The NHL is a copycat league. When the Boston Bruins beat the Canucks in 2011 because of their physical play, the Canucks spent the next decade chasing big bodies that ended up costing them in the long run. Every team attempts to emulate what has made recent champions stand out and earn success.
When Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe had star winger Mitch Marner take reps at defence during training camp, many laughed. However, if the Leafs find success with the somewhat wacky experiment, it won’t be long before head coaches around the league are looking up and down their own roster and moving players into non-traditional roles.
“There could be opportunities in games where we might want to give him a look on defence,” said Keefe. “Whether we’re trying to score a goal or playing from behind or whatever the case might be. That’s something we’ll continue to look at through the preseason and make a determination from there on how we might use it.”
Advertisement
Ad
The modern NHL is already blurring the boundaries between positions in a way that makes these types of experiments much more viable. Mitch Marner’s skillset is not that drastically different from some of the modern offensive defencemen around the league such as Quinn Hughes.
If Bruce Boudreau were to decide that he wanted to do something similar in Vancouver, there are a few players on the Canucks that provide interesting options. Here are three Canucks that could make a big shift in their position and help the team in a different manner.

Jason Dickinson to LD

The Canucks signed Jason Dickinson to be a third-line centre but the results last season were less than ideal. Dickinson finished with just 11 points in 62 games and was one of the team’s most disappointing players. While that experiment failed, the Canucks could try to revitalize Dickinson by moving him to defence.
Advertisement
Ad
While this would be a wild experiment, he has been one of the best forwards at suppressing scoring chances throughout the majority of his NHL career. Moving him to defence would alleviate some of the pressure to contribute offensively, something that Dickinson was criticized for last season, and would allow him to focus on frustrating opponents.
Considering the Canucks have a very deep forward core and aren’t so great on the blueline, moving Dickinson to defence could help balance the two position groups. Dickinson could use his strong stick skills and defensive awareness to be a cerebral shutdown defenceman.

Jack Rathbone to LW

The Canucks have one of the best offensive defenceman in the entire league in Quinn Hughes. He’s super smart, a great passer, and an excellent skater. Jack Rathbone is now ready to graduate to the big leagues and he shares many characteristics with Hughes. While it’s great that both players are slick offensive defencemen built in a modern mold, it may still be difficult for the Canucks to ice the two in the same top-four considering their similar shortcomings.
Advertisement
Ad
Both Rathbone and Hughes are smaller and weaker defencemen that can sometimes be prone to being outmuscled. Having two players like that in your top-four is possible but not ideal. The Canucks are trying to make an effort to get tougher to play against and having Rathbone and Hughes crunch minutes on the left side isn’t going to accomplish that goal.
For that reason, the Canucks could look at moving Rathbone to the forward group and have him play the wing. He scored at a point-per-game pace as a defenceman in the AHL last season and displayed plenty of skill and offensive acumen. It would help the Canucks ice a bigger defence group while keeping Rathbone in the lineup.

Conor Garland to RHD 

It’s no secret that the Canucks need right-handed defencemen. Maybe a solution to this problem can be found in the players already on the roster. Moving Conor Garland to defence sounds crazy — just like all of these scenarios do — but there are a few reasons as to why it might work, even if it’s only when the team is leading.
Advertisement
Ad
Garland has great puck protection skills and has always done a great job at helping his team control possession, shots, and expected goals at even-strength while he’s on the ice. Playing him at defence could give the Canucks an engine that can hold on to the puck and skate up the ice. Imagine Garland spinning off checks in his own zone before leading a breakout.
If the Canucks needed a goal, Garland playing right defence could be an idea. He would likely help the team hold on to the puck and set up in the opponent’s zone. Crazier things have worked.
Are there any other Canucks that you think could help in an unexpected position? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.