Canucks Missing Toughness Brought By MacEwen & Gadjovich

Teams should not have it easy when they play in your home barn. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday when the Anaheim Ducks cruised to a 7-4 win in front of a full capacity crowd at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks weren’t ready to play and ended up staking the Ducks to a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old. By the time they had found their legs, they were already down 5-0 and starter Thatcher Demko was pulled in favour of Jaroslav Halak.

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At times the Canucks appeared to forget how to play defence, as three of the first five goals were scored on tips with no defenders in the vicinity of the player tipping the puck. In addition to the Ducks seemingly skating the puck into the offensive zone at will, the Canucks also lacked pushback, despite outhitting the Ducks 26-19. All in all, it was an embarrassing performance from a team that should be firing on all cylinders when it comes to work ethic and a never-say-die attitude. With the 2021-22 season getting shorter by the day, they can’t afford to lay an egg like that if they hope to make the playoffs in April.

Unfortunately, the Canucks don’t have the personnel to turn the tide in games that lack emotion. The only player that appeared willing to do so against the Ducks was Vasily Podkolzin. But, by the time he stepped up, it was too late as they were down 7-4 with less than eight minutes left on the clock. They need more pushback from their entire roster, not just from a rookie that’s trying to establish himself in the league. What they need is someone like Jonah Gadjovich and Zack MacEwen, two physically intimidating players they ended up losing for nothing on waivers because they wanted to keep Alex Chiasson on the roster.

MacEwen & Gadjovich Were Underrated Assets

MacEwen and Gadjovich won’t score 20-30 goals a season, but they are integral to a team’s success, especially if that team is in the Pacific Division battling with the likes of the Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames. They are able to turn a game around with a big hit, spirited fight or even just a hard battle along the boards that leads to a scoring chance. As much as the game of hockey is now more about skill and speed, physicality is still a huge part of the equation.

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Exposing both MacEwen and Gadjovich to waivers was a huge mistake on the Canucks’ part. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, MacEwen would have been a massive presence on the fourth line alongside Tyler Motte and Juho Lammikko. He may not have much scoring upside, but he hits everything that moves. Which, as fans have seen with defenceman Luke Schenn, can ignite the team and turn around a game in an instant. In 47 games this season with the Philadelphia Flyers, MacEwen has 101 hits, which is just six behind J.T. Miller, who leads Canucks forwards with 107. The next closest is Jason Dickinson, who has 86. So, clearly, they need more players willing to throw the body around.

Zack MacEwen Philadelphia Flyers
Zack MacEwen, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for Gadjovich, he has 65 hits in 27 games with the San Jose Sharks, which would place him just ahead of Motte who has 61. Even though he has yet to score his first NHL goal, he has also shown the ability to score goals as a net-front presence in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Utica Comets. During the 2020-21 season, he had a career-high 15 goals and 18 points in 19 games. Considering he is only 23 years old and he hasn’t been given an opportunity in an offensive role yet, he might still have some untapped scoring potential. Unfortunately, the Canucks won’t ever get to find out unless they choose to reacquire him at some point.

All in all, the old regime of the Canucks undervalued the skills MacEwen and Gadjovich brought to the table. The traditional enforcer that is just around to fight and keep the opposition in check may not be popular anymore, but hitting and physicality on the forecheck definitely still is. As we saw with the Ducks and Nick Deslauriers, they can make a huge difference in a game. Unless Podkolzin can start consistently bringing that type of presence every single shift, they will continue to get pushed around and in the end, be easy to play against.

Who Can the Canucks Call Upon From Abbotsford?

The Canucks don’t have anyone exactly like MacEwen and Gadjovich in Abbotsford, but they do have some players that could move the needle in the emotion department if given the chance with the big club. Let’s take a look at three of them now.

Phil Di Giuseppe

It’s surprising that Phil Di Giuseppe hasn’t seen any NHL action this season yet. He shone in training camp with his speed and forechecking and appeared to be better than Chiasson, who ended up with a contract and a roster spot over him. He probably would have gotten into a game if not for the dreaded COVID protocol list, but it’s still puzzling why he wasn’t inserted the minute he fulfilled the required days in quarantine.

Phillip di Giuseppe New York Rangers
Phillip di Giuseppe, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Di Giuseppe has all the tools to be an effective forward in the Canucks’ bottom six. In addition to his speed and forechecking, he can also bring a physical game and offensive creativity to the rink as evidenced by the between-the-legs goal he scored against the Ontario Reign in November. His type of game is exactly what they need in their lineup right now.

Will Lockwood

Okay, Will Lockwood isn’t big like MacEwen and Gadjovich, but man, does he play like he is. Everyone remembers the hit he laid on 6-foot-2, 226-pound Luke Schenn in training camp, right? Well, that’s the kind of game he brings even though he’s 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. He also has speed and intense forechecking skills that have been known to catch his opponents off guard. He just knows the exact timing to make a hit, which in the end, makes his lack of size a non-factor.

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Like Di Giuseppe, Lockwood probably deserved to make the Canucks out of training camp in October. He played an intense game throughout the exhibition season and seemed to outplay the likes of Chiasson and Highmore. Usually, that means a roster spot, but with waivers and the salary cap a factor, he was sent down to the AHL.

Lockwood struggled out of the gate but is on fire right now with eight points in his last ten games. As of this writing, he has eight goals and 20 points in 32 games along with a plus-6 in the plus/minus column. With his performance and the skill set he would bring to the Canucks, he deserves a chance to showcase his skills in the NHL with the big club.

Sheldon Dries

Signed as a free agent in the offseason after three seasons in the Colorado Avalanche organization, Sheldon Dries is having a monster campaign in the AHL with 26 goals and 44 points in 36 games so far. His previous career-high was 21 goals and 35 points in 50 games, set during the 2018-19 season with the Colorado Eagles. Known as a gritty forward who isn’t afraid to hit or drop the gloves, his emotion and physicality would be a welcome addition to a Canucks team that just lost Kyle Burroughs to what appears to be a long-term injury.

Canucks Need To Be Harder To Play Against

The Canucks need to find a way to make the game harder on their opponents and as much as we all love speed and skill, toughness is still a huge part of what makes a team successful. Just look at the Calgary Flames who have Milan Lucic doing his thing in the bottom six. The Canucks had that with MacEwen and Gadjovich, but with them providing their services to other teams, someone has to step up and fill their shoes. It can’t just be up to the fourth line of Lammikko, Motte and Highmore all the time.

The bottom line is, the Canucks have to stop being easy to play against. If that’s their identity moving forward, then this team is going nowhere fast.

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