Welcome to the Vancouver Canucks 2022-23 report card series. In this series, we at The Hockey Writers look back at each Canucks player from the past season, break down how their campaign went and assign a letter grade reflective of their overall performance. This edition will focus on center Nils Åman.
Åman Burst On The Scene
When the Canucks signed Åman before the season started, it was seen as a depth move that would help the Abbotsford Canucks. Instead, it became one of Vancouver’s best signings this offseason, as the rookie played 68 games and established himself as a reliable, fourth-line center. The question moving forward is whether or not his ceiling is as a fourth-line center or if he can develop to the point where Vancouver can play him consistently in their middle six.
When breaking down Åman’s season, there is plenty to like. He finished the campaign with 16 points, which included two shorthanded assists, and looked very comfortable playing under Rick Tocchet late in the season. He also threw 44 hits, blocked 41 shots and had more takeaways than giveaways. The only glaring issue is that he took 474 faceoffs and only won 38.2 percent of them. If he wants to remain a center or even be elevated up the lineup, he needs to work on his faceoff skills so he isn’t a liability on defensive zone draws.
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One area where Åman was very impressive was on the penalty kill. In total, he played 82:26 shorthanded, finishing the season with a 6.55 power-play goals against per 60. Compared to rookie forwards from across the league, he played the fourth-most ice time while shorthanded, while his two shorthanded points were tied with Noah Cates and Mason Shaw for the rookie lead. He also was one of the players that proved he could play in Tocchet’s system as during the 33 games he played under the new head coach, he played 49:44 of ice time while recording a power-play goals against per 60 of just 4.83. This is an encouraging sign going into next season, as the Canucks can not have another season like the last one while on the penalty kill if their plan is to make the postseason.
Åman’s Mid-Season AHL Assignment
In the middle of the season, when everything seemed to be going wrong for the Canucks, Vancouver decided it would be best to send a few players, including Åman, down to the American Hockey League (AHL) so they could develop in a less pressured environment. He was sent down to Abbotsford on Dec. 30, 2022, and took full advantage of the opportunity posting nine points in 17 games. This was really encouraging to see that he put in the time and effort to work on his development, as it showed just how committed he was to becoming a stronger and more complete player. The Canucks staff also noticed this and called him back up on Feb. 4, 2023, keeping him in the NHL for the rest of the season.
It was clear that the AHL assignment helped Åman, as when he returned, he was a better player. He recorded 11 of his 16 points over the final 33 games, was stronger in the faceoff dot and, as mentioned, and saw improvements on the penalty kill. One thing is clear; this is a player that loves to compete and is willing to put the time in to become a better player. With a designated plan this offseason where he knows he will be on the main roster to start the 2023-24 campaign, the hope is he can keep improving during the summer and come to training camp in the same form he was in to end the season.
All things considered, Åman had a strong year when breaking down his analytics. His percentages are going to be low because he plays on a fourth line that doesn’t produce offensive chances, but in comparison to others, his per 60 rates in the defensive zone are impressive. For example, he posted a 2.69 expected goals against per 60 at even strength. Compared to the rest of the Canucks roster, that was the fifth-lowest of players who played at least 60 games. While he wasn’t going up against the opposition’s top players on a consistent basis, it is encouraging to see that the team was strong defensively when he was on the ice.
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One other point to note is that while on the ice, Åman had decent goaltending, as Vancouver’s goaltenders posted a 91.33 percent save percentage during that time. There are a couple of reasons why, including the level of competition faced, but it also had to do with his overall strong defensive play. Overall, the analytics are encouraging, considering his time on ice and the position he plays, as they show that he is a solid fourth-liner that can be an everyday player in the NHL.
Final Grade for Nils Åman: B
All things considered, Åman’s first season in the NHL was a success. Yes, there are areas that need improvement, but it is hard to argue that he did not give the Canucks surplus value this season. He is an intriguing player that, with a good offseason, could get more opportunities next season.