The Vancouver Canucks are exactly halfway through the 2022-23 season and things haven’t gone according to plan.
This was a team that went into the season with a “playoffs or bust” mentality.
“We have to see ourselves as a playoff team. Anything less than that, I think we failed,” said Bo Horvat.
“Not making the playoffs would be a big disaster for us, individually and collectively,” said Bruce Boudreau.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here sick of not making the playoffs,” said J.T. Miller. “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup…I don’t think the goal should ever be less than that.”
So far this season, the Canucks have been leaning heavily toward the “bust” side of that equation. After 41 games, the Canucks are 26th in the NHL with a 17-21-3 record. They have a minus-22 goal differential and only two other teams in the NHL have allowed more goals. Their penalty kill is an appalling 66.9%, on pace to be the worst penalty kill in NHL history.
There isn’t much hope in the underlying numbers, which largely say they’re exactly where they should be. At 5-on-5, the Canucks’ score-adjusted corsi percentage is 46.51%, which is 26th in the NHL — exactly where their record has them.
As a team, the Canucks have bombed the first half of the season. But what about as individuals?
It’s time to grade each member of the Canucks based on the first 41 games. They will be graded on a slight curve, as some players have much higher expectations than others, but I won’t shy away from failing grades. I’ll be pulling advanced stats primarily from the indispensable Natural Stat Trick.
We’re going by alphabetical order by last name, so let’s get started.
Ethan Bear - C+
There’s been a lot to like about Ethan Bear since he joined the Canucks via trade. His ability to fend off the forecheck while retrieving pucks has been a major boon, providing a boost of mobility to the Canucks’ backend.
Bear leads all Canucks defencemen with a 50.77% corsi at 5-on-5 and he has the lowest expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) at 5-on-5 as well, though he has been somewhat sheltered from top competition.
There have been some hiccups along the way. He hasn’t fared as well on the penalty kill as he has at even-strength. Not only has Bear been on the ice for the highest rate of goals against on the penalty kill among Canucks defencemen, but among all NHL defencemen who have spent at least 20 minutes on the penalty kill.
Bear also hasn’t been quite as adept at moving the puck up ice as Canucks fans might have hoped, limiting his ability to contribute offensively and resulting in some dangerous turnovers.
Those two downsides bump him down from B level to C level, but we’ll make it a C+ because his overall impact has been positive.
Brock Boeser - D+
This might not be the season Brock Boeser finally reaches 30 goals after all. With just 8 goals in 33 games so far, Boeser is actually on pace for fewer than 20 goals this season, which is less than ideal.
The bigger issue for Boeser is that this has been the worst defensive season of his career and he’s arguably been the Canucks’ worst forward defensively. He has the highest xGA/60 of any regular Canucks forward and has been on the ice for the highest rate of goals against.
The only thing keeping Boeser from a flat-out failing grade is that he’s actually been surprisingly productive at 5-on-5 thanks to a spike in his assist rate.
Among NHL forwards with at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5, Boeser is 31st in points per 60 minutes with 2.52. That’s not far behind Connor McDavid, Brayden Point, and Mitch Marner and ahead of Kyle Connor, Mathew Barzal, and Elias Lindholm.
Part of the reason his assist rate has spiked, however, is that he has one of the highest rates of secondary assists in the NHL, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Boeser has a lot of work to do in the second half to redeem his season.
Guillaume Brisebois - I
Brisebois has played just three games this season, so he gets an Incomplete.
Kyle Burroughs - C-
When Kyle Burroughs has been in the lineup, he’s given an honest, workmanlike effort.
Has he been good? Well, no. But he’s been honest and workmanlike.
Burroughs has done relatively well defensively, which in this case means he’s been about league-average defensively. For the Canucks, that’s not bad.
The trouble is, Burroughs brings very little to the table offensively, so his overall impact on the game trends towards the negative. He throws a lot of hits and blocks a lot of shots — he leads the Canucks in blocked shots per 60 minutes — but that’s partly a sign of how little the Canucks have the puck when he’s on the ice.
Collin Delia - C+
It is awfully difficult to grade the Canucks’ goaltenders because of the awful defensive play in front of them. Collin Delia has arguably been the best of the three, but he still has an .893 save percentage.
