Tuesday Mailbag: Power play considerations, AHL updates on Pettersson and Lekkerimäki, awards ballots, and more

Photo credit:Cody Severtson
Cody Severtson
25 days ago
Good morning, everyone!
Apologies for the delay on the Mailbag, but some of us were nursing some pretty deadly Cadbury Mini Egg hangovers!
Aging, am I right!?
The Canucks regular season schedule is down to eight games remaining. EIGHT GAMES!
Time flies when you’re having fun!
It feels like just yesterday I hit publish on my first Stanchies of the season, a blissfully optimistic recap of the club’s 4-3 victory—and second straight—against the Edmonton Oilers. I have a tendency to ‘jinx’ things, so believe me, I was terrified that my first ‘closer’ of the season was going to age like milk.
Best beginning(?)
The late, great Jason Botchford, whose unjust, unfair, and untimely passing is the only reason I’m here on Stanchies spot duty today. His final Athletties header read, “Best ending.”
Admittedly, it’s too early to say that things have finally started going the other way in Vancouver. Maybe I should save this bit for spot duty around the 20-game marker. But I might not get another chance to be this blissfully optimistic during Stanchies backup duty. So, I’m going to roll this line out now!
“That’s the way hockey in Vancouver is.
“Usually, this is the way it goes.
“But every once in a while, it goes the other way, too.
“I can’t wait for it to go the other way.”
I think things have started to go the other way.
I can’t wait for it to stay this way.
Now, here we are on April 2nd, looking ahead to a pivotal Vancouver-Edmonton match-up in the final week of the season that has legitimate playoff-seeding implications!
What a time to be alive!
Well, the good vibes of a win against the Ducks raised some questions, so let’s get into them!
Why don’t they play Podkolzin in front of the net on PP1?
Probably because he’s not good at it.
I mean that as zero disrespect to Podkolzin. I believe there is a place for him on a power play, just not at the net front.
When I think of Podkolzin, I don’t think of sturdy, quick hands and decision-making in close proximity to the goalie and the first defenceman back. When I think of Podkolzin’s skillset, I think of how he shines brightest when driving down the wings with possession, outmuscling his checks to generate individual shots on goal from below the dots.
In Abbotsford, Podkolzin looked great as the one-timer option from the Elias Pettersson spot.
Podkolzin shied away from his “pass first” mentality this season in the AHL, converting himself into a volume shooter. In 44 games with Abbotsford, Podkolzin had 15 goals on 162 shots, averaging around 3.68 shots per game while converting on 9.26% of his shots.
In the NHL, it’s clear that Podkolzin has fallen back on his b-game: tenacious-as-f*** forechecking, hitz/60, and playmaking in the absence of volume shooting. His 12-game run in the NHL has seen him average just under two shot attempts per game.
Now, obviously, PP2 isn’t going to get a whole lot of runtime when the first unit features <checks notes> Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller on the flanks, Brock Boeser and Conor Garland down the middle, and Quinn Hughes on the blue line. But I like Podkolzin on the right flank on his one-timer side or on the left flank, where he can cut to the middle for shot attempts or look for passes through the slot.
I like Dakota Joshua at the net front more.
Let Joshua add a few extra zeroes to his next contract with a few more through-the-legs rebound goals on Podkolzin’s shot attempts!
How has D-Lias Pettersson looked so far?
Just putting it out there: I hate the nickname “D-Petey.”
I know kids visit this site, but let’s just say I don’t think the letters “D-P” should follow each other in a Google search…too risky!
I digress.
I thought D-Lias Pettersson looked fine in his debut! He didn’t play much, but when he did, he found a way to assert himself physically in some capacity on every shift. The kid is going to be a fan favourite if he can add an extra gear to his footspeed.
In Abbotsford’s 5-1 defeat of the Colorado Eagles, Pettersson took two minor penalties and recorded zero shots on goal. However, one of those penalties was an interference minor for bodying fourth-line forward Jason Polin on a d-zone breakout.
It was very cool.
CanucksArmy’s Dave Hall has been hyping up Pettersson’s bully game all season, and it was absolutely wonderful to see him living up to said hype throughout his North American debut.
“There’s an adjustment factor—the challenge is to get them up to speed, get them comfortable, and get them on the same page with our group so that we can use them,” said Jeremy Colliton while speaking with Sportsnet650’s Halford & Brough on Monday morning. “Both [Lekkerimäki and Pettersson] have done a good job. They both contributed this weekend, and that’s what you’re looking for.”
