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Mike Yeo and Canucks Special Teams a Huge Key to the Season

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Vancouver Canucks, Mike Yeo
Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Mike Yeo as head coach of the Minnesota Wild.

The penalty kill destroyed the Vancouver Canucks 2021-’22 season. To hear the club’s leading scorer J.T. Miller tell it, the special teams failures early on were ultimately the difference between the team making and not making the playoffs. The PK languished below the 70-percent rate of success for much of the season and the improvements made over the course of the campaign simply weren’t enough to lift the hockey club over the hump.

The 2022-’23 season begins with Bruce Boudreau in place from the start as the head coach and Mike Yeo and Trent Cull ready to handle the penalty kill.

Yeo will lead with his experience.

“He’s been a head coach in the NHL which I think is really important,” Boudreau said of Yeo. “We’re looking at all the best penalty killing teams in the league, Mike is, and he’s not only very good at it, he’s very dedicated to it.”

Having added skill players like Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson to the penalty kill last season, the Canucks present an offensive threat while shorthanded. It also allows the PK to be more aggressive up ice.

“More than ever, the key to a good penalty kill is to spend as little time defending as possible,” Yeo said. “Number one, you need goaltending, let’s not kid ourselves, and I know that we have that here. You need good structure, you need good sticks, you need good details, but if you’re defending all of the time, the power plays around the league, they’re just too good. Whether it’s the faceoffs and getting the pucks down the ice, or making the little plays to get the puck out of the zone efficiently, or the pressure you apply to create turnovers to prevent them from gaining control. That’s the biggest thing, to be aggressive when you have those opportunities.”

Overall, centres Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller won faceoffs at a rate of 57% and 54% respectively.

Pettersson is an example of a player who will try to rely on his smarts and anticipation as much as possible to create havoc for the opposition.

The Canucks will attempt to avoid sitting on their heels, but inevitably there will be times when the four men on the penalty kill will find themselves in the D-zone box. That’s when it comes down to shot-blocking courage, whether it’s a role player or a star.

“You know what, that’s what hockey players do,” Boudreau stated. “There’s a lot of things we don’t like to do, but the ones that are good do it because they have to do it. We avoid it if we can avoid it, but if we don’t, we suck it up. J.T. is a perfect example, he’ll stand right in the lane and he’ll block a shot. He’s taken some pretty good shots in my tenure here and they hurt, there’s no doubt, but he does it, so that’s great.”

Added quickness and hockey sense will help the cause, again, with a desirable look to the PK right from the start of the season.

“Sometimes offensive players, that’s what they can bring you, they can make little plays in their own zone to help us break pressure and help us get the puck down the ice,” Yeo added. “Often those players, their instincts are so good that they can read plays a little bit quicker and get out on guys and avoid having to just sort of sit in a shooting lane and have to block a shot.”

Miller and Hughes both blocked 56 shots last season, Pettersson 43. Big righty D-man Tyler Myers, a full season PK regular, led the club with 148.

The real work begins September 23rd when the Canucks coaching staff is allowed on the ice for the start of training camp in Whistler.

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