On January 15, Elias Pettersson had just six goals, a paltry sum across 37 games for someone who was supposed to be the Vancouver Canucks’ franchise player.
Since then, however, Pettersson has scored 25 goals in 39 games, including a ridiculous 13 goals in his last 12 games as the Canucks have made a last desperate push to make the playoffs. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild, Pettersson scored two goals to crack the 30-goal barrier for the first time in his career.
In doing so, Pettersson joined two of his teammates in the 30-goal club this season: J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat.
Canucks lack the scoring depth of top teams
They’re in rare company. Only five other teams this season have at least three 30-goal scorers: the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, and Colorado Avalanche. I say at least three because the Flames actually have four and the Panthers are right on the edge of four with Sam Reinhart sitting at 29 goals.
There’s something those five teams have in common: they’re all in playoff position with over 100 points and either first or second in their division.
It makes sense. Teams that score a lot of goals tend to win a lot of games and those are five of the top-six teams in goalscoring this season. The sixth is the St. Louis Blues, who have just one 30-goal scorer but a whopping eight players with at least 20 goals.
The Canucks are not among those top-scoring teams despite Pettersson, Miller, and Horvat. Instead, they’re 18th in goals this season. That’s partly because of their rough start but even since the coaching change to Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks are 15th in goals for — right at league average. As a result, the Canucks are likely to be the only team with three 30-goal scorers that misses the playoffs.
It perhaps speaks to an issue that both Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have addressed: the need to add more depth.
Down the stretch, the Canucks got offensive contributions from Alex Chiasson, who is up to 12 goals on the season, but they need more consistent scoring from the bottom-six in the future. Progression from Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander would certainly help, as would getting more goalscoring from the defence — Quinn Hughes leads the defence with just six goals.
The 2010-11 Canucks didn't have three 30-goal scorers
But what’s interesting is that the best team in franchise history — as well as a couple of other offensively potent Canucks teams — didn’t have three 30-goal scorers. In fact, they were remarkably top-heavy in their scoring.
You’ll notice that the last time the Canucks had three 30-goal scorers in the lineup was way back in 1995-96. That skips right over two eras of dominant Canucks offence — the West Coast Express era and the Sedin era.
The peak of the West Coast Express era was the 2002-03 season when Canucks finished second in the NHL in goalscoring with 264 goals, right behind the Detroit Red Wings. They were led, of course, by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, who didn’t just score 30 goals — they topped 40, with 48 and 46 goals, respectively.
The next highest goalscorer was their linemate, Brendan Morrison, who had 25 goals.
What’s intriguing is that they didn’t have a ton of goalscoring behind them. Morrison was the only other Canucks that even had 20+ goals and they had a total of eight players with 10 or more goals. Remember, the Blues this season have eight players with 20+ goals.
It’s a similar story in the 2010-11 season, when the Canucks led the entire NHL in goalscoring. Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler led the way with 41 goals each, but the next highest was Alex Burrows with 26 and he was the only other player who breached 20 goals. A total of nine players scored 10 or more goals for the Canucks that season.
This season, the Canucks have nine players who scored 10+ goals. In terms of depth scoring, they’re surprisingly not that far off from the best team in franchise history. Even adding a few depth players who can pot 5 or 6 goals from the fourth line and getting some more goals from the defence could make all the difference.
Can the Canucks get elite goalscoring out of their current lineup?
So, the Canucks show that there are clearly at least two ways to get elite-level goalscoring from a team. One is having incredible scoring depth but the other is having two players absolutely explode and breach 40 goals each.
Do the Canucks have that capability? Certainly, Elias Pettersson has the potential to score 40+ goals if he can get off to a stronger start next season. It was once thought that Brock Boeser could reach 40 or more goals after scoring at a 38-goal pace in his rookie season but his scoring pace has slowed since and he has yet to score even 30 goals in a season, albeit with seasons shortened by injury and COVID-19.
It seems foolhardy to expect J.T. Miller to score even more next season than he did this season, where he set career highs in goals, assists, and points. Neither can more be expected out of Bo Horvat, whose 31 goals also set a career high.
Perhaps depth scoring is the safer path.
Past Canucks seasons with three 30-goal scorers
When looking at past Canucks seasons where they’ve had three 30-goal scorers, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Those teams haven’t always done all that well despite having individual success.
The 1995-96 Canucks got 55 goals from Alex Mogilny, 33 goals from Trevor Linden, and 30 goals from Martin Gelinas, with Pavel Bure limited to just 15 games due to a serious knee injury. The Canucks barely made the playoffs and were knocked out in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche.
The 1991-92 and 1992-93 Canucks had at least three 30-goal scorers and they finished first in the Smythe Division both seasons. In fact, the 1992-93 Canucks had four 30-goal scorers — Bure, Petr Nedved, Linden, and Geoff Courtnall — and set a franchise record with 346 goals. Unfortunately, both teams were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round.
They did much better in the playoffs the following year, of course, when they had just two 30-goal scorers: Bure and Linden. Well, maybe Bure counts as two 30-goal scorers on his own considering he scored 60 goals that season.
The 1987-88 Canucks had three 30-goal scorers, with Tony Tanti leading the way 40 goals, Greg Adams with 36, and Petri Skriko with 30. They missed the playoffs with the third-worst record in the league.
Early in the decade, both the 1981-82 and 1982-83 Canucks had three 30-goal scorers. While the Canucks were knocked out in the first round of the 1983 playoffs, they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1982, when Thomas Gradin, Stan Smyl, and Ivan Boldirev all cracked 30 goals.
That was the first time in franchise history the Canucks had at least three 30-goal scorers. Sometimes, it works.