The Abbotsford Canucks’ d-core has taken an absolute beating this season with injuries.
Filip Johansson missed 15 games with a concussion and missed the club’s latest game after taking a brutal hit up high.
Cole McWard has missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury.
Christian Wolanin missed 30 games with an undisclosed injury.
Akito Hirose missed 29 games with a lower-body injury.
Jett Woo, Matt Irwin, and Nick Cicek have been the club’s “healthiest” d-men, and all three have missed at least one game due to injury.
Now that the club is mostly on the mend, Pettersson’s physicality is a massive sigh of relief to the Woos, Irwins, and Ciceks of the club, who’ve played a lot of heavy minutes at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill while their compatriates recover from various ailments. A young, gung-ho, big-bodied physical d-man will come in handy as the club looks ahead to a first-round Calder Cup Playoff match against the Tucson Roadrunners.
Thoughts on Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s debut and where does he go from here?
When I watched Lekkerimäki over the weekend, his play along the walls, his commitment to the defence, and his willingness to eat hits to make plays despite being visibly smaller than everyone on the ice stood out to me.
Bringing it back to Pettersson, midway through the second, Matthew Steinburg tried to bury Lekkerimäki into the Eagles bench, drawing a reaction from the debuting defenceman.
Lekkerimäki simply brushed off the hit and skated to the bench like it wasn’t a big deal.
Earlier, he took the time to find an outlet, eating a hard hit in the neutral zone but allowing his teammates to drive into the zone for a shot attempt.
Again, despite the size disparity—Lekkerimäki is listed as the lightest among forwards, with only Sheldon Dries and Tristen Nielsen listed shorter—Lekkerimäki played like a bowling ball in his AHL weekend debut.
I was impressed by his ability to protect the puck along the walls and transition the puck through the neutral zone. His skating didn’t look otherworldly, but his ability to evade checks to gain the zone and create offence was impressive for a first-timer. His willingness to skate into the hard areas of the ice for shot attempts or cross-ice passes to his linemates reminded me a bit of Podkolzin.
Lekkerimäki looked to have scored a point in his debut, but the AHL bookkeepers ruled that possession was lost after Lekkerimäki played the puck low to Aidan McDonough.
Besides the phantom point, Lekkerimäki was willing to get open for one timers. While this GIF isn’t the best example, seeing as how he whiffed, it’s that he saw the opportunity, missed, and recovered to play the puck down low to maintain the Canucks’ offensive zone possession.
I expect him to rack up the points once he figures out the timing of AHL defences.
That he’s already displayed defensive instincts in his AHL debut is highly encouraging.
It won’t happen but I’d love to see him get some reps on the PK just as a proof of concept. I think he can do it based on how well he reads the play in all three zones, size be damned.
Depending on when Team Sweden puts together its roster for the World Championship, I imagine Lekkerimäki will play out the rest of the regular season and perhaps the first round against the Tucson Roadrunners before returning to Sweden for the World’s training camp.
Is Canucks Conversation going to update their name to Leafs West Conversation?
Good lord, no.
For those not in on the joke, the Canucks subreddit made itself private, redirecting Canucks fans to a new subreddit to discuss the team called LeafsWest.
It was diabolical and hilarious.
Who would win in a ladder match: Wyatt Arndt or Thomas Drance?
Me, because I’d come in at the last second, Rhyno-style, and knock both over as they were reaching for the belt and claim it for myself.
My 2023-24 Canucks Awards ballot
Looking at the ballot, am I wrong for thinking the team needs a couple more categories to give their players some well-deserved kudos?
Four awards may have cut it when the team had three good players on it, but this is a playoff contender, for Pete’s sake!
Anyway, here’s my ballot and my reasons why!
Cyclone Taylor Trophy – “Most Valuable Player”
Quinn Hughes, with a bullet.
I’m not saying you’re wrong if you have J.T. Miller as your MVP for the season, but you’re wrong.
Did you know that only one player has been on the ice for more goals at 5-on-5 than Hughes? And it’s one of the two consensus Hart Trophy nominees, Nathan MacKinnon.
With Hughes on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks have outscored the opposition 85 to 50, a plus-35 goal differential. That’s the best goal differential in the entire NHL at 5-on-5, tied with one other player: Zach Hyman.
At the risk of going full Andrew Berkshire, one guy is riding shotgun with the best player in the NHL, and the other guy is Quinn Hughes.
