Vancouver Canucks: How Tyler Motte forged himself a spot in the NHL

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 22: Tyler Myers #57 of the Winnipeg Jets checks Tyler Motte #64 of the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena December 22, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 22: Tyler Myers #57 of the Winnipeg Jets checks Tyler Motte #64 of the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena December 22, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Vancouver Canucks’ forward Tyler Motte was not expected to make the lineup for opening night, but there he was on the Canucks fourth line in their first game of the season against the Calgary Flames.

When the Vancouver Canucks acquired Tyler Motte at last year’s trade deadline, many fans thought Motte to be nothing more than a depth player who would spend the majority of his career in the minors and never make an impact with the team.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets along with Jussi Jokinen in exchange for Thomas Vanek, Motte was a player who had a promising collegiate career with the University of Michigan but was never able to translate that success in the National Hockey League.

Motte was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks at 121st overall in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL draft. In his third and final year with the University of Michigan in 2015-16, Motte tallied 32 goals and 24 assists and finished the year with 56 points. He then finished that season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford Ice Hogs, where he tallied five points in five games.

Second City Hockey’s ranking of the Blackhawks’ top 25 players under 25 years old had Motte coming in at number eight prior to the 2016-17 season. The article states that even the Blackhawks themselves were surprised by how much Motte had progressed in his collegiate career. Then assistant general manager of the Blackhawks Norm Maciver said that Motte was a very, very, dangerous offensive player and was incredibly pleased with his five games played in Rockford with the Ice Hogs.

In the 2016-17 season, Motte made his debut with the Blackhawks. Through 33 games, Motte picked up just seven points and spent the majority of that season back with the Ice Hogs, where he picked up 16 points in 43 games.

The Blackhawks then moved on from Motte, as he was included in the blockbuster trade that saw Artemi Panarin and Motte head to Columbus along with a sixth-round pick, with Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick heading back to Chicago.

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Motte was then assigned to Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, to open up the 2017-18 season. With Cleveland, Motte tallied 11 points in 17 games and earned a call-up to the Blue Jackets — where he would tally five points in 31 games before being traded to the Canucks on Feb. 26.

Many Canucks fans were angered by the deal, as they wanted general manager Jim Benning to get draft picks instead of a player two NHL teams had already given up on.

Benning went on the record saying the Canucks tried to get draft picks in exchange for Vanek, but none were available. Fans were angry, and their expectations were low for Motte.

Fans, myself included, didn’t think Motte would really be a part of the team past the final games of last season. For me, that changed when I went to one of the final games last season. It was an abysmal effort from the Canucks that game, who fell to the Arizona Coyotes by a score of 2-1. The lone goal scorer for the Canucks? None other than Jussi Jokinen.

The game was filled with turnovers and lacked superstar rookie Brock Boeser, who went down with a back injury and missed the final stretch of the season. The game was just not a great game all around, and you may have been able to hear a pin drop in Rogers Arena that night.

That was, until the Canucks went short-handed and Motte hopped over the boards to kill the penalty. After winning the draw, the puck was sent deep into the Arizona end. Like a shot out of a cannon, Motte took off and hunted down the puck, and stopped Arizona from exiting their own zone not once, but twice — almost singlehandedly. He then hounded the defender attempting to break out of his own zone, took the puck away and pinned it up against the boards in the Arizona end.

The fans who had been quiet nearly all night at Rogers Arena were cheering loudly, and some even got on their feet to show their appreciation for Motte’s effort. It was at that moment that I realized Motte may have what it takes to be an everyday player in the NHL.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still doubtful that Motte could make the team coming into this year — I had the likes of Brendan Leipsic and Nikolay Goldobin making the team ahead of him. But Motte came into training camp looking hungry. He earned a spot on the team this year through sheer will and effort.

He has learned to use the skating ability that he was praised for all throughout his collegiate career to his advantage in order to improve his defensive play and forechecking abilities. In turn, Motte has quickly become one of head coach Travis Green’s most trusted players. He is used in penalty killing situations, and gets to the dirty areas of the ice, which has resulted in Motte taking some punishing hits throughout the year — but he always seems to get back up again.

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Although it took him a long time to figure it out and develop, Motte has adapted his game in order to forge himself a spot in the Canucks lineup and to remain in the NHL.

Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference and HockeyDB*