The Top-5 Vancouver Canucks pleasant surprises so far this season are ranked in ascending order.
Bo Horvat would fall into the category of honourable mention for me, but he’d also qualify under the “it should come as no surprise” category.
Horvat’s play has steadily improved this season and I think no one was more relieved by the coaching change after the December 4th loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He wouldn’t tell you that as he’s mastered ‘captain-speak’. You get the feeling he’d go to the wall for his teammates and then some, and his offensive propensities are better than I expected. He’s the team’s leading goal scorer (13) and he’s fourth in points (23), exactly where he finished last season. He also leads the team in shots on goal with 108. Not a huge surprise other than he should be second to Brock Boeser.
5) Quinn Hughes – He’s often the best hockey player on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks and he’s also often the best defenceman on the ice in a game, period. Yes, we knew he was good, but especially given some of his concerns about improving his defensive play from last season, it would be fair to say most didn’t expect this much improvement this quickly. He’s the talented minute-muncher who team’s relish.
Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau is most impressed with Hughes’s first pass because he makes it accurately from practically everywhere. It’s the second thing NHL scouts look for in a defenceman behind skating, and Hughes has that nailed down as well.
4) Luke Schenn – You’ve heard of a victim of circumstances, Schenn would be the beneficiary of some. Mostly due to the absence of “Casper the Friendly Hamonic,” Schenn has taken on a much greater role and much more ice time than originally expected. He’s handled it with panache. Well, panache in a 6-foot-2, 225-pound body. He leads the team in hits with 87. No surprise whatsoever that he’s a physical presence and he’s a delightful partner to have along with Hughes in that regard.
His ice time has tumbled back down on this road trip into the thirteen-and-a-half minute range, but over the entire body of work he’s been a consistent player.
3) Conor Garland – What to call the bugger … hey wait a minute!! That was the subject of a recent article here. Nicknames are supposed to happen organically and I think we may have just found it.
Anyhoo, we mostly knew what we were getting when he arrived with Oliver Ekman-Larsson from Arizona this past summer. At least we thought we knew, but weren’t completely, entirely convinced it was gonna happen for him and the Canucks. I’m referring to his tenacious play and the surprising upside to his offensive abilities. Now may be a tough time to drop him in here as he’s only produced two points over his last seven games, but the pesty-ness is alive and well and he averaged three shots-on-goal per game on this difficult road trip before missing the last match due to Covid.
He did vanish for a few short stretches this season, but earlier rather than later.
No surprise, we knew he could draw penalties. So far he has 18 PIM, while his opponents have picked up 40 PIM as a direct result of his style. For the analytics crowd, he and Vasily Podkolzin are the only two Canucks with a positive “goals above expected” number. Besides Schenn of course.
2) Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Speaking of OEL, I recall a few said he might stink it up this season after struggling a bit during his final two or three seasons in the hockey purgatory of Glendale, Arizona. Ahh, the power of relocation. So far he’s been more efficient and physical than expected, as in, back to his old ways. He also has a bit of a surprising nasty streak on occasion.
The Swede seems a bit passive-aggressive in scrums. From sometimes providing a nurturing hug to a countryman from an opposing team for example, to ward off any further mayhem, to simply losing his marbles.
Like with Horvat, OEL also qualifies under the “it should come as no surprise” category. One would know that had they watched him over the years with the Coyotes, but then again, why would one want to have done that. OK, sorry, I’ll stop picking on the AZ. This pleasant surprise is a relief to many.
1) Tyler Myers – This one is a progression. First month of the season, forget about it, there were still plenty of unexplained defensive zone adventures. But the big fella has settled down and settled in. Most positively impacted by the arrival of coach Boudreau? Quite possibly, because his consistent effectiveness has been most noticeable since the beginning of December.
Sitting upstairs and looking down, we’d see four or five errant passes and weird decisions per game. Nowadays they almost seem rare.
He’s blocked 83 shots, 20 more than the next guy. A lot of that has to do with his time on the penalty kill, and while Hughes leads the club in ice time, Myers leads by a wide margin in the actual number of shifts played.
He’s called upon in a plethora of situations and often for defensive zone draws. Whether this is all a side effect of the Canucks lack of depth at this point doesn’t matter. Having watched every moment of every game since day one, Myers has still been the Vancouver Canucks most pleasant surprise.