Canucks’ Goldobin: Is 2019-20 His Last Chance?

Over the past three seasons, Nikolay Goldobin has had plenty of chances to establish himself as a quality player for the Vancouver Canucks but so far it hasn’t happened. He had a great opportunity when he started last season on Calder Trophy-winner Elias Pettersson’s wing. In fact, the trio of Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Goldobin looked good, and the young Russian’s creative playmaking fit well with Pettersson’s style.

Elias Pettersson, Carey Price,
Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson moves in on Montreal Canadiens Carey Price (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Pettersson noted as much when he assessed the line’s play: “We’re pretty good offensive guys. We think hockey the same, all three of us.” He was right. During the first 35 games of the 2018-19 season, Goldobin and Pettersson played together for 30 games. During that span, Pettersson scored 17 goals and 18 assists.

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Despite the positive impact Goldobin had on Pettersson, he wasn’t putting up points himself. Given that he’s considered weak on the defensive side, when an offensive player can’t score, that’s often the kiss of death.

Goldobin Has a Harder Road this Season

The Vancouver Courier’s Daniel Wagner’s Sept. 5 article cited head coach Travis Green at the end of last season: “Not every young player is going to become a full-time NHLer. The onus is on us to continue to work with him (Goldobin) and develop him, then the onus is going to go back to the player. I’d like to see Goldy make some changes this summer in how he trains and what he does over the summer to make himself come in a better hockey player.”

Goldobin has worked hard to prepare for this season, but will that work be enough? It’s unlikely the young forward will have the same golden opportunities this season that he had last season. This season’s offensive core is much stronger, with the addition of four new forwards since the start of last season.

Nikolay Goldobin Vancouver Canucks
Nikolay Goldobin, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo were added during the 2018-19 season, and J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland arrived during the offseason. None of them might be as naturally gifted offensively, but all four have a history of
blue-collar work in front of the net that Goldobin has not shown at this point in his career.

If Miller, Ferland, Pearson, and Leivo remain healthy, it might be tough for Goldobin to find ice time. Fortunately, his $900,000 salary by NHL standards is a bargain, so he might get more leeway.

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Goldobin must learn how to play without the puck. His struggles to score are one issue, but his defense is the bigger problem. Whether the Canucks wait for him to improve on this, especially after the trades for Leivo, Pearson, Miller, and Ferland, is a question the coaching staff will have to discuss during the season, if not before.

Is this Season Goldobin’s Last Chance?

I remember when the Canucks traded for Goldobin, his first game was on March 4, 2017, on Hockey Night in Canada. I was immediately impressed with his speed, on-ice vision, and puck-handling skills. Furthermore, his game-winning (a break away) goal in a 4–3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings was memorable.

Sadly, Goldobin’s Canucks career, which started so successfully, has ebbed since that first goal. In 2018-19, his first full season with the organization, he split time between the Canucks (38 games) and their AHL affiliate the Utica Comets (30 games). In 38 NHL games, Goldobin only had eight goals and six assists. That’s hardly enough for a player whose role is to be offensive. Still, at season’s end, he teased fans by scoring seven points in the last 11 games, playing with Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ top line.

Nikolay Goldobin Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks Right Wing Nikolay Goldobin. (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports)

Last season, he played 63 games and scored seven goals and 20 assists, good for seventh place on the team. He is contributing, however, there’s no doubt that Goldobin needs to round out his game. If he can’t, I fear his time with the team might be short-lived.

I’m not alone in believing there’s space for Goldobin on the Canucks roster. In a supportive article on CanucksArmy, “The Final Plea for Nikolay Goldobin to be on the First Line,” Chris Faber made a strong analytics case in support of Goldobin’s value to Pettersson’s play.

Fans Have Become Frustrated

Most fans I talk to don’t share my support for Goldobin. They’re frustrated he hasn’t pulled his game together and that he’s failed to play a 200-foot game. The Canucks have been teaching it, but the lessons seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Some argue he floats, only looking for offensive chances.

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Unless his defense improves, his playing time will decrease. Like last season, I’m convinced Green will give him some top-six and power-play time. If Goldobin can be successful early on the power play, perhaps he’ll earn more playing time. If that doesn’t happen, I’m sure Green will show him the same tough love as last season when he was a healthy scratch.

Dallas Stars' Jason Dickinson and Vancouver Canucks' Nikolay Goldobin
Dallas Stars’ Jason Dickinson and Vancouver Canucks’ Nikolay Goldobin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms)

Green’s laid out the message clearly: Improve your play along the boards; forecheck harder; and, become better defensively away from the puck.

I’ll Understand If He’s Traded

I’m interested in the young Russian’s potential. He’s skilled with the puck, has great vision, is speedy, and he’s fun to watch. I once had a head coach tell me that any player who can skate and works hard can play good defense. It’s as much will as skill. Let’s hope Goldobin exhibits the will to learn to play without the puck.

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His offensive potential is irresistible. However, I’m sure that, should Goldobin fail to have an impact this season, another team will take a chance on him. I’m rooting for him to stay, but I’ll understand if he’s traded away.