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Vancouver Canucks Midterm Report Cards, Top 6 Forwards

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Vancouver Canucks, Tanner Pearson
Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Pearson in warm-ups in Washington on January 16, 2021.

The following are the midterm grades for the Vancouver Canucks top-6 forwards. There’s a small curve based on the players’ natural abilities and expectations. There are some dramatic improvements as you might expect since the quarter-pole. At that point the Canucks were in last place in the NHL’s Pacific Division with a record of 6-13-and-2. Now they’re in 7th place with a record of 20-20-and-6.

Elias Pettersson – Quarter season grade, C-minus – Midterm grade B – The “what’s wrong with ‘Petey'” questions linger but are less frequent as his game has improved. I know it’s not why he’s here, obviously, but as the Steve Yzermans of the world learned, and the Connor McDavids of the world are still learning, you won’t win if don’t play both ends of the ice. While Petey has stumbled finding his overall offensive consistency he has taken care of business on the backcheck. Not something that should be overlooked.

This is a young player who established a high offensive bar for himself and at the moment is failing to reach it. It happens, and it would be a mistake to assume he won’t find it again. Presently he’s invaluable in terms of creating opportunities for his teammates. He’s taken eight minutes in PIMs while drawing 34 minutes in penalties from opponents. He also has excellent possession numbers and the Canucks are far more likely to score when he’s on the ice than when he’s not.

One thing that might help catapult him back into greater offensive fluency is to simply hit the net. Thirty-four percent of his unblocked shots miss the cage entirely.

JT Miller – Quarter season grade, B-plus – Midterm grade A-minus – He still gets pretty wound up at times and it can come across as ‘pissy’. Not a great look, the failed back-check in overtime in Calgary after not getting a call he wanted was the benchmark. What is a great look: Canucks leading goal scorer with 15 and point getter with 44. He’s tallied five power play goals, three game winners including two of them in overtime. He can play wing or centre and he’s won 54% of his draws. When his anger is channelled properly he’s a force. He’ll hit anyone, anywhere and as I like to say, “it seems as though he’s taking everything more seriously than everyone else.” Not a bad thing in a league that gradually getting more gentle.

Pointless in his last three matches after picking up eight points over the previous four. Coincide with trade chatter?

Oddly enough he’s the other Vancouver Canucks player with a high missed net percentage, ripping wide 33.5% of shots that aren’t blocked.

Brock Boeser – Quarter season grade, C-minus – Midterm grade – B – The 24-year-old sniper has been working harder and shooting more often since the arrival of head coach Bruce Boudreau. He’s not always “getting to his spot” offensively but dramatically improved since the first quarter. Boeser is living proof, one of countess examples, that it’s all about mind over matter. When he’s confident, which he has been for extended stretches since early December, he’s a different player.

Dude needs to not worry about the business side and the chatter. GM’s talk. Boeser is poised to have an excellent February. Boeser, Pettersson and Conor Garland all have 24 points.

Bo Horvat – Quarter season grade B, – Midterm grade, B-plus – Again, there’s no questioning his commitment level and his willingness to sacrifice his body. Horvat has the second most goals on the Canucks with 13 and 23 points total. A workhorse at the dots, Horvat has taken the second most draws in the NHL with 939 and his win percentage is > 55%. His draw-taking is pretty much equally distributed between the three zones. He will put himself in the right spot around the net and he will move through bodies to get there.

Five power play goals and two game winners. Scoreless in his last three matches.

Conor Garland – Quarter season grade B+ – Midterm grade – BHe spins, twirls, falls down and gets up, pirouettes, and crashes.

He’s an invaluable pest for the Vancouver Canucks. He’s taken 18 minutes in penalties and drawn a whopping 42 from opponents. He’s tied for third in team scoring with those 24 points but he’s pointless in his last six games, two of them before his Covid protocols, four games since.

Shows remarkable skill as a small player but plays bigger than his stature at times. He dominates in team possession numbers and is slightly above expected goals. Consistency is the key term for this ‘bugger’.

Tanner Pearson – Quarter season grade C-minus – Midterm grade – B-minus – Considering I pretty much put him down as a ‘missing person’ in the first quarter, Pearson has improved dramatically simply in the fact he’s been involved. At times it’s been much more than that. A ghost playing for Travis Green, Pearson has been a consistent point producer since mid-December.

‘Finish’ seems to be a problem with decent possession numbers not resulting in ‘expected’ offensive tallies. He does work however, and that’s a remedy. Has blocked as many shots as any forward on the team. The 29-year-old provides decent cap value but would be a bargain if he produced at a bit higher pace. 19 points in 42 games isn’t gonna cut it, but he’s coming on.

(Things change and Vancouver Canucks lines get juggled. A seventh player is listed here because he was listed here in late November … )

Nils Höglander – Quarter season grade B-minus – Midterm grade, C-plus – His confidence and ice time have dwindled in recent games. He’s scoreless in the last six and has just three points in his last 17. The 21-year-old Swede has eight goals and seven assists in 45 games and is probably the one player whose game did not flourish to some degree with the coaching change. Change for young players can be disconcerting, especially considering the cultural elements and having to relearn.

Heard of a sophomore slump? Overcoming slumps is harder psychologically for young players, a simple maturity element, and after they burst on to the scene the sometimes unrealistic expectations go up. When they start to fall short the confidence goes and it can snowball. He still has positive possession numbers but the puck is like a hot potato when he gets in deep.

What I wrote in a profile earlier this season hasn’t changed: Höglander is quick, he’s fast, he wins puck battles, and he exhibits great skill … had 27 points in 56 games his rookie season and has tremendous upside. There are youthful mistakes. 

I’d love to see the situation where we could see the Vancouver Canucks ‘Baltic Line’ out there together; as in he, Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin, but ‘Hoagie’ and the Russian have a lot to learn. Dynamic and fun as hell however when they had a brief stint together.

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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