Meet a New Canuck: Luca Sbisa

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Meet a New Canuck is a feature Markus Meyer (@Markus_Meyer27) and I will be running throughout the off-season as an introduction to the newest members of the Vancouver Canucks. Before we get to the big one, here’s a look at Luca Sbisa.

Luca Sbisa

Biography:

Sbisa certainly has unique beginnings for an NHL player, born in Italy before moving to Switzerland, the country he represents internationally and the place he began his hockey career, as an infant. As a result of his unconventional up-bringing, Sbisa can actually speak four languages: English, French, Italian, and German.

However, let’s get on to hockey. As mentioned, Sbisa began his career in Switzerland with EV Zug before moving over to the WHL to play with the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the 2007-08 season. He posted 6 goals and 33 points in 65 games to go along with a +19 during his first season in North America, good totals for a rookie defenseman playing his first season on the smaller ice surface.

That solid year was enough to convince the Philadelphia Flyers to draft him in the first round (19th overall) at the 2008 NHL draft. Sbisa would make the jump to the NHL immediately, appearing in 39 games for the Flyers the following season, but his point totals (zero goals, only seven assists, and a minus six) were enough to convince Philadelphia to send him back down to Lethbridge for more seasoning, before again calling him up for one game during the 2009 playoffs. He also made a brief appearance in the AHL with the Philadelphia Phantoms during his rookie season.

Unfortunately, this moving up and down between leagues would become habitual for Sbisa as he struggled to become a consistent pro.

After just a little over one year as part of the Flyers organization, Sbisa was traded at the 2009 draft to Anaheim as part of the Chris Pronger deal. He would prove to be a poor replacement for the legendary Pronger, and his sophomore 2009-10 campaign would be a huge step back in his development. He would play only eight scoreless games for the Ducks (and was a possession black hole during those eight games with a 40.5 Corsi-for%) before again being sent back to junior, where he split the season between Lethbridge and the Portland Winterhawks, scoring 18 points in just 29 games.

The 2010-11 season would see Sbisa finally stick in the NHL, as he played 68 games for Anaheim (as well as eight games in the AHL) while scoring two goals and 11 points. The next year, Sbisa finally broke out and posted career numbers with five goals and 24 points in 80 games for the Ducks.

It looked like Sbisa was finally emerging as a legitimate NHL defender, however he took a step back during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign when he managed just one goal and eight points in 41 games. He also took a huge regression possession-wise, as his Corsi-for% fell to just 45.7 (down from a career high, at that point, 48.7 the year before), despite the fact that he started more than half of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Last season was another step back for Sbisa, as he struggled with injury (which caused him to miss out on representing the Swiss at the Sochi Olympics) and inconsistency all year. He appeared in just 30 games, scored only one goal and five assists, and saw his ice time drop from 19:50 the previous season to just 17:03, 8th among Ducks defensemen. It isn’t hard to see why Anaheim wasn’t exactly worried about letting him go.

He of course came to the Canucks as part of the Ryan Kesler deal prior to this year’s draft, when the Ducks gave up Sibsa as well as Nick Bonino and two draft picks in exchange for Vancouver’s former Selke trophy winner.

Sbisa’s Role in Vancouver:

It’s no secret that Sbisa is excited for the opportunity that’s been presented to him in Vancouver. He fell in love with the city during his many visits to Vancouver as a junior in the WHL and his participation in the 2010 Olympics as a member of Team Switzerland. That’s not to mention that fact that his girlfriend Lauren is from the Vancouver area, so there are more than a few threads tying Sbisa to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. After the trade, he said:

“As soon as I heard about it, I was excited right away…one of the best hockey memories I have are the 2010 Olympics here,” he said. “I always love coming to this place and playing in the rink. I always told myself it would be great to one day play here and it happened, so it’s a great place for me to go.”

Sbisa comes to Vancouver as a 24-year-old with lots to prove and, for his part, he seems to have the confidence that his best hockey is yet to come.

“Even last year, I showed some flashes when I was healthy and got to play a bit more,” he said. “Some people think different but I believe in myself still even after last year. I’m going to come to camp healthy and get to play. The sky’s the limit.”

However, the way that comfort with the city and confidence in his abilities will transfer into his performance on the ice remains to be seen.

With the Canucks top four of Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev seemingly set in stone, Sbisa will likely have a battle on his hands for a spot on the third pairing.

Other candidates for the spot include: Ryan Stanton, who had a head-turning rookie season with Vancouver last year and appeared in 64 games with the Canucks while posting 16 points and very good possession numbers; Yannick Weber, a fellow Swiss rearguard who produced well offensively in a limited role with the Canucks last year; Bobby Sanguinetti, an unheralded addition to the Vancouver organization this offseason that will push for a spot on the team after spending last year in the KHL; and young Frank Corrado, who plays a solid defensive game but may need more seasoning in the AHL.

As it stands now, Sbisa likely has the edge over Weber, Sanguinetti, and Corrado, and should be able to nail down the final blueline spot beside Stanton with a good showing during camp.

However, Sbisa at this point is merely depth, far from the player he was projected to be when he was drafted in the first round, so to see him rotate in and out of the lineup over the course of the season would come as no surprise. That being said, he’s got all the tools to take a turn in the top four, should any of Hamhuis, Bieksa, Edler, or Tanev go down with injuries.

Sbisa is best described as an all-around defender, not great at anything in particular, but good at many things. At 6’2″ and 200+ pounds, he’s got good size, but doesn’t use it to his advantage often enough, though Sbisa isn’t afraid to drop the gloves in order to defend a teammate, if necessary:

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Sbisa is more than just a big body though. He has excellent passing skills and can distribute the puck as easily as he can move it up the ice, but is also prone to give the puck up too often. He’s generally solid in his own zone, but likewise has lapses in judgement. He’s got a good shot from the point, but doesn’t shoot nearly enough (he’s averaged just over one shot per game in his career, while posting only nine career goals). Whether he can coalesce all these positive attributes while eliminating the negative in order to elevate his play to what is needed consistently at the NHL level is yet to be seen.

One thing is certain though, this season will likely be a turning point for Sbisa’s career. He’s going to get every opportunity to prove that he has the consistency to play an important role on an NHL blueline, and to prove that he’s more than just a depth defenseman at this point in his career. It’s almost guaranteed that at some point this season Sbisa is going to be thrust into a larger role in the Canucks defense corps, and the hope is that he’ll be able to break through and show he was worth being part of the return for Kesler. With the positive attitude that comes with every fresh start, Sbisa might just be able to do it too.

Previous Meet A New Canuck Profiles:

Derek Dorsett

Radim Vrbata

Nick Bonino

Bobby Sanguinetti

Linden Vey

Stay tuned for the final edition of Meet a New Canuck featuring Ryan Miller.

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