The Vancouver Canucks have seen a very healthy amount of injuries this season (pun intended) and they’ve relied heavily on assistance from their Utica Comets — the team has called up a handful of players to fill voids and for the most part, they’ve really made a statement and presented a case for them sticking around for the future.
In the midst of a rebuild, the Canucks are always looking to add more youth and skill to their roster. Luckily for them, their AHL affiliate Comets is riddled with young talent who are very, very eager to seize their opportunity and show why they are NHL-ready.
The Canucks Call-Ups
As previously mentioned, the Canucks have called up a handful of guys but only a select few have been able to show why they should stay.
Reid Boucher has quietly climbed his way up to a position where he’s regarded as one of the top forwards in the AHL — recently though, he’s been playing in the big leagues and doing quite well.
Boucher is coming off of a two-goal game in the smashing of the Dallas Stars on Feb. 11 and was arguably the Canucks best forward in the game. He skated hard, played a sound positional game of hockey and made quick decisions with the puck — his skating has always been on the weaker side at the professional level, but his positioning does save him a fair bit.
The big question, when it comes to Boucher is, can his stellar AHL game translate at an NHL level? He currently has 22 goals and 19 assists in 38 games for the Utica Comets, but that is a much slower pace of hockey. Watching him play his six games with the Canucks this season, his skating has definitely been a step behind and so has his conditioning.
With all of the young talent in the system, Boucher has a tough battle ahead of him when it comes to cracking the Canucks’ lineup — plain and simply, he needs to pepper the score sheet. If he is unable to do so, he just will not make it at the NHL level. That’s the harsh reality. If he stays on track, though, he could be a pretty solid secondary-scoring, third-line asset.
The coming offseason will be a big one when it comes to his future with the Canucks and if I could pass some advice to Boucher, I’d recommend working on his skating, agility and conditioning over the Summer.
Alex Biega has been in the Canucks’ system since 2013, and at 29-years of age, his window of opportunity is shrinking. He’s battled for a roster spot for years and has only played in 121 NHL games but he’s never given up. He’s a terrific skater with great hockey sense but above all else, his work-ethic is a coaches dream.
Everything Biega does on the ice, he does at full speed and with tenacity — something I can’t say about all of the Canucks’ defenders. Biega gets the least amount of ice-time out of the Canucks’ d-men and has played the fewest games, but somehow, he’s fourth on the team in hits (87) and having his career-best season with six points.
Biega battles harder than most players on the ice and you know exactly what you’re getting with a player like him — hard-working, tenacious, simple hockey. He reminds me a lot of the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Ellis, minus the offensive production.
If the cards fall into place, and if one or more Canucks’ defenders are gone come next season, then I could see Biega holding down that all-elusive sixth defenceman position.
Brendan Gaunce, like the previous two entries, has had an uphill battle when it comes to landing a roster spot. However, Gaunce has found a role that he can fill and he’s sticking to it.
“The path that I’m trying to go down is to be trusted defensively, which I think I have established that I am now” – Brendan Gaunce told the Vancouver Courier
Gaunce starts almost all of his shifts in the defensive end — in fact, he starts exactly 85.8% of them there. Despite his little-to-no time in the offensive zone, Gaunce is still having his best offensive season with five points in 34 games. Unfortunately, he was just sidelined with a foot injury so these statistics won’t be climbing for quite some time.
His defensive game is solid, but his offensive game isn’t to be forgotten about — during his time in the OHL, Gaunce was a point-per-game (or better) in all but his rookie season. There is definitely some skill there and I’m sure, as he develops and grows, more and more of that side of his game will begin to surface.
There is no doubt about it, Gaunce is a bottom-six player and he’ll be there for his career. Despite being a first round selection, he just doesn’t have the capabilities to land a top-six position in the NHL. I think he has the potential to push into a third-line spot — he’d really need to start lighting it up if he wants to rise any higher than that with the Canucks.
Following Derek Dorsett’s unfortunate, early retirement, the Canucks have had a big hole in their game — physicality and toughness. Enter Darren Archibald.
— The Vancouver Sun (@VancouverSun) February 9, 2018
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Archibald is not a small customer and he’s no stranger to the physical side of hockey. The big man has been in the Canucks’ system since 2013 and has seen very limited NHL time — only 18 games to be exact. Regardless of his limited opportunities, Archibald has still managed to stay relevant with a good offensive output and a beast-like style of play. At 28, that’s easier said than done.
Much like Gaunce, Archibald knows his role — bang bodies, crash the net and stir the pot. In his two games this season, Archibald has already recorded an assist and even stepped in the ring for a fight in a contest against the Carolina Hurricanes. The shift of the fight (watch here) was exactly what’s being asked of Archibald — he established a hard forecheck, went hard to the net and then won a fight when his squad needed a spark.
He’s a textbook fourth line player and in an era where goons are no longer relevant, Archibald possesses the skills necessary to be desirable in the NHL. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be on the Canucks fourth line for the future.
Matt is a longtime fan, player and student of the game of hockey. Broadcast and Online Journalism student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.