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Canucks D-men Report Cards – Pass, Fail, Incomplete?

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Vancouver Canucks, Travis Hamonic
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Travis Hamonic in a game last season.

Time to have some fun, or not so much fun, grading out the Vancouver Canucks defenceman through 21 games. The team’s record sits at 6-13-and-2 after the 4-2 loss Friday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Quinn Hughes – B-minus – Let’s face it, despite his inexperience and the occasional bizarre misplay that ends up in his net, Hughes is the Vancouver Canucks minute-muncher. That’s as important as anything, and indicates a defenceman’s true value. Just turned age-22 in October, he’s only going to get better and more impactful.

One might expect his penalty differential to be more to the positive, he’s only drawn 4 PIM’s while picking up 14 of his own, but this is a player who often finds himself scrambling to cover up for other people’s mistakes. The popular shot quality analytic, “expected goals”, is just 1.8, and he’s had seven defensive zone giveaways. On the flipside, ten of his 15 points are primary assists. Despite missing the game in Buffalo, he was a key factor in the Canucks successful 3-2-and-1 season opening road trip. He played a season-high 29:12 in a 3-1 regulation loss in Detroit. There were stretches in the early season where he controlled play.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – B – I’m giving OEL high marks for intangibles. The Swede probably isn’t the guy who’s supposed to jump in and defend teammates, but more often than not he’s one of the characters first in. As gregarious as a Swede can get off the ice, he brings an unexpected grumpy streak on it. He’s never had an NHL fighting major, although he came pretty close to dropping the mitts in Vegas on November 13th against Brayden McNabb after the latter’s big, 1st period hit on the Canucks Visaly Podkolzin. He was smart not “to go”, but this is what I’m talking about. Where’s everybody else?

OEL has picked up 22 PIM’s and drawn 18, some of those off-setting of course, but he’s active. He leads the team in shots attempted and shots on goal, although a great majority would be considered “low danger”, thus the fact he only has four points. His minutes are starting to ramp up again, he can skate, and he’s one of the Canucks’ more accurate break-out passers. That might not be saying much at the moment.

Tyler Myers C – I’m going with very rare emoji usage here, following the term “hockey sense”. 🤔🤔

I’m confused watching the big guy sometimes. Without going through a list of moments each game, it’s really hard to describe some of the decision making, or lack thereof. Having never played hockey at this high a level, I’m only able to compare his efforts based on others I’ve watched over the last forty years, those getting somewhere between 20 and 26 minutes a night. I feel he could do more with his vastness. He’s an inch shorter than Zdeno Chara but hasn’t seemed to figure out the Slovakian behemoth’s reach effectiveness. Throughout his career, “Big-Z’s” outlet passes were crisp and tight. I realize this is not a fair comparison. Myers does lead the team with 36 blocked shots.

Myers dropped the gloves in the season opener and has four other minors. The Canucks can’t really afford to have him, or anyone for that matter, in the penalty box, but I think we’d like to see more ferocity, although he does lead the Canucks blueliners with 43 hits. During the first two home games, in the press box, I recall some chatter directed at me at one point or another, as in “How much Tyler Myers have you watched?” At the time, I just thought they were being mean. At age-31, he is what he is. On a Cup contender, a third-pair righty and a penalty killer.

Travis Hamonic – Incomplete – Sorry man, you’re gonna have to re-register for classes and start over next semester. He brought this on himself. I’m not interested in re-hashing the vaxx/non-vaxx scenario, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Not that he’s a world beater, but the Canucks could have used him in the games that he missed. I actually like this player in certain capacities and would love to see what he’s capable of without the re-occurring breaks in the action. The 31-year-old, same age as Myers, is not afraid to get after it.

The team has played 21 games, Hamonic has played seven. He has one point. Somehow he’s fourth on the team in blocked shots. Advanced analytics are moot here given the limited body of work, the fluidity, the stops and starts.

Tucker Poolman – C-minus – Maybe a bit kind. Mr. Poolman fancies himself an offensive defenceman to the point of going on wild flourishes deep into the offensive zone, only to see odd-man rushes going the other way. I don’t mind the confidence and the aggressiveness, but hooooold on there fella. A pretty large body at 6′-2″ and 200 pounds, I feel like the 28-year-old is still trying to figure out his identity. He’s tallied one goal and two assists and his expected goal number is essentially non-existent. His Corsi rating is 45%. Yes, the team is more often than not coming from behind in hockey games, but there needs to be a different answer.

When Mr. Hamonic is in the line-up, Mr. Poolman’s time-on-ice usually drops significantly, but for the last eight games his TOI has ranged between 15:00 and 21:30. That’s too much. He’s an adventure when under pressure, which is often.

Bottom line, what we’ve learned through the first quarter of the season, as many would have told you before it all started, the bulk of the Vancouver Canucks D-corps is just not that talented. We’ve got number-eight-hitters batting third in the line-up, to use a baseball analogy.

Luke Schenn – B – Probably the Vancouver Canucks defenceman most comfortable in his own skin. There’s a certain confidence, a positive mental intangible that comes from back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Big, not afraid, a bit old school, and recently looking solid playing with Quinn Hughes to his left. He knows his role, he knows his limitations, he knows he’s 32-years-old. For some, knowing your role and accepting it can be half the battle. He’s way past that.

Schenn has managed three points in seven games and averages four hits in each of them. It’s a boost for a club when you know there’s a veteran back there laying the lumber. Fancy stat’s are inappropriate with this limited body of work.

Kyle Burroughs – B – OK, call me a softy, but the kid, who’s not really a kid, has got spunk. Plus he’s a hometown boy. Plus he scored his first NHL goal four games ago. C’mooon, give the guy a break. Plus he dropped the mitts in Chicago against Riley Stillman back on October 21st in defence of Vancouver Canucks teammate Nils Höglander. The 26-year-old, get this, has played in 17 games this season. You probably didn’t realize that, and twice he topped 19-minutes in ice time. He’s also played both sides of the sheet.

He’s also second on the team with 48 hits. That’s right, your 3rd-pair D-man throwing it around. Throw in 24 shot blocks and you’ve got the type of mental make-up I like from a guy who knows his current limitations.

Brad Hunt – C – Like an actor, stand around and wait. Or in this case, sit around. He’s a versatile guy, who ideally would be leading the way in Abbotsford. In four games he’s chipped in an assist and one shot on goal. He seemed pretty comfortable and efficient in one of his starts, but the Vancouver Canucks have lost all four of the games he has participated in, which is more a statement about the club’s lack of blueline depth.

Madison Bowey – D-plus – A victim of circumstances in one way; he’s a solid AHL defenceman who was thrown into NHL action. To keep it very simple, he’s a minus-3 in two NHL games played this season, playing more minutes than he should have been playing.

In 2018 he was one of the black aces for the Capitals during their Stanley Cup run. He saw time there on the third pair during two regular seasons, as he did later with the rebuilding Red Wings for parts of two more.

Jack Rathbone – Incomplete – The darling of training camp and the preseason, Rathbone still has lots of learning to do and is seasoning in Abbotsford. His upside allows for an “incomplete” as opposed to a grade, because this story is far from over. In nine games this season he was minus-5 and didn’t tally a point.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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