Half-season report cards for the Vancouver Canucks: Forwards

Photo credit:© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
Time flies when you’re having fun watching the Vancouver Canucks.
The calendar and schedule tell us that it’s only been three months since the outset of the 2023/24 campaign. And yet, the 2022/23 season seems like a lifetime ago.
Regardless of how one feels, however, the 2023/24 regular season is half over. Which means that it’s time for our CanucksArmy half-season report cards.
Before we begin, a couple of 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.
With that, let’s get to the first half of our report cards, featuring the Canucks forward corps.
Nils Åman: C+
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Åman continues to establish himself as a full-time NHLer, if not a particularly exciting one. He’s been a more-than-adequate fill-in whenever the arrangement of the other four centers on the roster has opened up a spot on the fourth line…but that’s all that he’s been.
Nothing particularly bad, nothing particularly great. A clear step behind the rest of the regularly-rostered forwards, but that’s as much due to the strength of the rest of the forward corps that it is Åman. A solid mark for a solid extra forward, and it’d probably be a little higher if not for his penchant to get caught a little too deep in his own zone.
Teddy Blueger: A
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What other grade could be given to the centerpiece of the most effective third line in the NHL? The Canucks got noticeably better when Blueger returned from a preseason injury, to the point that his presence has really changed the whole dynamic of the team.
It’s true that Blueger has benefitted from his chemistry with Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland, but the reverse is also true, and perhaps more so. Blueger was expected to deliver quality two-way play, but he’s both done that and displayed a remarkable penchant for playmaking.
All this on a one-year, $1.9 million contract means there is nothing to complain about when it comes to Blueger.
Brock Boeser: A+
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Boeser is back and better than ever. Boeser skated into Saturday morning in fourth place in the NHL goal-scoring race, and if that’s all he had going for him, it’d probably be enough for a very high grade. Boeser’s a goal-scorer, he’s scoring goals, everything is good in the world.
But Boeser’s doing a lot more than scoring goals. He’s winning puck battles, he’s manning the front of the net, and he’s making plays that elevate his already-quite-talented linemates. He’s also rediscovered a lot of his defensive game.
Boeser is doing it all like never before, and has outstripped even the loftiest expectations placed on him.
Phil Di Giuseppe: C+
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Here, we must measure opportunity against results. Based on Di Giuseppe’s career up to this point, he’s playing exactly as should be expected: he’s a forward who can play up and down the lineup, and sometimes find himself on the outside of it looking in. He’s a versatile depth piece.
But then one has to consider that Di Giuseppe spent a good portion of the early season with a dedicated spot on the second line with Boeser and JT Miller.
Eight points just isn’t enough production for the ice-time that has been given, and Di Giuseppe has struggled to find a consistent fit anywhere else in the lineup. At this point, he’s no longer in the team’s top-12 forwards, but remains someone they are comfortable inserting into the lineup whenever necessary.
Conor Garland: A
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This one was a little tricky. On the one hand, Garland’s overall production remains a little middle-of-the-road given his salary. On the other hand, his production is actually fairly impressive given the context of his ice-time and opportunity, especially when one realizes that his scoring rate is trending up, up, up ever since Garland joined a line with Blueger and Joshua.
Both the analytics and the eye-test would suggest that Garland is the straw that stirs the drink on that line, and so a little credit should also be given to him for his linemates sudden and shocking success. It’s the compete level that stands out with Garland, and that’s what he seems to have lent the other members of the trio.
Garland’s contributions are best summarized as making the Canucks a more dangerous team and a more difficult one to play against. That’s made his contact entirely worth its weight once again.
Nils Höglander: B+
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We’re trying not to just hand out As like candy here, but it’s tough when the team is performing this well. Really, for Höglander to be on pace for about 24 goals while skating primarily on the fourth line all season is a remarkable accomplishment, and could easily be grounds for an ‘A’ in and of itself. His goals-per-60 is 13th in the entire league.
That said, Höglander does have some work to do when it comes to rounding out his game. He’s still a possession wizard, and his hands are starting to catch up with his feet. The next step is consistency and learning to use his linemates a little more.
If he can do that, he’ll earn both more of Rick Tocchet’s trust and more opportunities higher up in the lineup. He gets a B+ for now to represent his room for growth in both fit and function.
Dakota Joshua: A
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Tocchet’s personal passion project has turned into a modern day version of the man himself. Within a calendar year-and-a-half, Joshua has gone with someone without a guaranteed full-time NHL spot to a defensively-responsible power forward on pace for 22 goals and close to the league lead in hits. He’s even a penalty killer now.
Honestly, it’s hard to really grapple with just how much growth Joshua has experienced. His individual performance alone is well worthy of an ‘A,’ and his presence on a stellar third line is just the icing on the cake.
