Canucks Gamble On Nils Åman Is Paying Off

One of the positive surprises this season has been the play of rookie Nils Åman. A player who was not expected to make the Vancouver Canucks out of training camp, he has been a fixture in the team’s bottom six over their first 17 games of the 2022-23 season. He is reliable in his own end and has shown he has some offensive skill with four points so far.

Åman’s Journey to Canucks Regular

Originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche 167th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Åman was left unsigned, which made him available to the Canucks this offseason. He spent the last few seasons with Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and was part of Sweden’s World Championship Team in 2022. Despite not being a point producer since his days in the J20 Swedish league, Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin liked what he saw and made him the second free agent signing by the organization since his arrival.

Nils Aman Vancouver Canucks
Nils Aman, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After strong showings at the Young Stars tournament and throughout the preseason, Åman earned his place on the roster. Regarded as a two-way player, he was able to impress Canucks management by showing off his strong defensive play and ability to make smart plays while not turning the puck over. This made him a perfect fit for Vancouver’s bottom six, which he has been a mainstay in since.

Åman’s Early Season Numbers

For a player who mostly plays a fourth-line role, Åman has had a very strong start to the season. He has been on the ice for more goals scored than goals given up at even strength (4-3) and has created more turnovers than given the puck away (3-1). As for blocked shots, he sits sixth on the team at even strength with 13 and has shown some physicality with 10 hits. The most surprising statistic, however, is that he has been credited with six individual high-danger chances created, which is tied for ninth with J.T. Miller, Connor Garland, Tanner Pearson, and Curtis Lazar. As far as his counting stats at even strength, he has been one of the most consistent forwards on this team, considering what his role is.

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Åman has also had some success on the penalty kill early in his NHL career. In just over 18 minutes of ice time, he has helped hold the opposition to four goals allowed on 14 shots with a 1.79 expected goals allowed. He has also blocked three shots and limited the opposition to eight high-danger chances. This Canucks penalty kill has been historically bad this season, but the young Swede’s work so far while shorthanded has been a bright spot for Vancouver.

The one area where Åman needs to improve is faceoffs. Really, anyone not named Bo Horvat needs to improve their faceoffs skills, but for the 22-year-old, this has been a major problem. So far, he has taken 128 faceoffs and won only 48 or 37.5%. While he is ok in the neutral zone with a 44.3% win percentage, he has a 27.5% win percentage on 40 defensive zone faceoffs. Winning faceoffs in the NHL is a skill that sometimes takes more time to develop, but this is a seriously concerning area of his game that needs to be improved if he wants to have success as a centerman at this level.

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Åman doesn’t get many offensive opportunities as most of his time is spent in the defensive zone, but one thing to watch as the season continues is if he can generate offence consistently. While he does have 11 even-strength shots on goal so far this season, four came in one game. On the Canucks recent road trip, the only game he managed a shot on goal in any situation was their win against the Buffalo Sabres. This will be one trend to watch as Vancouver gets deeper into its schedule and he gets more used to playing on the North American ice surface.

Canucks Gamble Pays Off

The Åman signing is the perfect example of what the Canucks should be doing. Bringing him over to North America was a gamble, but in the end, it paid off. He is young and, most importantly, makes less than $1 million. While it is still early, it is safe to say that signing the young Swede was one of Vancouver’s best off-season moves.

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