Quarter-Mark Thanks: 2021-22 Canucks Forwards So Far

201-22 Canucks Forwards
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This season has not gone exactly as planned for the Vancouver Canucks. A quarter-season in, the 2021-22 Canucks forwards – which is supposedly a team strength – haven’t been able to overcome their malaise.

Some Forwards Are Highlights Despite Team

The White Collars on the Vancouver Canucks can breathe a sigh of relief on Thursday. It’s the first day this season they are guaranteed to lose no ground in the standings. Friday is back to the games that count, but Thursday has its own problems.

The litany of woes coming from the Canucks camp is a long one, but their result is well summed up in J.T. Miller‘s outburst. Coach Travis Green‘s recent minimizing of Elias Pettersson‘s ice-time is shocking. Until that is you realize he hasn’t scored an even-strength goal in 20 games. AND that he’s averaging a minute more ice time than any previous season. Pettersson hasn’t looked comfortable at all this season, and his comically low 5.4% shooting reflects that. He’s been giving the puck away, second-guessing his shot, passing in prime positions, forcing his carries… He has looked nothing like previous seasons, here or in Sweden.

The scoring issues are all over a forward corps that is on a record-low pace for the team. They have scored fewer goals after 20 games than at any point in their 52-year history. Bo Horvat, normally at a 60-65 point pace, is aiming at 40. Brock Boeser should be racking up 35-goal seasons, if he can ever stay healthy. He isn’t this season, stuck at just four goals (and four assists) after 17 games. And he’s one of the Canucks’ better forwards with a Corsi of 56.2% at even strength. That ties him with Pettersson, for what that’s worth. Tanner Pearson has likely lost his spot on the second line – finally – after mediocre numbers last season and a weak start to this year.

It’s Not ALL Bad

There is some good news up top, though. After all, we did declare that the 2021-22 Canucks forwards had three solid lines – they didn’t all vanish! That most notably starts with the vociferous Miller, leading the team in points and forwards in ice time. Miller is so clearly audible that he should be used in Canucks advertising as Assistance for the Hearing Impaired. He continues to be an emotional centre for the team. Conor Garland has been a pleasant surprise, spinning his way into second on team scoring with five goals and 14 points. It’s not quite last year’s pace, but he’s also started lower in the lineup this year. That’s likely changing with him being one of the few consistent efforts for every game.

The Pearson-Horvat-Nils Höglander line has been solid defensively with 62% expected goals but just hasn’t produced them. They haven’t been scored against as a unit, but they also have TWO goals. Changing Horvat’s wingers to Garland and Vasily Podkolzin – more on him later – was a successful experiment. Another is the sudden appearance of Boeser, Miller, and Höglander. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the trio had nine shots on net to four against. They out-chanced the Penguins by almost 2-1. Which leaves… Wait, Elias Pettersson out? That’s gonna be a tough call for any coach to make – and it won’t be long-term. But right now? That could be what works.

A Rose Grows From, Well, You Know

Jason Dickinson has shouldered a lot of blame for the Canucks’ incredibly weak penalty-kill. It was, after all, what he was brought in to help. While the trade that got the team out from under past mistakes helped financially, they did lose a lot of their penalty killing in Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Loui Eriksson. Take away Alexander Edler and Nate Schmidt and lose Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter to injuries and that’s six of their top eight penalty killers gone. Dickinson and Juho Lammikko can only do so much, and we’ll talk about the defence later. It’s worth noting that Dickinson has been fine at 5-on-5, despite only having one goal and two assists in his 18 games. His 52% Corsi has him right alongside Garland, for goodness sake!

The flip side has Alex Chiasson taking a lot of heat for a mediocre, 24th overall power-play. All four of his points – two goals and two assists – are with the extra man. But his appearance again is outsized, as he’s only averaging ten minutes a game. And again, his Corsi is 50% which is fine for a fourth-line player. There are plenty of issues with the power-play, but pointing out the sixth-highest ice time skater as the fault seems a stretch. He hasn’t been great, but a bunch more going on there including a stagnant format and frankly a depressed team.

The bottom of the 2021-22 Canucks forwards did produce Vasily Podkolzin. And that’s not something to keep hidden.

Russian Trained, Canucks Tested

Remember when we mentioned that Horvat-Garland-Podkolzin line and how well it did? Before Horvat was there, Garland and Podkolzin were skating with Pettersson. That… didn’t work. Podkolzin and Garland did well with Dickinson, but if Dickinson is going to be used as a defensive forward it’s keeping a lot of offensive talent in the wrong place. The joy of Podkolzin, however, is that he knows the defensive side of the game. Being a KHL-VHL “tweener” meant he got a lot of ice time in the minors, but when he was with SKA St. Petersburg, he couldn’t make mistakes or he got pinned to the bench.

He’s been slowly feeling out the new territory in a whole new country, and Green has brought him along slowly. No surprise there, as Green tends to bring every rookie along slowly. But Podkolzin has been getting more time lately, from sub-eight minute games to over 16 on Wednesday against the Penguins. Every game he’s scored a point in, the Canucks have won, too! Okay, he only has four points, but that number can rise if he takes advantage of his increased time. And he should. He skates really well, plays physically, is a very good passer, has a solid shot, and is smart.

Podkolzin can play with any of the 2021-22 Canucks forwards. But if the team wants him to reach his full potential, moving him up now isn’t a bad option. He can be a defensive conscience with scorers, a retriever on the boards, or a shooter in front of the net. He’s a versatile forward, and the team has the chance to decide what his next step is.

As the season itself nears the write-off point, the quest begins for something to look forward to. Besides the 2022 draft.

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