Delia has been slightly above average in the Canucks’ net, with a Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) of 1.68 at all strengths. That’s right, his .893 save percentage has actually been above average when you take into account the quality of chances he’s faced, and that’s without taking into account that such statistics don’t factor in things like pre-shot puck movement, something the Canucks have been uniquely terrible at preventing.
So, if Delia has been slightly above average, he gets a slightly above average grade: C+.
Thatcher Demko - C-
With Thatcher Demko missing so much time to injury, it feels unkind to grade him too harshly, but there’s no denying that he wasn’t playing up to his usual standard to start the season.
It isn’t necessarily his fault, but the Canucks are 3-10-2 with Demko in net and he has an awful .883 save percentage this season.
Some might suggest that Demko deserves a failing grade this season, particularly given the expectations he has created with his stellar play last season. I can’t bring myself to give him — or any Canucks goaltender — a failing grade, however, because of the the defence they play behind. In fact, I’m tempted to give him a C, as his GSAA at 5-on-5 is right near average at 0.12.
Adjusting for expectations, we’ll turn that C into a C-.
Travis Dermott - I
Travis Dermott only just returned from a concussion suffered during training camp. He’s played just seven games and left Thursday’s game with another injury resulting in him missing Friday’s practice. He gets an Incomplete and hopes for better health.
Sheldon Dries - C-
After a fantastic performance in the AHL last season, Sheldon Dries has worked his way into the Canucks’ lineup in the NHL and provided a little bit of depth scoring with 5 goals and 9 points in 24 games, while playing on the second power play unit.
Where Dries has struggled, however, is at even strength, where he’s missed some defensive assignments in his own end. He has been heavily sheltered but has been on the ice for the second-highest rate of goals against at 5-on-5 behind Boeser.
Some of that’s bad luck, as Canucks’ goaltenders haven’t been stopping the puck behind Dries, but some of it is Dries’ limited defensive game.
At this point, Dries hasn’t done much to convince that he’s more than a replacement-level forward, though there have been flashes of something more, such as when he was on a line with Conor Garland and Nils Höglander against the Calgary Flames. So far, it just hasn’t been enough.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - D
Is it somewhat ironic that Oliver Ekman-Larsson gets a D when his lack of D is what got him that grade? No, it’s a mere coincidence, which is not irony, contrary to what Alanis Morissette might say.
Among regular Canucks defencemen, Ekman-Larsson has been on the ice for the second-highest rate of goals against, ahead of only Riley Stillman. He’s simply giving up far too much defensively, particularly when that’s the primary role he’s being asked to fill. Yes, he’s playing tough minutes, but he’s utterly failing to do the thing he’s being asked to do: shut down the best players on the other team.
Ekman-Larsson might be able to mitigate those issues if he was moving the needle offensively, but even though he’s on pace for 38 points, he has the worst goal differential on the Canucks at 5-on-5 at minus-11.
Those struggles led to him being a healthy scratch against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
If Ekman-Larsson was a third-pairing defenceman, he might not get a D grade, but he’s not: he’s the highest-paid player on the Canucks and expected to be a leader on the blue line.
Conor Garland - C+
Last season, Conor Garland was a 5-on-5 star, with dominant puck-possession statistics and a team-leading 2.62 points per 60 minutes. Sure, he didn’t do much on the power play, but he was a force to be reckoned with at even strength.
This season, that simply hasn’t been the case. He’s producing a point less per 69 minutes at 5-on-5 and he has a thoroughly mediocre 47.38% xGF%. He’s played well defensively but the offence just hasn’t been there, resulting in a minus-4 goal differential at 5-on-5.
The Canucks need Garland to be a lot better than average but that’s exactly what Garland has been this season and he gets an average grade, boosted a little bit because he’s got the lowest xGA/60 among regular Canucks forwards. That defensive game is still valuable.
Bo Horvat - A
I’m not going to overthink this grade. Bo Horvat is tied for fourth in the NHL goalscoring race with 29 goals in 41 games, a 58-goal pace. That’s unreal and deserving of an A+ grade.
Then we just have to factor in how much Horvat has struggled defensively and that this entire disastrous season has happened while he’s wearing the captain’s C. So, we’ll bump that A+ down to an A.
