hughes is yet to come.
Noah Juulsen: B+
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When he was acquired by the Canucks for the low, low price of a slightly-used Olli Juolevi, Juulsen was considered an NHL/AHL tweener who had already busted from his once-lofty draft position.
Since getting a shot in Vancouver, however, Juulsen has looked like a genuine NHLer, and that’s only been made more clear under the coaching of Tocchet. Juulsen kills penalties and clears the front of the net as well as anyone else on the roster, and he’s become increasingly trustworthy as the season has progressed.
With the blueline fully healthy, Juulsen is on the outside looking in. But one can already imagine him being the perfect player to insert into a playoff lineup when injuries occur, and that makes him a piece whose value far exceeds his salary and any expectations laid upon him.
Cole McWard: Insufficient Evidence
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That McWard remains a top call-up option ahead of more veteran options is a testament to his strength as a prospect. That said, there’s not much more than can be said about him with just nine minutes of evidence to base our judgement upon. McWard won’t even turn 23 until June, so his story is just beginning.
Tyler Myers: B-
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This season has undoubtedly been Myers’ best as a Canuck, even beating out his 2020 performance in the bubble playoffs. He’s pacing near 40 points, he’s still playing top-four minutes consistently, and he’s finally managed to keep his gaffes to a reasonable limit. He’s also doing it all while being the second-oldest player on the team, after Cole.
The reason Myers gets a ‘B- ’ is really just down to salary. He’s definitely a step behind all the likes of Cole and Carson Soucy performance-wise, while hitting the books at a cap hit that is double theirs. Still, when it comes to beating out preseason expectations, it’s hard to argue that anyone has done so to a greater degree than Myers.
Carson Soucy: B+
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With all the injury troubles, it’s hard to know exactly what the Canucks have in Soucy quite yet. What is known for sure is that he is a multifaceted, steadying presence on the blueline, and most are willing to give him ample credit for settling down Myers’ game in the early goings.
As long as he can stay healthy and in the lineup, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be anything to complain about throughout the three years of his contract. Soucy might not be a genuine top-four D, but he’s a strong #5, and that both matches his salary and goes a long way toward building a competent unit.
Nikita Zadorov: B
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2023/24 (VAN)1702218:1744.2%
It’s probably fair to say that Zadorov hasn’t quite got his feet under him yet in Vancouver. We know that Tocchet’s got a structure and a system that might be difficult for an incoming player to pickup midseason, and so it makes sense to see a little bit more tentativeness in Zadorov’s game than is typical. He’s not jumping into the play as much as he has in the past, nor is he cruising through the middle of the ice waiting to demolish someone…but that will come with time.
Whether or no Zadorov is capable of handling top-four minutes remains to be seen, but having been recently paired with Cole, that opportunity is forthcoming. At the very least, Zadorov has played well enough to fit nicely within the top-six setup the Canucks currently have on hand, and more than well enough to justify the cheap cost paid to bring him in.
Thatcher Demko: A+
 RecordGAASave %Goals Saved Above Expected
GSAE courtesy of MoneyPuck.com
For this player in particular, we have to discuss leaguewide context. Demko is not just a de facto starting goaltender, he’s a certified goalie star. And how many of those are there in the league these days? Not many.
When one looks around the NHL, one finds more teams with goaltending crises than they do teams with solidified solutions in net. In Demko, the Canucks have a netminder with whom they can win on a nightly basis. More than that, Demko has a proven ability to steal wins, as demonstrated by his astounding rates of goals saved above average and expected.
He will be in the Vezina conversation all season long, but continuing to rack up the wins is all he and the Canucks will care about.
Casey DeSmith: A
 RecordGAASave %Goals Saved Above Expected
GSAE courtesy of MoneyPuck.com
Last time we did this, we said we weren’t 100% sold on DeSmith yet. Well, we got there. DeSmith has kept pace almost perfectly with Demko’s performance, albeit in less frequent opportunities and occasionally against less-than-stellar opposition. He’s outperforming a good number of starting goalies around the league as a backup, and that’s obviously something worth celebrating.
More than anything, DeSmith allows the Canucks to not have to adjust their game when Demko takes a break by providing a very reasonable facsimile of Demko’s skill. He’s been the perfect backup, and the fact that he was acquired via a cap-cutting transaction is just a remarkable cherry on top.

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