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Quarter-mark report cards for the Vancouver Canucks’ defencemen and goaltenders

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
2 months ago
The quarter-mark of the 2023/24 regular season for the Vancouver Canucks technically occurred halfway through Wednesday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
But we here at CanucksArmy figured that a 21-game report card was probably just as good as a 20-game report card, and we hope you do, too.
Below, you’ll find Part One of a two-part series in which we apply grades to each and every individual to have skated for the Canucks as of this (Saturday morning) writing.
It’s important to note that we intend these grades to be more relative to individuals roles and expectations than they are relative to one another — meaning that both Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander can earn a score of ‘A’ without playing at exactly the same level of performance.
With that, let’s cut the preamble and get to the scores.
This is the official CanucksArmy 2023/24 Quarter-Mark Report Card.
Ian Cole, B+
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/2421033+520:2148.0%
Right off the bat, we find Cole to be a difficult player to grade. On the one hand, as the number three defender on the depth chart, he’s a clear tier down from the two on the top pairing. On the other hand, Cole is a one-year, $3 million UFA signing playing more than 20 minutes a night, and handling those minutes as well as can be expected.
That Cole has been able to handle such a workload while primarily lining up with Mark Friedman, Noah Juulsen, and Tyler Myers is undoubtedly impressive, and his importance to the team has skyrocketed in the wake of Carson Soucy’s absence. We reckon that Cole hasn’t been quite enough of a difference-maker to earn an ‘A,’ but has played about as well as anyone could have reasonably expected, so a ‘B+’ makes sense. 
Mark Friedman, C+
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/2416011+412:2949.7%
For the low, low cost of Jack Rathbone and Karel Plasek, Friedman has proved to be a fine return early on in the 2023/24 season. He was intended to be perhaps a steadier option on 3RHD than what the Canucks had in-house at the time, and that’s more-or-less exactly what he’s been. Friedman has played hard-nosed hockey in limited minutes, and hasn’t looked entirely out of place on the second pairing with Cole when given the opportunity.
One thing Friedman hasn’t done, however, is fully earn coach Rick Tocchet’s trust. Tocchet still appears more willing to throw Juulsen into the lineup than Friedman, even if all statistical and observational measures suggest Friedman has been the better of the two. Still, when Friedman does make it out there, he’s almost always drawing the attention of the other team, and his agitation and pugnaciousness have been overall positive additions.
Akito Hirose, C
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/243000+112:0644.7%
Few expected Hirose to look as good in the early going of 2023/24 as he did in a brief seven-game stint late last season. The stakes had changed, and things are always a little bit tougher on one’s second go-around. But most probably still expected more from Hirose, whether it be in his limited time with the big club or after his demotion to Abbotsford.
Hirose is still pointless in either league, and though he hasn’t looked bad, exactly, he hasn’t carried with him that same smooth confidence that turned so many heads last year. He remains a fine call-up option and will continue to get chances, but one hopes to see a little bit more of the “old” Hirose shining through as time wears on. 
Filip Hronek, A+
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/242111920+1324:2151.3%
When we talk about outstripping expectations, no one else can hold a candle to Hronek. When he was acquired, some fans anointed him the savior of the Canucks’ long-running RHD woes, while others preached caution. Well, it turns out the first crowd might have been correct, because Hronek’s performance in 2023/24 is downright savior-esque.
Seriously. If not for the presence of Quinn Hughes, it’s not hard to imagine this current version of Hronek getting some genuine Norris buzz. He’s scoring at a near PPG rate. He’s playing nearly half the game each night. He’s effectively matching up against opposing top lines, he’s noticeably increased his physicality, and he’s got the hardest shot on the roster. Perhaps more important than all that, Hronek has truly elevated the game of his partner Hughes, and as a result Hughes is on track for all three of the Norris, the Art Ross, and the Hart. What more could one ask for from Hronek?
Quinn Hughes, A++
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/242182432+1824:3155.5%
Okay, okay. ‘A++’ might not technically be a real grade, but what else were we supposed to put for a player who’s start to the season has drawn comparisons to Bobby freakin’ Orr? Hughes hasn’t just been the best player on the Canucks thus far in 2023/24, he’s been the best player on the planet. He might currently trail Nikita Kucherov by three points for the NHL’s scoring lead, which might be disappointing after Hughes held that lead for so long, but it’s also a ridiculous thing to be disappointed in. Hughes is neck-and-neck with the greatest point producers in the world as a defender, and he’s combined that with top-notch defensive results under true number one deployment for the first time in his career.