Quinn Hughes - A-
Quinn Hughes gets a similar grade to Bo Horvat for similar reasons. Hughes is one of the highest-scoring defencemen in the NHL, landing at sixth with 36 points in 37 games.
Hughes is practically the only defenceman on the Canucks’ roster who can consistently break the puck out of the defensive zone with control and he’s a wizard at keeping the puck in at the offensive blue line. He’s an absolute treat to watch and would get an A grade if it wasn’t for that pesky defensive game.
Hughes is a player who takes great pride in his defensive game but it’s taken a step backwards this season. Sure, his 2.86 goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is the second-lowest among Canucks defencemen behind Ethan Bear, but it's not exactly good. He also hasn’t been as effective on the penalty kill as he was last season.
That bumps his A grade down to an A-.
Nils Höglander - C+
Does it make sense that Nils Höglander is in the AHL rather than the NHL? Not really. Höglander had his defensive issues but no more than most of the other forwards who didn’t get sent down to the AHL.
That said, Höglander didn’t produce enough points to force the team to keep him up in Vancouver and in the lineup. Sure, he had more points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Garland and J.T. Miller but…well…
This is going to be one of those situations where my view of a player is evidently different from the organization’s view of that player. Höglander hasn’t been great this season but he’s been above average and that ought to be enough to keep him in the NHL.
Or, maybe there’s another reason why Höglander and several other young Canucks are in the AHL right now instead of in the toxic mess in the NHL.
Dakota Joshua - C-
On the one hand, Dakota Joshua has done exactly what the Canucks expected from him. He plays an energy game, skating hard and throwing hits — he’s currently second on the team in hits behind Luke Schenn.
Here’s the issue: you want energy from your fourth line but they can’t hurt you on the scoreboard. Joshua has a minus-9 goal differential at 5-on-5, second-worst among Canucks forwards.
There are a couple things keep him from getting a D. One is that he’s being used too much against elite competition, something he had never done prior to this season. Another is that he’s arguably being dragged down by his linemates at even strength.
And, finally, he’s actually been really good on the penalty kill when he’s been used there. He hasn’t had a ton of time on the penalty kill this season, but he leads the Canucks in unblocked shots against per 60 minutes (FA/60) and xGA/60 while shorthanded. If he gets some more time on the penalty kill and continues to excel, that will help his overall grade.
Noah Juulsen - I
Just two games for Noah Juulsen gets him an Incomplete. He wasn’t good in those two games, but still — Incomplete.
Andrei Kuzmenko - A
One of the few unadulterated joys of this Canucks season has been watching Andrei Kuzmenko play. He’s an utter delight, both in how he maneuvers the puck around the offensive zone to create chances and how he celebrates when one of those chances turns into a goal.
It’s not even that he erupts exuberantly after every goal because he doesn’t. When he scores a goal that he deems too easy — a goal created primarily by someone else — his celebration is always hilariously restrained, typically just a curt nod and a point to whoever made the pass. When he feels he earned it, however, he lets loose and it’s fantastic.
If we were just grading on joie de vivre, Kuzmenko would get an easy A+. Fortunately, he’s also a dang good hockey player. He’s third on the Canucks in goals with 17 and fourth in points with 36. He’s been great on the power play and even more effective at 5-on-5: among the 407 NHL forwards with at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5, Kuzmenko’s 2.85 points per 60 minutes is 11th.
As an added bonus, Kuzmenko hasn’t been a detriment defensively as some might have feared coming from the KHL. It’s not like he’s been incredible defensively, mind you, but he’s held his own.
Curtis Lazar - D-
I like Curtis Lazar. A lot. He’s clearly thrilled to be playing for his hometown organization and he’s a gem of a person.
It’s just that the on-ice results have been really bad for Lazar this season. He has just one goal and two points, which would be forgivable if he was playing exclusively on the fourth line, but he’s had opportunities up the lineup and done nothing with them.
Among regular Canucks forwards, Lazar has the second-worst corsi percentage at 40.68% and the second-worst xGF% at 40.04%. Simply put, the Canucks get badly out-shot and out-chanced when Lazar is on the ice at 5-on-5.
