Photo credit:Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Paterson’s Point: Teddy Blueger has been so much better than expected for the Canucks
1 month ago
When the Vancouver Canucks signed Teddy Blueger to a one year $1.9 million dollar free agent contract on July 1st, it seemed like a nice piece for a team needing a depth centre that could win some face-offs, help prop up the penalty kill and bring championship pedigree after spending the second half of last season with the eventual Stanley Cup winners in Vegas. But there were questions. Many questions, in fact. At 29, had Blueger peaked as a National Hockey League player? Was there more to his game than met the eye? And did he have the offensive chops to be a legitimate third line centre?
It’s fair to say Blueger has answered every question emphatically. He has turned out to be so much better for the Canucks than even the hockey club likely imagined. Sure there was familiarity with management and head coach Rick Tocchet from their time together in Pittsburgh. So that helped. But for a player joining a third team in less than a year, transitions aren’t always easy.
And Blueger’s path from free agent depth piece to invaluable contributor on one of the hottest lines in hockey has had its share of twists and turns.
Injured in the Canucks preseason finale on October 6th, Blueger was forced to sit and watch the team’s first 14 games. And during that time, as he recovered from a severe ankle contusion, he had to deal with the mental anguish of losing a friend and former teammate Adam Johnson from a gruesome and tragic skate cut in a game in England in late October. Things were not easy for Blueger in the early going in his time as a Canuck.
That’s what makes his rapid ascension to bona fide third line centre in Vancouver all the more remarkable. For a player that had four goals all of last season and a career-high of nine goals and 28 points with the Penguins in 2021-22, the likeable Latvian is on a tear and absolutely in lockstep with linemates Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland these days.
With a pair of assists in Saturday’s 7-4 win over San Jose, Blueger extended a career best point streak to six games with two goals and six helpers over that span. And in December alone, a month in which the Canucks have gone 8-1-2, Blueger has three goals and 10 points while that line has combined for 10 goals and 28 points. For the month, Blueger is tied with captain Quinn Hughes for the team lead in even strength points.
On the season, Blueger already has four goals and a dozen points in 21 games. In those contests, the Canucks have outscored opponents 12-5 with Blueger on the ice at 5-on-5. This month alone, those numbers are an absurd 11-2
.“Well, he’s a team guy, a systems guy,” Rick Tocchet says of what he appreciates most about Blueger. “Sometimes he’ll sacrifice his game and points for the team. He’s made some big plays this last month for us. Obviously, on the penalty kill he’s first over the bench for us. He had a couple of other options this summer, and he chose us. You can’t take him out of the role he’s in right now because that line has been great for us.”
Thought of primarily as a role player, Blueger scored a beautiful short-handed breakaway goal in Seattle, showed great hands in tight to score against Minnesota and on Saturday put his playmaking skills on full display stealing a puck in the neutral zone and setting up Nils Aman for a tap in off the rush. So there have been flashes of skill to go along with the many other contributions Blueger has made to this hockey club’s success.
“I guess that’s up to you guys to decide,” Blueger said when asked if the offensive side of his game is somewhat underrated. “I’d like to think I can make a play here and there and not just dump it in all the time.”
While the offence has been a welcome addition for the Canucks, Blueger knows his primary responsibility remains on the defensive side of the puck.
For the month, he leads all Canucks forwards in short-handed ice time with 25:05 or an average of 2:17 a game and his presence has helped prop up a sagging penalty kill which is 81.8% in December – a few notches above its overall season success rate of 77.8%.
In his 21 games played on the season, Blueger has won 52.4% of his face-offs including 53.8% of the 143 draws he’s taken in the defensive zone. And he’s played a key role in the Canucks going 11-0 to successfully close out games he’s been involved in when leading after two periods. On the season, the team is now an astounding 20-0 in those situations.
And it’s important to remember that Blueger has found his form after joining the line-up midstream while his teammates and opponents had a month’s head start to their seasons. That can certainly present challenges and yet he’s made it look effortless.
Of course, Blueger lost his third line centre job before he ever skated a shift for the Canucks. When the club signed Pius Suter in August, it looked like Blueger had been bumped to fourth on the team’s centre ice depth chart. But in a twist of fate, in the same game Blueger made his season debut in Montreal on November 12th, Suter came out of the line-up with a groin injury. Without skipping a beat, Blueger was moved into that third line role and there has been no looking back since.
There have been so many good news stories through the Canucks first 35 games this season. A team doesn’t climb to the top of the league standings without contributions from throughout the line-up. And Teddy Blueger has to be near the top of the list of pleasant surprises for the Canucks. He’s been everything they’d hoped for – and then some – at both ends of the rink.
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