In a bit of surprising Vancouver Canucks news, the team announced Thursday that they would be sending defenseman Cole McWard back to the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL. This comes one day after also sending down defenseman Akito Hirose, and re-calling forward Linus Karlsson and defenseman Matt Irwin.
Hirose, for example, started off well analytically, and then his numbers sank to the level of his frequent defense partner, Tyler Myers.
Though McWard only played nine minutes against the Anaheim Ducks in his 2023-24 season debut, he posted really good results. The 22-year-old had a nice Corsi percentage of 69%, as well as four individual shots of his own. Although three of those shot attempts were blocked, that’s still roughly one shot attempt every two minutes.
The one caveat is that McWard’s on-ice expected goals percentage was only 31.3%, which is bad. Like, really bad. Conversely, we can use the same counterargument that the Vancouver Canucks were giving him a limited role, and the sample size is a small one.
The Canucks continue to ride this carousel of broken defensemen, and appear to have elected to continue the rotation between Mark Friedman, Noah Juulsen, and Myers. In general, the best way for McWard to get to the level of an NHL regular is to gain that experience. However, it’s better that McWard continues to play with Abbotsford, rather than sit as a healthy scratch if that is what Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet intended to do.
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When it comes to personnel already on the team, at least, it’s hard to argue with what the Vancouver Canucks are doing. They are winning, playing well, and appear to be squarely in the playoff picture – for real this time. If developing an AHL prospect isn’t the first thing on their to-do list, that’s OK.