Whether you’re a fan of the lone Russian-born player on the Vancouver Canucks, Nikolay Goldobin, or think his days on an NHL first line are no more, the debate will soon be over. He has been a hot topic of discussion amongst almost every Canucks fan on Twitter at some point or other. He’s one of those players that fans seem to either love or hate. Signed as a restricted free agent to a one-year deal on Wednesday, it’s time for him to prove whether or not he belongs in the NHL.
The man known simply as “Goldy” by his teammates and coaches alike took a lot of criticism last season due to his lack of defensive abilities. As Chris Faber of Canucks Army pointed out in his final plea for Goldobin to be on the first line, the 23-year-old Russian found offensive success and chemistry with 2019 Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson early on in the season. The numbers Faber uses show that not only does Goldobin play better when he’s on Pettersson’s line, which is a bit of a no brainer, but he actually makes Pettersson better, too.
Not Good Enough Defensively
It wasn’t Goldobin’s lack of offence that got him demoted from the first line, it was his lack of effort on the defensive side of the game. Travis Green repeatedly called out Goldobin’s defensive deficiencies at various times last season. These sentiments Green held were echoed from the last Canucks’ bench boss to healthy scratch him, Willie Desjardins. Back in 2017, Desjardins scratched Goldobin and said the following:
“I think he needs to prove he’s going to go hard at this level. He’s got to go hard. It’s a two-way street. I’m not sending a huge message. He’s a skilled player. You have to get your skill working hard and I don’t think he worked hard quite enough last game. ”-Willie Desjardins, 2017
That sounds very similar to the things coach Green was saying about Goldobin all season long. After numerous benchings, he appeared as though he finally got the message when he returned to the lineup. He was noticeably working much harder on defence, but still occasionally found himself out of position. Then the second string of benchings came.
This time, Goldobin was called out by Green for not contributing enough offensively. Green said the following when explaining his thinking behind sending him back up to the press box:
Goldy has got to bring something to the table. I think he has two goals and two assists in 23 games. Those aren’t numbers that are really going to keep a guy in the league. We know that he’s not going to be a guy that’s heavy and hard and physical, and I know that I’m alright with that. But at the end of the day, you take the month of November away and he hasn’t done a whole lot. So somebody else gets an opportunity and that’s the way this league is.-Travis Green, 2019
You can’t really argue with Green much on this one. Players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are rarely if ever defensive liabilities for the Canucks when they don’t have the puck. Pettersson, in particular, is one of the Canucks’ hardest back checkers despite his superior offensive abilities. Goldobin needs to find a good balance between his offensive game and his defensive game. Really, that’s where the story currently leaves off. Green and Goldobin both talked about how good their communication with one another had been and how it was clear what Goldobin had to do in order to be successful.
The Final Verdict
If you follow Goldobin on Instagram, you likely saw at least one or two workout videos from him, either in the weight room or on ice. He went into this offseason knowing exactly what he needs to do in order to regain the trust of his coach. The last time he was in Vancouver, he was reiterating how much he loved the city and how ready he was to go back to Russia and prove his doubters wrong this season.
We’ll soon find out if all that training and the benchings last season paid off, and the Goldobin debates will finally be over. It won’t be easy, but if he truly brings his A-game to training camp, he could surprise many people, maybe even his own head coach.