Again, that might be okay if he was on a low-event fourth line, tasked with creating some energy and limiting chances, but he also has the third-highest rate of expected goals against among Canucks forwards.
To make matters worse, Lazar has also been one of the Canucks’ worst penalty killers, with the highest rate of both unblocked shots against and goals against when he’s on the ice.
At least he’s above 50% in the faceoff circle, winning 51.8% of his faceoffs. So, he’s got that going for him.
Will Lockwood - I
With only seven games this season, I’m going to give Will Lockwood an Incomplete.
My general sense so far, however, is that Lockwood does an awful lot on the ice without really accomplishing anything. He skates hard and hits hard, but it seems like a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
That said, he does have the lowest xGA/60 among Canucks forwards. We’ll see what happens in the second half.
Spencer Martin - D+
We’re a long way removed from Spencer Martin being undefeated in regulation as a Canucks goaltender. Pressed into a starter’s role, Martin has seen his numbers drop to the worst among the team’s three goaltenders this season, with an ugly .880 save percentage.
But with the Canucks’ awful defensive coverage this season, I’m just not comfortable giving Martin a failing grade.
Technically speaking, a D+ is a pass, but only just barely. It still feels too harsh, but I also don’t want to pull my punches. Sorry, Martin.
Ilya Mikheyev - B
There’s a strong argument to be made that Ilya Mikheyev was not a necessary signing during the offseason — a winger wasn’t exactly the Canucks’ biggest need — but Mikheyev has lived up to his contract.
Mikheyev’s been productive, with 12 goals and 25 points in 38 games, and he’s been particularly good at 5-on-5, with his 2.55 points per 60 minutes coming in at 27th in the NHL among the 407 forwards with at least 200 5-on-5 minutes.
Mikheyev’s two-way game hasn’t been quite as strong as might have been expected, but it hasn’t been terrible either. So far, it’s been a solid B season for Mikheyev.
J.T. Miller - C-
If we were grading on vibes, J.T. Miller’s grade would be a whole lot worse, but we’re not.
Miller is third on the Canucks in scoring with 16 goals and 37 points in 41 games, which is pretty solid, even if he’s not matching his 99-point pace from last season. He leads the Canucks in power play points with 18 and he’s been a big part of why they’re a top-ten power play.
It’s, well, everything else that’s the issue. At 5-on-5, Miller has been one of the team’s least efficient scorers — his 1.36 points per 60 minutes is barely ahead of the pace of Sheldon Dries and Dakota Joshua.
Combine that with some very visible defensive issues and it’s no surprise that Miller has the worst goal differential at 5-on-5 among Canucks forwards at minus-10.
On top of that, he’s been one of the team’s worst penalty killers, with the second-highest rate of goals against among Canucks forwards. He’s even been average on faceoffs, which has normally been a strength, winning exactly 50% of his draws.
Miller hasn’t been the worst defensive forward on the Canucks and his point production keeps him from scoring lower, but a C- grade is more than fair.
Tyler Myers - D+
It’s tough to know how to grade Tyler Myers. He’s actually reined in some of his chaotic tendencies and his in-zone defence has been pretty good at times, but then he still makes so many big, visible errors.
In the end, the errors win out, as his xGA/60 is second-worst among Canucks defencemen behind only Riley Stillman. His overall impact on puck possession is very poor, even when you take into account the tough minutes he plays.
The biggest issue for Myers has been discipline. He leads the Canucks with 17 minor penalties, putting his team on the penalty kill far too many times, particularly given how much the penalty kill has struggled this season.
I’m giving Myers the edge in a grade over Ekman-Larsson, but only barely.
Tanner Pearson - I
Before his season ended because of a hand surgery, Tanner Pearson had severely struggled this season, with limited production and dreadful underlying numbers.
But when you consider that he was playing through an injury that required season-ending surgery, it’s fair to cut him some slack. Pearson gets an Incomplete.
Lane Pederson - I
The early returns on Lane Pederson were promising, as he immediately clicked on a line with Kuzmenko and Elias Pettersson. The question is really whether Pederson can do anything on a line with anyone else, as lots of players can succeed with Kuzmenko and Pettersson.
With just 8 games played, Pederson gets an Incomplete.
Elias Pettersson - A+
There’s no longer any question of why the Canucks’ best player is: it’s Elias Pettersson and it’s not particularly close.
