On Oct. 3, 2018, it seemed as if Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin had finally arrived in the NHL. Elias Pettersson drew the attention of two Calgary Flames defencemen and slid the puck over to Goldobin. Calmly, the Russian forward chipped the puck over a flailing Mike Smith and into the net. Vancouver won that game thanks in large part to Goldobin’s pair of points that night. The chemistry looked natural and he seemed primed to be Pettersson’s linemate moving forward.
Hot Start with the Comets
Unfortunately for Goldobin, there was no encore of this performance for the rest of the 2018-19 season. However, there could be a sequel this season as he was called up from the Utica Comets on Nov. 26, replacing the struggling Sven Baertschi.
The time is now for Goldobin. If he does not leave a strong impression during his current stint with Vancouver, this may be the final chapter of his NHL career.
There is reason to be optimistic, however. Goldobin has dominated in the American Hockey League this season, scoring 20 points in 18 games, good enough for eighth in the league. Most recently, he recorded a hat trick on Nov. 23 against the Laval Rocket. It is clear that he requires no further development in the minors.
But the ultimate question remains: does Goldobin’s dominance at the AHL level signify real NHL potential or is he merely a skilled offensive talent whose 200-foot game is inadequate to reach the level of a bona fide top-six NHL forward.
The Moscow native has primarily played with Reid Boucher and Kole Lind on the Comets’ top line, logging first unit power play time, too. During his first game with the Canucks this season on Nov. 27, Goldobin played on multiple lines, but did not stick nearly long enough with any one group to obtain a decent sample size.
While Goldobin was on the ice, the Canucks were outnumbered 10-1 in terms of shot attempts. To his credit, the entire team was outplayed Wednesday night, nearly being doubled in shots on goal. However, Goldobin played under nine minutes and none of the Canucks’ eight goals against occurred during that time.
Head coach Travis Green was frequently juggling his lines mid-game. Goldobin started the game on the wing with Pettersson and J.T. Miller. However, before the first period concluded, Jake Virtanen had replaced him to join Brock Boeser and Pettersson on the first line. Virtanen cashed in immediately while playing with two of three members of the Lotto Line, scoring a beautiful tuck later in the second period.
Goldobin would see limited time for the rest of the game on the second and fourth lines. In the third period, he had only one shift as he watched the Canucks allow five unanswered goals from the bench. Due to all of the lines changing and limited ice time, it is hard to predict who he will be playing with for the remainder of his stint in Vancouver.
Potentially Playing with Pettersson
Pettersson and Goldobin have clicked while playing together for the big club. In 54 games played together at full strength last season, the duo converted 20 goals while only allowing nine against.
Over 51 percent of total shots attempted while they were on the ice together were in the Canucks’ favour. In addition, Pettersson generated over five percent more high-danger scoring chances with Goldobin compared to without him, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Based on this production, it is plausible that Goldobin will play wing on the first line beside Pettersson and Boeser. Especially since coach Green has made a concerted effort to spread the offence to his supporting lines by moving Miller to the second line with Bo Horvat.
Third Line Possibility
Time on the third line is also likely as it is the most sheltered in terms of defensive zone starts. Adam Gaudette and Tanner Pearson have the lowest percentages of defensive zone starts on the team. Therefore, it would make sense for Goldobin to join them as he does not possess Green’s trust in his own zone.
Burying Goldobin on the fourth line and playing less than nine minutes per game would be a waste of a call-up. He strives when playing with other skilled players in roles where he can produce offence.
Last season, Goldobin only started 36 percent of shifts in the defensive end and gave up more expected goals than scored. In the one NHL game played this season, none of his zone starts came in the defensive end. It was not uncommon to see him caught out of position in his own end. His 33 giveaways last season, trailed only Pettersson, Horvat and Boeser on the team, while all of those players played significantly more than Goldobin.
If he wants to win Green’s trust, it must be through improvement in the defensive end. Goldobin is still only 24 years old and sometimes defensive improvement simply comes from getting stronger with age. At $900,000 in salary, it is a small risk for the Canucks to take with the potential for high reward.
Vancouver is very close to the salary cap limit. A majority of that comes from overpaying bottom-six forwards. Soon enough, Thatcher Demko, Quinn Hughes and Pettersson will all be signed to lucrative deals. Goldobin could be a cheap option for their supporting cast if he can prove he belongs.