Honestly, we probably could have thrown a few more plus-signs on that score, but we didn’t want it to look silly. The only feedback one could realistically give Hughes on this season is this: “no notes.” None whatsoever.
Noah Juulsen, C-
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/2410011-513:5342.5%
There is, admittedly, more to Juulsen than meets the eye. Statistically-speaking, he’s performed the worst out of any Canucks defender this year, and it isn’t particularly close. And yet, it is Juulsen that has recently been inserted into the lineup, and kept on his natural side, over the likes of Friedman and Hirose. Juulsen has even paired up with both Hughes and Cole on recent occasion. And if Tocchet likes what he can do, that’s probably saying something right there.
Juulsen excels at throwing big checks, battling in the corners, and protecting the front of the net. He struggles elsewhere, but it’s clear that the Canucks value what he can do in limited minutes. The preference is probably still for him to be in the pressbox most nights, but for someone who realistically slots in at about #10 on the organizational depth chart, he’s performed just fine.
Tyler Myers, B-
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/24212810+1118:3845.9%
If performance versus expectations were the sole basis for our grade here, we’d have a hard time not giving Myers an ‘A.’ Many expected Myers to continue to be an on-ice detriment to the Canucks, and he simply has not. Is Myers playing up to his contract? No. Is he playing with any great level of consistency? No. But Myers has been asked to do a little bit less this season, and to play about two fewer minutes per night, and the results have been a much more reliable defender with fewer obvious gaffes and plenty of noticeable two-way success.
This is a version of Myers that undoubtedly belongs in an NHL lineup, and the same could not always be said for the last couple of seasons. He fit very well with Soucy on a busier-than-usual third pairing, and he’s done fine in the top-four when called to action. He’s been a lot better on the penalty kill, and he’s putting up points like he’s a rookie again. Here, in the final year of his contract, Myers is probably playing his best hockey as a Canuck.
Carson Soucy, B-
 GamesGoalsAssistsPoints+/-Avg. TOICorsi
2023/2413235+616:5246.3%
Soucy was the team’s marquee free agent signing this offseason, and by that measure, his impact has left a little to be desired. But that can be largely attributed to two injuries, one that kept Soucy out at the start of the season, and another that will keep him out for another six weeks or so.
Either way, despite Soucy being younger, paid more, and on a longer term, he’s been cleanly outplayed by fellow UFA addition Cole at LHD. But that doesn’t mean Soucy has played poorly, or that he hasn’t contributed. His steadying presence at 3LD has made a major difference when he’s been in the lineup, and Myers has rarely looked as good in a Canucks jersey as he has while partnered with Soucy on the bottom pairing. Soucy’s presence allows the Canucks to roll three pairings far more regularly than they’ve been able to in years past, and has definitely made up for a lack of comparable talent on the right side of the blueline.
That Soucy’s absence will be felt so noticeably says it all: he’s far more important to the Canucks than his spot on the depth chart would indicate.
Thatcher Demko, A+
 RecordGAASV%ShutoutsGSAA
2023/2410-5-02.18.925211.4
We were tempted to give Demko the same ‘A++’ as Hughes, and maybe we should have. Simply put, Demko has been the best goaltender in the NHL thus far in 2023/24 and, though we hate to employ an overused phrase, it’s not even close. Demko has saved more than 11 goals from going in based on statistical expectations so far, but anyone who has watched the games will tell you that the actual number is much higher than that.
Take a look at the report card grades listed above and understand that while most are playing to or above expectations, it’s still far from a perfect blueline and continues to be full of gaps and flaws. Then understand that Demko has, despite that, achieved the best results of any goalie in the league all the same. He’s a leading Vezina candidate, and if not for the existence of Hughes, he’d probably be getting some Hart hype, too. This is Demko at his very, very best.
Casey DeSmith, B+
 RecordGAASV%ShutoutsGSAA
2023/244-1-12.89.91201.3
As we hand out credit to Demko, we should also mention DeSmith’s contributions, because the two are definitely linked. DeSmith hasn’t played as well as Demko, but he’s done absolutely everything that the Canucks could have asked for in a backup goaltender, especially one that was acquired at least partially as a means of clearing cap.
What DeSmith has done for the Canucks, more than anything, is convinced the team and Demko that Demko doesn’t need to start every game for them to have a shot at winning. That’s allowed Demko to focus as much on his performance as his responsibilities, and the results speak for themselves.
On an individual basis, DeSmith’s starts have been limited, but his stats are significantly better than the bulk of starters around the league. He might not be outright great, but he’s more than good enough, and that’s something the Canucks haven’t had in a backup in quite some time.

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