Pettersson leads the Canucks in scoring with 50 points in 39 games. He leads the entire NHL in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. He’s on pace for 37 goals despite being completely snakebitten on the power play.
It’s been an outstanding season for Pettersson offensively, but he’s also been one of the Canucks’ best defensive forwards. Among regular Canucks forwards, only Garland has a lower xGA/60 than Pettersson.
Even on the penalty kill, Pettersson has the second-lowest rate of goals against among Canucks forwards. It’s awfully hard to blame him for the penalty kill’s struggles.
Pettersson is one of the few players making the Canucks watchable this season. Easy A+.
Vasily Podkolzin - C
You can basically copy and paste what I said about Höglander and apply it to Podkolzin.
Did he do enough in his 16 games this season to stay in the lineup? Maybe not, but he wasn’t any worse than several forwards who are still in the lineup.
That said, maybe it’s for the best that he spends some time in the AHL.
Tucker Poolman - I
At this point, we just have to hope that Tucker Poolman makes a full recovery from the concussions and migraines that have ailed him.
Jack Rathbone - I
It’s probably a good thing that Jack Rathbone has only played six games this season and gets an Incomplete grade, because he wasn’t particularly good in those six games.
His underlying stats are not pretty: a team-worst xGA/60, team-worst scoring chances against per 60 minutes, and second-worst corsi percentage. Maybe it was just bad luck and he’ll be better next time he gets called up.
Luke Schenn - C-
In terms of character, Luke Schenn gets an A. But his underlying statistics are awfully similar to those of Myers and Ekman-Larsson, which isn’t good.
Schenn leads the Canucks in hits and he’s only getting paid $850,000 per year, so forgiveness is ample, but the Canucks give up a lot of shots and chances when he’s on the ice at 5-on-5.
The Canucks haven’t been outscored with Schenn on the ice at 5-on-5 but that’s primarily because his most common linemates are Hughes, Pettersson, and Kuzmenko. When Schenn is not on the ice with those three, he gets absolutely buried by the underlying statistics.
Riley Stillman - F
You might know the reason why Riley Stillman gets an F from some of the previous grades.
Stillman has the worst expected goals against per 60 minutes of any regular Canucks defenceman and the worst actual goals against per 60 minutes as well. His minus-7 goal differential at 5-on-5 is earned.
The one thing that nearly gets him out of F territory is that he’s actually been pretty good on the penalty kill. He’s got the lowest rate of both unblocked shot attempts and goals against per 60 minutes among Canucks defencemen.
But it’s just so hard to ignore his game at 5-on-5. He’s one of the most frustrating defencemen to watch in the defensive zone, because things seem to just happen around him with him having absolutely no influence whatsoever.
There are times where I wonder if anything would change on certain plays if he wasn’t on the ice, like how the end result of Raiders of the Lost Ark would be completely unaffected if Indiana Jones had stayed home.
Jack Studnicka - F
The underlying statistics are not Jack Studnicka’s friends.
Worst xGF% on the Canucks? Jack Studnicka. Worst Goals Above Replacement (GAR) on the Canucks according to Evolving-Hockey? Jack Studnicka. Highest rate of high-danger chances against on the Canucks? Yep, Jack Studnicka.
It’s the worst variation on the Chuck Testa meme ever.
Nils Åman - D
Fun fact: the letter “Å” actually comes near the end of the Swedish alphabet, not the beginning. So Åman is actually in proper alphabetical order here.
Åman is in his first season in North America, so there can be some forgiveness for some trouble adjusting. There are certain things Åman has done well: he’s been decent on the penalty kill in comparison to the rest of the Canucks and has at times played some solid low-event hockey.
But his overall impact has been poor. Åman has the worst corsi percentage this season among Canucks forwards and the third-worst xGF%. His goal differential at 5-on-5 is minus-8.
Åman’s biggest issue is that he has brought very little to the table offensively and hasn’t been good enough defensively for that not to matter.
There are still a lot of things to like about Åman’s game but, unlike with Höglander and Podkolzin, it’s completely understandable why he got sent to the AHL. Hopefully, some extra seasoning in the minors will help him perform better the next time he gets called up.