Travis Dermott has just recently returned to the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup after a serious head injury he suffered in September. He missed multiple months with a concussion but was finally cleared to play and made his season debut against the Winnipeg Jets just a few days before the new year.
He’s now appeared in five games and the results haven’t been great. No matter if you’re looking at the play on the ice, the traditional stats, or the advanced analytics, his performance has been very underwhelming. This has led to a decrease in minutes as he played just 25:53 over the last two games combined.
His rough play may have the Canucks looking to bench him soon. That would be a mistake. The Canucks need to be patient with Dermott as he returns from his injury. He has shown much more potential than any of the alternatives and has a legitimate chance of being a solid bottom-four defenceman for the Canucks. Benching him in a season that is practically lost already will only do more negative damage to his long term prospects with the Canucks, and it almost certainly doesn’t change a thing about the Canucks’ placement in the standings.
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Travis Dermott’s 2022-23 play since returning to the ice

The stats are rough for Dermott’s first five games this season. He’s failed to record a point and is -3. He’s also managed only one shot on net across all five games. His ice-time has declined in recent games due to this poor stretch.
His advanced stats don’t look any better. The Canucks are allowing 4.6 goals per sixty 5-on-5 minutes while he’s on the ice, the worst mark of any defenceman on the team this season. They’re also controlling just 35.65 of the expected goals during that time, the worst mark of any skater to wear a Canucks jersey this year.
Returning from any injury after a few months off is not easy and a concussion is one of the hardest. It’s difficult to discern how much of Dermott’s struggles can be attributed to his injury. However, if things don’t turn around quickly he could find himself on the outside looking in.
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The alternatives to Dermott in the lineup

With Dermott’s weak play so far this season, it’s natural to look for alternatives. While the Canucks don’t have a good NHL defence corps, they do have a bunch of defencemen who are NHL/AHL tweeners. If Bruce Boudreau wanted to go a different direction, he could swap Dermott out of the lineup for someone like Riley Stillman, Kyle Burroughs, or even Christian Wolanin or Wyatt Kalynuk.
Stillman and Burroughs have both gotten lengthy NHL looks already this season. Stillman does seem to have gained some trust from the coaching staff despite his egregious mistakes that have made him an easy target for the fanbase. His analytics don’t look any different than the on-ice product as the Canucks are allowing 4.28 goals against per sixty 5-on-5 minutes with him on the ice, the worst among any regular defenceman.
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Burroughs has had slightly better results but still hasn’t proven enough to be a surefire everyday NHLer. He’s a physical presence and is better defensively than the rest of the options in this spot, but he’s also not bringing much to the table offensively. The Canucks score just 0.92 goals per sixty 5-on-5 minutes while he’s on the ice, the worst mark on the team. He’s not a great solution.
Wolanin and Kalynuk have not gotten the opportunity to play in the NHL yet this season but have managed to put up some good numbers in Abbotsford. However, with the AHL team rolling and it providing shelter from the ugly NHL environment for the organization’s young players, there’s not much reason to mess with a good thing.

Why Dermott needs to play over the competition

The Canucks have won one of their last five games and currently sit sixth in the Pacific Divison. If the goal is to win a Stanley Cup, as it should be, then the season is all but lost. Even if the Canucks go on a magical run to make the playoffs, they will be eliminated quickly. Thus, this season should be devoted to doing as much work as possible in player evaluation, development, and asset management to prepare for the future.
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Dermott is a player that has shown potential in the past. When playing for the Canucks last season, he impressed with his IQ and puck-moving ability. While it was a small sample size at just 17 games, the Canucks outscored their opponents 12-8 with him on the ice at 5-on-5, the second-best mark by percentage of any Canucks skater.
Playing Stillman or Burroughs may provide the Canucks with an incremental improvement right now, but not one that is going to change much for the team’s big picture. Giving Dermott the opportunity to get back to full health and get solid minutes would be best for his development, as well as allow the team to get a better evaluation on if he’s going to be sticking around.
The Canucks have nothing to lose by keeping Dermott in the lineup. Showing some patience with the recently injured defenceman may pay off in the long run if the Canucks can help mold him into a serviceable bottom-four defenceman that can play on both sides of the ice.
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