Mistakes happen, that’s hockey. In fact, it’s the key to hockey. The team that capitalizes on the opponent’s errors most often is almost always the team that wins. The Vancouver Canucks have been reminded of this a number of times this early season. If the mistake is egregious enough, nine times out of ten, the “puck will end up in the back of your net.”
So with that disclaimer declaration made, knowing that every player has made a least a few oopsy-daisy’s along the way, here are the top-5 Vancouver Canucks through the first ten games of the season. This is not to suggest that the players who’ve made the fewest mistakes are the one’s on the list, but you will notice the absence of those who most often seem to cough up pucks. That list will come later.
Bo Horvat started well and earns honourable mention, especially considering he’s been a stalwart captain through this roller coaster stretch for the Canucks and during an unusually disturbing time for the NHL off the ice.
5) Quinn Hughes – Maybe trying to do a bit too much at times but with his skill ceiling why the hell wouldn’t he? There have been some funky decisions and a few times when he’s held on to the puck too long, but that’s easy to say from eighty feet up near the rafters. It’s early, and his positive impacts easily overshadow any mistakes. During the first part of the Canucks longest ever season-opening road trip, dude played games of 27+ minutes, just under 27 minutes, and 29+ plus minutes not long after missing training camp. It’s why he required a night off in Buffalo for the team’s 4th game of the season.
The first two things a scout looks for in a defenceman are skating ability and “first pass”. Yes, as in, making that first pass. When evaluating a defenceman’s value once you have him? Time on ice. Does he spend time munching minutes and does he do it effectively. A D-man doesn’t play 28-minutes if he’s not capable and if the coach doesn’t trust him.
It’s possible Hughes is chomping at the bit, a bit, to chip in more offensively. That’s fine too, nothing wrong with some aggression and offensive desire. Just as long as it doesn’t come while forsaking the other end. Forcing plays is a version of error.
Hughes is dynamic. He has seven points in nine games.
4) JT Miller – I’m sort of, or a lot of, old school, so I like a guy that plays angry. Whether it’s at an opponent, himself, a ref, or the guy who made the crappy hotel pasta he had for lunch. Don’t put up with any manure JT, that’s just the way we like it.
The fact that this player found the net twice in the biggest game of his coach’s season means a lot. The victory against the New York Rangers encapsulates the full range of emotions this guy is capable of. Relief and mild disbelief after finally getting his team on the board. Nervousness and angst when he was standing in the crease playing goalie while his real netminder was making crazy-ass saves facedown in the blue paint. And sheer joy and rapture upon finishing the game with tremendous awareness and second-effort. He wears his facial expressions on his sleeve and they’re usually entertaining.
Miller went a stretch of seven games without a goal before lighting the lamp against the Blueshirts. He has three total to go with eleven points and he’s the team’s leading scorer. No one else has four power play points.
3) Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Pretty much steady-eddy. It’s difficult to embarrass a Swede. Even after toe-picking at the left point against the Rangers, falling on his head and almost losing his helmet, OEL jumped up and managed to fire off a shot. It was a beer league moment, only with much greater velocity. Ollie doesn’t get rattled; there’s a little Nicklas Lidstrom DNA in there somewhere. OK, relax, I said a little Lidstrom DNA in there. As in, he’s chill, he’s level-headed, he doesn’t get too up or down.
Oh yeah, he’s Swedish.
Which means even though it’s bugging the crap out of him that he only has two points so far this season, you’d never know it unless he told you. Which he did, with the media, right after morning skate on Tuesday. He did it casually.
One of his strengths as a man working the points and elsewhere is his ability to get shots through. It’s a knack. OEL presently has 37 shots on goal, ten more than anyone else on the team. When they start going in you’ll notice. The number will change on the scoreboard. Ollie will stay the same.
2) Conor Garland – Does he mind being called a pesky, waterbug? I’m sticking with it for now, it’s early. Dude gets after it. He had that weird little two game stretch where his play suffered and his minutes got pulled back. Hey, we’re all human (except for Lidstrom), and one can have unexplained ups and downs. The problem is, Garland set the bar very high coming out of the blocks so anytime he’s not the team’s catalyst, one of us geniuses will start questioning his reason for existence.
He was “on” Tuesday night. As I pointed out in the “5 takeaway” recap from the Rangers game, he had the best two scoring chances in the first period for either team. His left circle wrister hit the crossbar stick-side of Igor Shesterkin and a bit later he went shortside backhand and hit the side of the net just outside of the little gap between Shesterkin’s head and the post. Other than that the first period was mostly dullsville. Fast forward to the third period when this man with average height and an unusually short stick provided the primary assist on the two Canucks goals that led to the tie game. Both beauties in different ways.
He’s second on the team in scoring with ten points and he gets under the opponent’s skin, although more so on the road. That’s good, he’s a villain; a poor man’s Marchand, a player he admires.
1) Thatcher Demko – The big guy had a lock on “Simmer’s 3-Stars” in my postgame summaries so far this season. It was becoming a movie title: Demko and the Two Stars. Tuesday I was able to slide him to third behind two other heroes, both of them mentioned on this list oddly enough, but yes, it’s been the Demko show. He’s actually been better than his very good .923 save percentage and pretty good, team driven. 2.48 goals against average. A nerd somewhere will be able to paint the crease four different colours on his computer and tell you which shots came from where, which is nice, but let’s just say dude has passed the eye test and the analytics test with flying colours.
Before he went all Gump Worsley (look him up, you’ll be glad you did) on us during the 5-on-4 shorthanded sequence (it had been 5-on-3) in the third period Tuesday night, Demko had actually been making saves similar to that look somewhat routine this season. We’re never really surprised when we see him stick a toe out and rob someone blind. We’re pleased, excited, think it’s cool, but rarely that surprised.
The Gumper moment was other-worldly, a save sequence rarely seen, especially considering he didn’t have his stick or his blocker. I’m getting all spine-tingly thinking about it again, especially considering the overall situation it came in, and the roof-blowing reaction of the Rogers Arena crowd.
OK, he’s my first star.