Report cards: How the Vancouver Canucks’ main group of forwards fared in 2021/22
Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
To call the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks season ridiculous would somehow be an understatement. Nearly the entire team started the season ice cold during the first two months of the year, but a coaching change and front office overhaul were all it took to get Vancouver back on track. Easy, right?
Some players like Thatcher Demko and J.T. Miller were consistently strong throughout the season, but every Canuck had their moments that brought the team to within a few points of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So over the next couple of days, we’re going to grade 29 players that donned the blue and green this season.
First, we did the inbetweeners, and now, we’re looking at the Canucks’ main forward group.
Brock Boeser: A-
It’s been a difficult year for Brock Boeser in many aspects.
Like a lot of the Canucks’ young guns, Boeser struggled to find consistency in the first stretch of the season. But just as Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench, related or not, Boeser’s scoring touch returned.
In the COVID-shortened 2021 season, Boeser showed that he could carry a team in the scoring department when called upon, and his strong finish this year should help him in contract negotiations as the 25-year-old hits restricted free agency. While some are worried that Boeser’s history of injuries has curbed his ability to score at the pace that made him a Calder Trophy finalist in 2018, we keep seeing flashes of a player that has another gear left to discover.
Regardless, scoring 46 points while simultaneously dealing with far more important matters away from the rink is incredibly courageous no matter how you slice it.
Alex Chiasson: B+
Not many players this season had as interesting a character arc as Alex Chiasson.
In the first half of the year, Chiasson’s difficulties contributing offensively in his main role as a power play specialist had a lot of people questioning why he was in the lineup at all. But finally, in the last couple of months of the season, everything clicked.
In April, Chiasson was one of the hottest Canucks, including a major stretch where he scored nine points in five games. His numbers might not have been eye-popping, but Chiasson’s 22 points were more than worth the price of his $750K contract.
Jason Dickinson: D
When Jim Benning signed Jason Dickinson to his three-year, $7.95 million deal in August, it seemed like a perfect fit. But the 26-year-old centre struggled to adjust to a shutdown role in the Canucks’ bottom six, and never found the same level of success he had as a Dallas Star.
While injuries and line juggling certainly played a part in his struggles, Dickinson was routinely outplayed by other forwards, especially on the scoresheet. And with the Canucks needing to shed salary during the offseason, it’s worth wondering whether or not Dickinson will even get a chance to play out the remainder of his contract in Vancouver.
Conor Garland: B+
If there was a prize to be had from the big OEL trade with the Coyotes, Conor Garland was it.
Garland was one of the Canucks’ most exciting players on a night in, night out basis. Even with a couple of unlucky scoring droughts in between, Garland still potted a career-high 52 points and was a constant thorn in opponents’ side through his physical play and skill at drawing penalties.
Garland also finished with the best Wins Above Replacement of any Canucks forward at 3.2, making him a useful rover up and down Bruce Boudreau’s lineup. But that constant shuffling might’ve come at the cost of higher totals had they kept him with a specific line to develop long-term chemistry.
Garland said that he felt his first season in Vancouver went “really poorly”, and Bruce Boudreau said that he expects Garland to be a lot more comfortable in his second year with the club.
Matthew Highmore: C-
Matthew Highmore’s season was built on peaks and valleys. He played eight games in October before an injury took him out of the lineup until late December. Upon returning he and linemates Tyler Motte and Juho Lammikko went on a scoring heater as Bruce Boudreau trusted them with extra minutes.
Once Motte was dealt to New York at the trade deadline, Highmore would add only two more points and miss another few weeks with an upper-body injury. While 12 points set a clear career-high for Highmore, there’s plenty of concern that he might not find that scoring touch again without Motte down the middle.
Nils Höglander: D+
The sophomore slump takes no prisoners.
After a fantastic rookie campaign in 2021, Nils Höglander struggled to find his place in the lineup and never recovered from his slow scoring start. While Travis Green trusted him as a sparkplug player throughout the lineup, Höglander ended up as a healthy scratch on multiple occasions under Boudreau for his defensive struggles.
