Welcome to the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks player grade series. In this series, we at The Hockey Writers look back at each Canucks player from the past season and break down how their campaign went. This edition will focus on Spencer Martin and Luke Schenn.
With player grades comes an interpretation of what each person saw over the course of the season, with each list consisting of breakdowns of roughly three players. With each, we’ll not only look into their overall stats and analytical numbers, but also their impact on the organization and outlook moving forward with the team.
When it was announced in late January that the Vancouver Canucks would be without both Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak for a period of time, fans were worried. The high-flying Florida Panthers were in town, and the Canucks had to turn to American Hockey League (AHL) journeyman Martin to hold down the fort. He was playing well in the AHL up until this point, but no one foresaw what would come next.
In his first NHL game since the 2016-17 season, Martin stood on his head, holding the Panthers to one goal on 33 shots through 65 minutes of regulation. The Canucks later fell in a shootout, but it was clear he had captured lightning in a bottle. Even though he had only played one game for Vancouver, some fans were already convinced he should be the backup for the rest of the season.
Martin ended up playing six total games for the Canucks during two three-game stints. He went 3-0-3 with a .950 save percentage (SV%) and a goals-against-average (GAA) of 1.74. He also made at least 30 saves in each game he played, with his best performance coming against the Edmonton Oilers, where he stopped 47 of 50 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss.
As for Martin’s advanced stats, well, they are something to behold. He finished the season with 9.0 goals saved above expected in all situations and 5.2 at five on five. His performance was so good, that he also registered a wins above replacement value of 2.0. At the end of the season, the Canucks rewarded him with a two-year, one-way deal to be the backup next season behind Demko.
When discussing Martin, it is also important to mention his time in the AHL with Abbotsford. He finished the season with a 19-4-2 record, a .914 SV% and a 2.43 GAA. Thanks to his strong play, the AHL Canucks were able to secure a playoff spot. Despite being swept in two games during the first round, he once again stood on his head, allowing just five goals on 80 shots and keeping Abbotsford in their games for as long as possible.
Martin was a difference-maker not just at the AHL level but also in the NHL, as he helped Abbotsford have a strong first season and did everything he possibly could to keep Vancouver alive when called up. Hopefully, he can continue his strong work into next season as he is slated to take on a larger role with the organization as the NHL Canucks backup goaltender.
Player Grade: A-
When the Canucks brought Schenn back to the organization, the thought was he would be used as a depth piece in case of injury. He had just won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning and could bring a winning pedigree to an organization with a young core. Instead, he became a fixture beside Quinn Hughes for 66 games while also becoming a fan favourite thanks to his physical presence and personality.
The 2021-22 season was also one of Schenn’s best offensive campaigns of his career. In 66 games, he scored five goals which tied a career-high and recorded 17 points, which was tied for third-best in his career. He also went on the score his first career shorthanded goal. While his individual statistics were strong, the effect he had on Hughes was massive. Having a stay-at-home defenceman who stayed at the line allowed the young defenceman to jump up in the rush more often and not have to worry about coverage at the line. The result was a new franchise record for points in a season by a defenceman for Hughes, and Schenn having one of the best campaigns in his 14-season career.
While he had a good season from an offensive perspective, it was his physical play that stole the stage. He recorded the most hits in a season by a Canuck in franchise history with 273 and tied his own record set back in 2019 for most hits in a single game with 12 versus the Chicago Blackhawks. During the two seasons he was with Tampa Bay, the Canucks were 25th overall in hits. This season, they finished 14th. His physical game made Vancouver a harder team to play against, which is something this franchise has desperately been missing for the past few seasons.
Schenn’s physical game was a welcomed sight, but what made fans adore him was his willingness to stand up for his teammates. During the two-year gap, teams would take runs at Hughes because they knew they could. That changed this season as Schenn became the young defenceman’s bodyguard. Finally, if a player took a run at the star defenceman or anyone on the team, they would have to answer for it. Few players wear their heart on their sleeve like he does, which led to him becoming a fan favourite once again this season.
Overall, Schenn performed above expectations and should be an integral part of the Canucks blue line in 2022-23. While he may not be the most mobile defender, he adds value to an organization that is desperate for NHL quality right-shot defenceman. While he is not a long-term solution for Vancouver as he turns 33 this season, he is still a valuable piece of the organization and one that fans and players can rally around.
Player Grade: A-
One thing is clear, Martin and Schenn were fan favourites last season. Both came in with little to no expectations and blew people away with their overall performances. With both set to return for the 2022-23 campaign, Canucks fans know they have two players that are going to give it their all every time they are on the ice without exception.