Hyman has spent all 838:04 minutes at 5-on-5 with McDavid, 308:19 without. Unsurprisingly, with McDavid and Hyman on the ice, the Oilers have outscored the opposition two-to-one (68 to 34) at 5-on-5.
If you’re an EP40 truther: Hughes has played an even amount with the Canucks’ big guns. In 444 minutes with Elias Pettersson, the Canuck have outscored the opposition nearly three-to-one (35 to 13) at 5-on-5. Has as much ice time with a better ratio. Weird!
If you’re a ‘Miller is the team MVP’ person: Hughes has played 485 minutes with Miller, and the Canucks have outscored the opposition 31 to 19 at 5-on-5.
If you’re a galaxy-brained, “the third line (Garland-Joshua-Blueger) is the collective team MVP” person: Hughes has played 112 minutes at 5-on-5 with Garland, Joshua, and Blueger, and they’ve outscored competition nearly three-to-one (11 to 4) at 5-on-5.
Now, is this all noise without a signal? Or has Hughes ascended to another level this season, and with it, every single player he plays with at 5-on-5?
He’s on pace for 90 points as a defenceman.
Oh, and he’s only getting paid $7.85-million to do it.
He’s the most valuable player, not only on the Vancouver Canucks, but in my opinion, the entire NHL.
I don’t think even think the Canucks are a wild card team without Hughes’ contributions. He has been unbelievable.
Walter (Babe) Pratt Trophy – “Best Defenceman”
See above.
Pavel Bure Award – “”Most Exciting Player”
See above.
No, I’m kidding; I’ll break up the monotony and say the most exciting player (for me) has been (tied) Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua.
Yes, Miller scores big goals. Yes, Pettersson does his dekes and scores some nasty one-timers. Yes, Brock Boeser single-handedly got Jay Woodcroft fired with six goals and an assist over three games through the first two months of the season. Yes, Hughes is my vote for the Hart Trophy.
HOWEVER, Dakota Joshua deserves the award for coming out of nowhere to be one of the club’s best goalscorers, one of the few guys willing to fight, and one of the best play drivers at 5-on-5 while being an elite penalty killer. Conor Garland deserves the award for making the fanbase eat their words with his tenacious forechecking and playdriving at 5-on-5.
And this, after the two of them fighting at training camp, Garland having to squash trade-request rumours, and head coach Rick Tocchet calling out Joshua’s fitness levels at the onset of the season?! What a completely unexpected surprise from these two!
Whenever the Garland-Joshua-Blueger trio comes over the boards, you can expect tenacity, hard hits, post-whistle spice, fantastic two-way play, and highlight-reel goals. That’s all that trio does, and I credit a lot of that to Joshua and Garland—no disrespect to Teddy Blueger, my second-place vote for the Fred J. Hume Award.
The Joshua-Garland duo has outscored the opposition 27 to 12 at 5-on-5 through 469 minutes of ice time together. The Canucks have outscored the opposition 21 to 14 with Garland on the ice at 5-on-5 without Joshua. Though limited, the Canucks have been outscored 5 to 4 in the 176 minutes that Joshua has played without Garland.
Their chemistry is undeniable and has been one of the most exciting things about this season.
Fred J. Hume Award – “Unsung Hero”
I’m going to bet that Joshua or Garland wins this award, despite the fact that the award is intended to reward the guys who don’t receive enough praise for their strong play.
Pius Suter is that guy for me.
When Suter and Miller are on a line together at 5-on-5, the Canucks have outscored their opposition 14 to 3! In 111 minutes of Suter and Miller playing away from Quinn Hughes, they’ve outscored their competition 11-zip!
His plus-19 goal differential is 33rd-best in the NHL. Of the top 50 players by 5-on-5 goal differential, Suter has been on for the second-fewest goals against.
That he’s doing this on a bargain-bin $1.6-million dollar contract is phenomenal.
The Canucks impressive control of play at 5-on-5 with him on the ice deserves more air time, and for that, he earns my Fred J. Hume Award for unsung hero.
Lastly, I know why they don’t do that award because no player wants it. But Noah Juulsen should win an award for the most improved player.
Call it the Alex Burrows Award for exceeding expectations or something because going from 7th/8th defenceman to one of the club’s better penalty killing defencemen and forcing Rick Tocchet into making difficult roster decisions when the club was fully healthy is no easy feat! Juulsen should get some kind of award for his remarkable play.
Who did you pick for your Awards ballot this year?
Let us know in the comments, and give us questions for next week’s Mailbag!

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