At this point in the season, seeing a rookie make his NHL debut is fun just for the novelty factor. Something other than the team’s dreary descent to the bottom of the NHL standings? Yes, please.
Thankfully, Kole Lind wasn’t just new and different in his first game for the Canucks. He was also quite good.
Lind was drafted in the second round by the Canucks in 2017 and earned a little viral notoriety among Canucks fans because of what Jim Benning said on day one of the draft in a mic’d up video: “Why isn’t anyone taking Kole Lind?”
The last few games, the question has become, “Why isn’t Travis Green playing Kole Lind?” The Canucks have looked tired, with too many passengers in the team’s bottom-six, so it made sense to try to add some youthful energy to the lineup. So, on Thursday, out came Jayce Hawryluk and in came Lind.
“I just told him, ‘Tell the folks back home that they better not miss the game, because there’s a good chance you’re playing,’” said Green.
Lind said that he didn’t get much sleep the night before, which is slightly antithetical to having fresh legs entering the lineup, but adrenaline likely helped with that. He even said there were some “joyful tears” as it was a big moment not just for him but his whole family.
“I talked to the family as soon as everything got confirmed,” said Lind. “There were a lot of emotions running through all of us. I come from a really big hockey family, both my sisters play University and my little brother’s in the WHL right now.”
Lind started the game on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte but got bumped up the lineup as the game progressed, ending up with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. There was no easing Lind into the NHL — he had 17:12 in ice time, sixth among Canucks forwards.
“It's usually indicative of how a coach likes a player is how many minutes he plays some nights, especially a young guy in his first game,” said Green. “The first period might have seemed a little quick for him and I thought he settled in...He played a real strong game the last two periods.”
It wasn’t just the amount of ice time, but who Green felt comfortable sending Lind out to play against. He saw a lot of the Leafs’ top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Joe Thornton, which provided a bit of a “welcome to the NHL” moment.
“I lined up quite a few times with [Thornton] there in the third period,” said Lind. “It's crazy to think of all the accomplishments he's had and you try to not let your jaw drop when you're out there against guys like him and Matthews and Marner.”
When asked if there was a moment where it “clicked” and he realized he could play at the NHL level, Lind interestingly identified a play late in the first period where he got a scoring chance and missed the net. It was part of a strong shift by the winger, where he found some open ice, won a puck along the boards, tried a blind, backhand pass, threw a hit, and nearly picked off an outlet pass from a Leafs’ defenceman: a series of almosts that didn’t develop into anything but helped him settle in.
“Going into the intermission, I felt a lot more comfortable out there and I think I came out of the gates in the second period with a lot more fire,” said Lind. “Our line was doing some really good things with the puck and getting in on the forecheck and we had a few chances that we just missed on.”
Overall, it was a solid debut. The Canucks as a team struggled to get shots on goal but Lind had two of them to go with his one miss. He said he was happy with how he played, but did identify some room for improvement.
“There’s a lot of details that I need to crispen up on,” he said, which is exactly what his head coach likes to hear.
“I've seen a lot of maturity in Kole Lind,” said Green. “I think him playing a couple years down with Utica and the coaching staff down there with Trent [Cull], they really helped him, and he just seems like a different — not just player obviously he's got better as a player — but different confidence level, different understanding of the game.”
As someone who has to write about the Canucks, I was thankful for Kole Lind as I watched this game.
- The rest of this game sucked.
- Okay, I guess I need to write more about the game than that.
- The game kicked off with a tradition required by that archaic hockey convention known as The Code. Because Alex Edler went knee-on-knee with Zach Hyman and injured him, it was required by The Code that he be punched in the face by Wayne Simmonds. The Code — which is more like guidelines than actual rules — doesn’t care that Edler had never once fought anyone in his 914-game NHL career and clearly didn’t know how to protect himself in a fight, nor that he was suspended and apologized for the hit. The Code demanded it, so Edler did it.
- Never mind knowing how to fight, Edler didn’t even know how to drop his gloves. How could you fight this guy?
- The Canucks only had two shots in the first period — not great! — but they almost made it out of the first in a 0-0 tie. Then William Nylander got a piece of a Quinn Hughes pass in the Canucks’ zone and it all went haywire. The puck deflected high and Hughes tried to jump up and catch it but instead knocked it right into the path of Matthews, who fed a now-open Nylander, whose quick shot slipped under Braden Holtby.
- Everything got much worse in the second period, with little mistakes turning into dangerous rushes. Bo Horvat, covering for Hughes at the point, made a dangerous gamble for the puck instead of safely backing up into the neutral zone, which gave Marner and Matthews a 2-on-1. Marner put the puck on a tee for Matthews to hammer home.
- Then Hamonic passed up playing the puck to make a hit at the blue line, again causing an odd-man rush. The puck came across to Pierre Engvall and he beat Holtby from a bad angle, albeit with a very nice shot.
- One positive was the play of Lind, particularly on one shift where he shook off a check from Timothy Liljegren behind the net, knocking the defenceman down in the process. He then peeled out and got his first career shot through traffic. What I liked, too, was his puck pursuit after the shot, preventing an easy outlet pass for the Leafs, which led to a turnover in the neutral zone.
- The Canucks got a goal back before the end of the second period. As was befitting this game, it wasn’t pretty. A point shot from Hughes on the power play was blocked. It came to J.T. Miller on the left side, which he whacked towards the front of the net, where it bounced in off the inside of David Rittich’s left pad. The “shot” was going to go about 50 feet wide before Rittich got in its way.
- The worst part of this game wasn’t any of the goals against or giveaways or defensive breakdowns. With 30 seconds left in the second, Liljegren passed the puck, then planted his shoulder into Tyler Motte’s chin, sending him flying to the ice. Motte appeared dazed at the bench and did not return for the third period. Travis Green had no update on Motte after the game.
- On a lighter note, I really enjoyed this moment where J.T. Miller directed traffic prior to a faceoff, then sent the puck off the draw exactly to where he told Jalen Chatfield to go. Well, almost exactly. It wasn’t quite Benny Rodriguez hitting the ball into Scotty Smalls’s glove but it was close.
- Apparently, Joe Thornton is very funny because he managed to get a laugh out of Brock Boeser even in this dreadfully depressing time. We could all use a Joe Thornton in our lives right now, I think.
- That giveaway by Holtby before Thornton cracked a joke didn’t result in a goal. His giveaway in the final minute, however, did. His pass to Miller was cut off by Alex Kerfoot, who centred for Marner to finish into the open net. So it goes.