On Oct. 8, 2023, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Sam Lafferty to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
The Maple Leafs acquired Lafferty in a package with Jake McCabe and two fifth-round picks from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a first-round pick in 2025, a second-round pick in 2026, Joey Anderson, and Pavel Gogolev.
Unfortunately for Lafferty, the Leafs had no room in the bottom-six after signing Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves in free agency. This move has left Maple Leafs fans angry, with Toronto effectively choosing Reaves over Lafferty.
Sam Lafferty earns his place
Lafferty started his Canucks chapter on opening night, playing a sizeable 18 minutes and recording one assist in a blowout 8-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He rolled that momentum into the next game, scoring the game-winning goal in the third period.
It took the American forward a while to find the scoresheet again, seeing his minutes fall to as low as 10:45 and failing to record a point in six straight games.
It wasn’t until Andrei Kuzmenko got healthy scratched from the lineup that we saw Lafferty get a shot on a line with Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev. Over this two-game span, Lafferty scored and saw his highest amount of ice time since opening night.
The Hollidaysburg, PA native would then be sent back to the fourth line as Kuzmenko returned to the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks. This stint did not last long for Lafferty; Rick Tocchet reverted the change after only two further games of Kuzmenko.
It’s been five games since the Mikheyev-Pettersson-Lafferty line has been reunited. The trio has noticeable chemistry, consistently showing up on the score sheet. Lafferty has scored in three of five games since the change, recording five points and averaging 14:27 minutes per game.
Success on Canucks’ top line
Hockey fans will notice all these goals have come in the same area: in front of the net. A net-front presence is something the Canucks have been lacking since the brief 2021-2022 stint of Alex Chiasson.
Against the Calgary Flames, Lafferty went straight to the front of the net with his stick on the ice, retrieved the puck down low off a deflected pass, and kept the pressure alive. Later that play, he was rewarded with a rebound from the point and proceeded to bury his sixth goal of the season.
In the very next game against the New Jersey Devils, Lafferty positioned himself well at the net again. Using his 205-pound frame, the Canucks forward won a net battle against defenseman John Marino, getting his stick in the right spot to tip in a Quinn Hughes wrist shot from the point.
“That’s a typical power forward goal,” Tocchet replied when asked about Lafferty’s positioning on a goal he scored against the Carolina Hurricanes. “He goes through the middle, bulls his way in, knocks defenders out, rebound’s there, and he puts it in. You have to have those types of goals to win.”
The Canucks coach seemed to take pride in Lafferty’s play. A player he stuck his neck out for, seeing something Canucks fans had yet to see – and it’s paying off. “He’s really come up big for us. He’s relished in that role right now. Hopefully, he can stay there.”
Watch the full answer from Rick Tocchet, here.
It’s clear that the former Maple Leafs forward has earned the trust and belief of his new coach. Tocchet relies on him in all game situations, playing on the top line against opponents’ best players, killing penalties, and earning some time on the second power play unit.
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The Brown University alumni has found a new home here in Vancouver. If he continues this high level of play, he’ll find a permanent place on the Canucks’ top line.