A quick glance at the NHL standings shows the Vancouver Canucks just a handful of points out as they approach the stretch run of the 2021/22 season. Against the odds, the Canucks are still very much in the race, and look as though they’ll remain so well into April.
But as improved as the situation may appear right now, things could always be better. Specifically, the Canucks could actually be a fair bit ahead of where they are in the standings, because they’ve got a couple of secret weapons on the roster that no one seems to be talking about, because they’re not taking full advantage of them.
Who are those secret weapons?
Elias Pettersson and Conor Garland.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. Pettersson and Garland are two of the biggest names in the organization. They’re top-six forwards who are expected to score on the regular. They’re weapons, to be sure, but they aren’t exactly secret ones.
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But when we talk about secret weapons, we’re specifically referring to Pettersson and Garland’s uncanny ability to draw penalties.
As of this writing (prior to February 28’s matchup against the New Jersey Devils), Garland and Pettersson sit tied for 8th and tied for 12th in penalties drawn leaguewide, with 24 and 22, respectively.
Things look even better when you get into “Net Penalties,” which compares the amount of penalties a player draws to the amount that they take.
From NHL.com
In drawing 22 penalties and taking only four, Pettersson’s +18 net penalty rating ranks second-best in the entire NHL, trailing only Connor McDavid…ever heard of him?
Garland lags only slightly behind with a differential of +14, good enough for 7th in the league.
That means that, between the two of them, Pettersson and Garland have earned the Canucks a surplus of 32 power plays thus far in the 2021/22 season. That’s more than an extra power play every two games!
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The duo is a major part of the reason why the Canucks are third in the league in penalties drawn as a team with 225. The next two highest Canucks on the “Net Penalties” chart are Travis Hamonic and Tucker Poolman at +3 each. That’s not even the same stratosphere.
Truly, this is a nearly singlehanded effort — or should that be doublehanded? Pettersson and Garland’s combined 46 penalties drawn makes up more than a fifth of the Canucks’ total. In other words, they’re accruing power plays at more than double the rate of the average player. Their collaborative +32 net penalty rating is the highest among any two teammates in the league. Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson-Ek are next with +29, and then no one else is particularly close.
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And what do Pettersson and Garland have to show for it?
Not much.
Unfortunately, power plays only really make a difference when you score on them, and that’s been a challenge for the Vancouver Canucks. Though the man advantage has improved under coach Bruce Boudreau, it still sits at a decidedly middle-of-the-road 20.9%, good enough for 13th in the league as of this writing, but only a single percentage-point away from the bottom-ten.
Imagine how frustrating this phenomenon must be for Garland, in particular. He goes out there, draws a boatload of penalties, and then sits on the bench while the top unit goes out there and — more often than not — doesn’t score. Not only is the team squandering all the extra special teams chances he’s generating, but Garland isn’t even being given the chance to do anything about it.
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Just converting on 5% more of their power play chances so far would have given the Canucks an extra ten or so goals on the season already. That’s enough to give them a goal differential in line with Los Angeles and Vegas, current occupants of the #2 and #3 slots in the Pacific Division.
Would this single factor be enough to have the Canucks in a playoff position right now? That’s impossible to say, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Thankfully, it’s not too late to do something about it, either. If there’s one single component of their game that the Canucks should focus on as they attempt to close in on the postseason, it’s this. Right now, they’re a team that has not one, but two of the best penalty-drawing skaters in all of hockey, combined with an average-to-below-average power play.
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If they can crank that power play percentage up a few notches and secret weapons Pettersson and Garland can keep drawing the opposition into infractions, it will definitely result in a few extra goals down the stretch.
And with the standings this tight? A few extra goals could make all the difference.