Vancouver Canucks weekly thoughts: Prospects, Sam Gagner, more

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 02: Elias Pettersson
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 02: Elias Pettersson /

As part of a new series on The Canuck Way, we’ll be giving weekly thoughts on the Vancouver Canucks. For this week’s segment, we take a look at the team’s offensive struggles, the questionable deployment of Gagner and Virtanen, and the impressive play of a couple of young guns.

Contributions from Defencemen

For all that’s been made about the Vancouver Canucks being a one line team offensively, there hasn’t been nearly enough noise about the blueline’s offensive contributions(or lack thereof).

We’re a quarter of the way through the season, and we’ve seen three goals combined from Canucks’ defencemen. Comparatively, the St. Louis Blues team that Vancouver played on Saturday has 21 goals from its defenders.

This lack of production is far more concerning than the faltering secondary scoring. In today’s NHL, offence is the responsibility of the five man unit as a whole; not just the three forwards on the ice.

Misusage of Gagner

With just 6 points in 20 games, it’s fair to say Sam Gagner has not provided the secondary scoring we expected. Travis Green certainly isn’t doing him any favours either.

Whether it’s playing point on the power play or killing penalties, Gagner has found himself playing in roles he’s simply not suited for. The latest experiment was against St. Louis, where he played on the “shutdown” line alongside Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett.

The results weren’t pretty either.

For the Canucks to get the most of Gagner, they need to deploy him based off his strengths and deficiencies. This means utilizing Gagner’s skill and vision by providing sheltered minutes five-on-five, and the half wall position on the power play. Playing him against the opposing team’s top players alongside possession blackholes in Sutter and Dorsett achieves the opposite.

Pouliot’s Solid Transition Defence

With the absence of Troy Stecher and Chris Tanev, Derrick Pouliot has excelled in big minutes on his off side. He’s been praised for his smooth and efficient puck moving skills, and ability to transition the play forward.

What’s particularly surprising to me however, is how effective Pouliot has been at defending the rush.

Neutral Zone DefenceCarry In + Pass %Total Carry In %Dump In %Break Up %
Del Zotto18.6%47.4%41.2%11.3%

The following chart by Daryl Keeping shows that Pouliot has been quite impressive with his neutral zone defence.

Related Story: Pouliot has been excellent for Canucks

While his 47.1% total carry figure is average, his carry in and pass rate is second best on the team. This indicates that Pouliot succeeds at forcing the puck carrier to the outside where there’s few passing lanes.

Pouliot’s break up percentage in the neutral zone is also second best on the team. This is a result of his ability to read the play and make aggressive jumps to force turnovers and interceptions.

For a player whose biggest knock was porous defensive play, it’s definitely encouraging to see improvement when it comes to neutral zone defence.

A Bold Idea for Travis Green

Jake Virtanen finally made his return to the lineup against the Blues following a pair of health scratches. Virtanen came out of the gate flying, almost extending Vancouver’s lead late in the first.

Despite driving offensive play and playing a physical game, Virtanen found himself playing only 9:12 in a game that went to over time.

When asked about Jake’s limited ice time, Travis Green had the following to say, via Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province:

"When you don’t play special teams, it’s hard to play more than 10, 11 minutes a night."

Here’s a bold idea to resolve this issue. How about trying Virtanen on the penalty kill?

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Physically, Virtanen has all the tools to be an effective penalty killer. He’s got the speed to close down plays on the point quickly, as well as the strength necessary to win puck battles.

More importantly though, I think killing penalties would be useful for developing Virtanen’s ability to read and anticipate plays. If developed, these same skills would also translate to more success in the offensive zone.

Does this idea help the team win now? Probably not. Does this idea reward Virtanen’s play and help improve his two way awareness? Absolutely.

Pettersson Ripping Up the SHL

There’s no way we could have gone over our thoughts for last week without mentioning Elias Pettersson’s continued dominance in Sweden.

Six points in three games last week pushed Pettersson to a tie for first in SHL scoring with 23 points in 18 games. If that wasn’t impressive enough, just look at the company he has when looking at historical U20 scoring in the SHL.

While the hype is growing exponentially, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind before pencilling him into the NHL lineup for next season.

The first is that Pettersson is playing on the larger ice surface in Sweden. The Olympic size rink gives a gifted player like Pettersson even more time and space to make plays. This can partially mitigate the issue of Pettersson’s slight frame.

Secondly, Pettersson is playing on the right wing for Vaxjo. Long term, I’d imagine the Canucks envision Pettersson as a centre. If that’s the case, there will also be an adjustment period when EP shifts to a role up the middle.

Next: Week 6 Top Prospects: Olli, Gadjovich & Pettersson

What I’m trying to say is that while Pettersson’s production is certainly encouraging, we need to look at the bigger picture before setting unreasonable expectations.