To win in the playoffs, the Canucks need contributions from their depth players like they got against Edmonton

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
13 days ago
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Statistically, symbolically, and spiritually, the Vancouver Canucks have been led by their top players in 2023/24
Brock Boeser and his 40 goals. Quinn Hughes and his 74 assists. JT Miller and his 102 points. Thatcher Demko and his 34 wins. (Go ahead and add a ‘and counting’ to each of those, too.)
But those stars did not lead the charge in Game #80 against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.
Sam Lafferty got the scoring going with his 13th of the season late in the first. Pius Suter put the Canucks further ahead with what proved to be the game-winner on his 14th goal midway through the second. And then Dakota Joshua, who has honestly been more of a star than a depth piece this season, iced it with his 17th into the empty net.
Not to mention backup Casey DeSmith backstopping the victory with 32 saves in net.
The big guns were held to one singular Miller assist on Lafferty’s goal.
All of which could be construed as a major positive for the Canucks as they get ever nearer to Round One of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everyone knows that teams don’t typically make it very far into the postseason without depth on their roster, nor without reasonable and regular contributions from that depth.
Depth scoring is something that the Canucks were able to rely on a lot at the start of the campaign, but it’s also something that has waned as the season has worn on. If it’s coming back in force now, it really couldn’t be happening at a better time.
Defining who counts as “depth” on this roster can be a tricky endeavour, especially when even the top-six of the forward corps remains undefined. At this point, we can safely take the likes of Miller, Boeser, Joshua, Elias Pettersson, Conor Garland, and Nils Höglander out of the discussion. They’re important enough to the lineup to count as the de facto “top-six” or, at the very least, within the definitive “top-nine.”
We’ll also throw Elias Lindholm into that mix, as we don’t quite know what we have in him yet.
That leaves the Canucks with an array of depth forwards including Lafferty, Suter, Teddy Blueger, Ilya Mikheyev, Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Åman, and Phil di Giuseppe.
It’s a group that can almost universally be summed up into the following narrative: they’ve contributed more in the past, then stopped contributing as much, and now need to find a way to contribute more again as the Canucks enter the playoffs.
Let’s take Lafferty as our first example in this storyline. Lafferty’s game-opening goal on Saturday was his first in eight games and just his third since the All-Star Break. But at the start of the year, Lafferty came in like gangbusters, scoring nine goals and 16 points before New Year’s.
If he can find that gear again for the playoffs, it would mean a lot.
Suter is a slightly different version of the tale. His goal against the Oilers was even longer coming, ending a 12-game goalless drought. But unlike Lafferty, Suter also started the season with a long goalless stint, going nine straight games before notching his first goal and point as a Canuck.
For Suter, the good times came immediately thereafter, with that goal touching off a stretch of 12 goals in 25 games, interrupted only by a brief injury sojourn and culminating in a hattrick against St. Louis. That’s a near-40-goal pace, but the problem is that Suter has only scored two other goals outside of that window.
As perhaps our best example, Blueger also recently scored his first goal in a LONG while, notching one against the LA Kings that broke a 40-game goalless drought. It was Blueger’s first goal of 2024. This, after opening his season (post-injury) with five goals in 22 games.
That said, Blueger is typically more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, but even then, the difference is stark. Prior to the All-Star Break, Blueger put up 21 points in 35 games, with most of them scored alongside Joshua and Garland. Since the break, Blueger is stuck at just six points through 31 games.
He, perhaps more than any other depth piece, is someone who the Canucks could use more from more consistently as the playoffs arrive.
Another great example of what we’re talking about is di Giuseppe, who has had a difficult time getting into the lineup of late. But he did get in to score goals in consecutive games in early March, his first goals or points since mid-November. Like Lafferty, di Giuseppe got off to a hot start, opening the season on a line with Miller and Boeser and turning in four points through the first seven games of the season. But it’s been six points in 43 games thereafter.
Then there are those depth pieces who have never really started contributing, at least as of yet. Podkolzin seems to have found himself a semi-permanent spot in the lineup, and hasn’t looked out of place. But he’s yet to score this season, and has only managed two assists in 17 games. Back in 2021/22, Podkolzin managed 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points as a rookie. If he can find any of that offence in time for the playoffs, it will be a timely addition indeed.
Åman has never been and probably will never be a major offensive contributor. He’s got just seven points in 42 games this year. But even he’s run cold by his own standards, with just one of those points coming in the last 25 games.
And then there is the curious case of Mikheyev. Though he still occasionally cameos in the Canucks’ top-six, few would describe him as a top-six forward based on his 2023/24 production. Currently, he sits at 11 goals and 30 points in 76 games. He hasn’t scored a goal since March 13 or a point since March 21, a pointless streak of ten games.
But even Mikheyev had his hot period of the year, notching 20 points in his first 31 games on the season. And we know that he’s scored at as high as a 30-goal pace in seasons past.
Of all the potential depth contributors who could give more, none have more to potentially give than Ilya Mikheyev.
Now, the Canucks don’t need all these players to get right back to their hottest paces of the 2023/24 campaign in time for the playoffs in order to succeed. That’s good news, because such expectations border on an impossibility.
But getting more consistent contributions from these depth players – or not – will be a key to success or failure in the postseason.
Getting timely goals from Lafferty and Suter in an important late regular season game is a well-timed start.
Continuing that on into Game 1 is the next step.
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