With a diminished role and ice time, the 21-year-old scored just three points across his final 21 games before a groin injury that required surgery ended his season in mid-March.
Out of all the on-ice struggles various Canucks faced this season, Höglander’s were undoubtedly the most tragic given his clear potential.
Bo Horvat: A
Had the season ended a couple of months early, Bo Horvat’s lack of offensive production would’ve likely put him a lot farther down the chart. But the captain went on an absolute offensive tear from February on, scoring 29 points in 29 games before the injury bug bit him in mid-April.
Horvat ended up with a personal best of 31 goals and 52 points, leaving us to wonder where he might’ve ended up with a better start. Aside from his scoring abilities, Horvat had yet another strong season in the faceoff dot with a success rate of 57% while providing a shutdown centre aspect the Canucks sorely needed throughout.
Juho Lammikko: B-
Talk about coming out of nowhere. After a preseason trade that sent Olli Juolevi to the Panthers, Lammikko provided some much-needed depth on the Canucks fourth line and penalty kill. Once Boudreau arrived on the scene Lammikko suddenly channelled his inner Gretzky, scoring ten points over a 21-game span. Much like Highmore, Lammikko cooled off after Tyler Motte was traded, but has still boosted his value as a bottom-six option before restricted free agency this offseason.
J.T. Miller: A+
J.T. Miller had a career season of epic proportions, finishing just one point shy of the elusive century mark. Only five players in franchise history have had higher scoring campaigns, including a Hall of Famer and three players who have retired jerseys hanging in the Rogers Arena rafters.
In a roller-coaster year full of trials and tribulations, Miller was one of the few constants throughout, especially when it came to his workload. In addition to his even-strength responsibilities, Miller played a hefty role on the top power play and shorthanded units, finishing with more ice time in all three categories than any other Canucks forward. Sure, he might’ve been prone to the occasional strange giveaway or missed defensive assignment, but Miller’s impact on this team cannot be understated.
Without Miller’s contributions, the Canucks would’ve come nowhere near the playoff chase this season. The only question now is what he’ll do for an encore in 2022-23.
Tanner Pearson: A
When Tanner Pearson signed his three-year, $9,750,000 contract extension in April 2021, it was hard to imagine the 29-year-old living up to that deal. But Pearson was one of the few Canucks who started the season with a strong offensive showing, and despite cooling off in later stages he still ended up with a 34-point campaign. If not for an upper-body injury in early April, Pearson might’ve matched his personal best of 45 points from two seasons ago despite playing with different linemates across the roster for most of the year.
Elias Pettersson: A-
Elias Pettersson’s season started off slowly. And we mean really slowly.
Whether it was unfortunate shots of the post, being sent the wrong hockey sticks or a lack of confidence, Pettersson was deeply mired in a scoring drought for most of the season’s first half. But finally in a mid-January contest against the Capitals, vintage Petey returned with a pair of goals, the first of 51 points in his last 43 games.
Pettersson might have surpassed his career highs thanks in large part to a more or less healthy season, but all Canucks fans can imagine is what he might’ve been able to do with even an average start. Might he have taken Miller’s role as the leading point-getter? Maybe next year we’ll get to find out.
Vasily Podkolzin: B+
Vasily Podkolzin showed a few flashes of brilliance in the first couple months of his rookie season, but the points didn’t follow for him. Then suddenly in February, everything fell into place for the Russian rookie as he scored 16 points across a 33-game span.
What Podkolzin also brought to the table was arguably the most well-rounded game of any recent Canucks rookie. His skill in the scoring department equalled his defensive efforts, and arguably could’ve played much bigger roles a lot sooner than even his coaches realized.
If his play down the stretch was any indication, Podkolzin’s true breakout year could be on the way this October.
Brad Richardson: C
Brad Richardson was brought back to Vancouver to fill the void left by Tyler Motte, and he did exactly that. Four points in 17 games tied his totals from 27 with Calgary earlier this season, and he added a 57.3% success rate on faceoffs on top. Not a bad waiver claim by the new front office.
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