Linus Karlsson: Insufficient Evidence
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We’ve only seen about 40 minutes of cumulative ice-time from Karlsson thus far, and that’s not really enough to make much of a judgement. He’s clearly solidified himself as the top forward call-up option on the farm, but it’s likely that others will get their shots soon.
Andrei Kuzmenko: D
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On a team playing this well, Kuzmenko stands out like a sore thumb. He’s definitely not playing as well as he did last year, and he’s plainly got a long way to go before he earns his coach’s trust. That nobody was all that surprised when Kuzmenko started to be healthy scratched says an awful lot. For what he’s been given while in the lineup, more results had to be expected.
All that said, Kuzmenko is on pace for more than 40 points across a full season, which isn’t abysmal production by any stretch of the imagination, and his underlying stats remain strong (albeit with some rather sheltered deployment.)
The shine has come off of Kuzmenko, but there’s still an abundance of talent there that seems poised to re-emerge at any time.
Sam Lafferty: A
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We were tempted to give Lafferty a slightly lower grade, just because he’s cooled off a fair bit after a red-hot start. But then, maintaining that pace was never the expectation for Lafferty, nor should it have been.
Lafferty remains a simply excellent fourth liner and terrific value for both his contract and the low cost of acquisition. He’s probably the single greatest contributor of energy on the forward corps, and that trait has made Tocchet very comfortable in elevating Lafferty up the lineup on occasion.
That Lafferty is still on pace for 35+ points can be considered gravy. He’s already doing his “job” without the production.
Ilya Mikheyev: B-
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Mikheyev is probably our most difficult assessment case on the list. He’s got just three more points than Kuzmenko in the same amount of games (and with significantly greater opportunity), so is he really deserving of a much higher grade?
We say yes, and for a multitude of reasons. For one, Mikheyev took some time to get back up to speed following a lengthy injury recovery, and that has to be considered. For another, Mikheyev plays a much more well-rounded game than Kuzmenko, beating him out in every field not directly related to scoring.
That’s to say nothing of the discrepancy in power play opportunity.
Lastly, it’s quite obvious to anyone watching that Mikheyev is capable of generating offence entirely on his own, regardless of linemates. Yes, he benefits from lining up with Elias Pettersson, as anyone would, but Mikheyev also has game-breaking speed that is capable of generating chances in and of itself. He’s absolutely returning good value on his contract, even if he’s rightfully the sixth-best player in a team’s top-six.
JT Miller: A+
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Many, including this author, assumed that Miller had peaked with his 99-point season in 2021/22. That no longer appears to be the case. Miller is playing both a stronger offensive game than ever before and a more complete game, taking on tougher matchups than anyone else on the forward corps and thriving under them.
At this point, Miller is on pace to not just eclipse 100 points for the first time in his career, but to do so quite comfortably. That he’s doing that while playing better defensively than ever is just remarkable, and that he’s got all that grit and intensity on top of it is truly unique. If the Selke weren’t such a reputation award, he’d be a leading candidate this season…and if he weren’t surrounded by so many other superstars, we have to imagine he’d be receiving some Hart buzz, too.
That it is Miller, not Pettersson, centring the Lotto Line now shows just how complete his game has become.
Elias Pettersson: A
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Alright, alright, Pettersson is finally back at the top of the report card. He may have looked ‘off’ earlier in the campaign, but that’s now worn all the way off, and Pettersson is back to being an absolute force on the ice. This last little stretch of production has him on pace to blow through all his previous career standards, and his two-way excellence has also returned.
That Pettersson was able to maintain such a high rate of production through the first month of the season despite not being blessed with the greatest linemates is a testament to his ability. But now that the Lotto Line is reunited, we’ve been able to once again see Pettersson as his best…and his best is among the best in hockey, period.
As of this writing, he’s got game-winning goals in four straight games. Pettersson is once again a force to be reckoned with.
Pius Suter: B+
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We might call Suter a Swiss army knife anyway, even if he didn’t have the nationality to match. On the surface, his statline is nothing to write home about. But then again, it’s not bad at all for someone who has played on literally every line and has yet to be handed a consistent role. And it has to be noted that Suter’s game involves so much more than points.
Suter has been used in a lot of different ways by Tocchet, but primarily as a defensive conscience that can increase any line’s ability to handle tough matchups. His underlying stats tell the story of someone capable of sharing the ice with the best the opposition has to offer and coming out even or better most times, and that’s something incredibly valuable to have in a player, especially one with such versatility.
Suter’s latest task, centring an ad hoc second line with Kuzmenko and Mikheyev, does seem a bit beyond him. Then again, it would be remarkable if he were up to that task, given his $1.6 million salary. Suter is delivering well over and above fair value, especially when it comes to measuring wins.

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