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Vancouver Canucks on the Off Wing: Line-up Scenarios



Vancouver Canucks, Andrei Kuzmenko
Vancouver Canucks acquistion Andrey Kuzmenko.

This is the start of a conversation that will continue through Vancouver Canucks training camp and into the start of the NHL regular season. What to do with the variety of forwards who prefer to play the off wing.

Both Russian recent additions, Ilya Mikheyev and Andrey Kuzmenko, prefer to play on their off wings. Mikheyev is a left shot who prefers the right side and Kuzmenko vice versa. In the latter’s case, he’s pretty much exclusively played the left side as a righty.

Fellow Russian Vasily Podkolzin seems open to playing either side.

It matters because in many game situations, like on simple break-outs for example, it helps to be a righty on the right side, so one can receive the head-man pass on the forehand. As more modern players become more skilled with the stick work, almost ambidextrous to an extent, the issue becomes less of one.

It’s a very common European phenomenon.

In a recent conversation with VHN, Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said Ziggy Palffy, the Slovakian forward who played almost 700 NHL games between time with the New York Islanders, LA Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins, was the best he ever saw at receiving pucks and handling break-outs on the off wing.

“He was actually a great player and was amazing at taking passes on the move on the backhand,” ‘Gabby’ said. “He was seamless.”

There’s no question shot angles improve in the offensive zone on the off wing if a player is willing to take the puck to the middle of the ice. While it’s harder to stop or control pucks along the boards on the backhand, the shot opportunities improve once a player has possession. The simplest visual explanation of angle improvement is Alexander Ovechkin and many others setting up in the off wing faceoff circle on a power play. Grip it and rip it.

“Ovie” on his off wing has led to a generation of copycats in Russia. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

We’ll refrain from mentioning a couple examples Boudreau gave of NHL’ers who simply can’t handle the off wing. Ultimately it’s not for everyone.

Vancouver Canucks forward Conor Garland is an example of a player who adapted. Naturally a right winger, Garland took a bit of time to adjust late in the season to the left side, but turned out to be rather effective over the final ten or twelve games of the season.

“He wasn’t comfortable at first,” Boudreau said, “but he really figured it out and I thought he finished strong.”

If Garland moves back to the right side, one scenario could look like this on the Vancouver Canucks top three lines:

Elias Pettersson – JT Miller – Brock Boeser

Andrey Kuzmenko – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland

Vasily Podkolzin – Jason Dickinson – Ilya Mikheyev

Mix and match. There are many factors. I have a feeling you might be seeing Mikheyev in the top six, but that’s a different story.

“I’m excited about seeing him,” Boudreau said.

The Vancouver Canucks coaching staff will evaluate needs, line tandems, and chemistry as they determine who fits where, and which player may need to try something different.

Is it an opportunity, or a conundrum? Or simply good to have options? Absolutely.

((See Palffy’s bad, textbook mullet, here))

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