While the Vancouver Canucks remain under .500 after their most recent 5-1 setback against the Washington Capitals, they righted the ship a bit in November compiling a 7-6-1 record after going 2-7 in October. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as they still have issues with holding multi-goal leads, playing consistently for a full 60 minutes, and of course, killing penalties.
But enough of the negative talk and dark clouds. Let’s talk about some positives, specifically the players that have showcased MVP-like qualities offensively (and in some cases defensively) so far this season. Surprisingly, there have been quite a few of them.
Canucks Don’t Have a Superstar? Pettersson Would Like a Word
When Patrik Allvin became general manager last season, he stated that the Canucks did not have a player worthy of the superstar label (from ‘Canucks: GM Patrik Allvin is a believer in open minds and hard work’, The Province, 4/3/22). Well, it appears Elias Pettersson took that personally because ever since then he’s been off-the-charts incredible – both offensively and defensively. In fact, he’s probably been their most consistent two-way threat – good enough to be ranked second in THW’s 2022-23 Selke Trophy Tracker behind someone named Patrice Bergeron, who has five of those to his name. If you want some stats to back that up, he has 21 goals and 46 points in 36 games since Allvin made that statement. He also has 19 even-strength goals, which is second only to Jason Robertson’s 21 in that same time period.
Whether it is killing penalties (1:51 average time on ice – ATOI), playing on the power play (3:48 ATOI), or matching up against the opposition’s top lines, Pettersson has been everything and more for the Canucks so far this season. Teaming up with newcomers Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko on what has become Bruce Boudreau’s “matchup line”, he is starting to resemble the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who were both offensively-gifted two-way dynamos in their prime. That’s high praise, considering Datsyuk won three Selke Trophies and Zetterberg received votes in 10 of his 15 seasons in the NHL.
All in all, I think Pettersson has proven to Allvin that he is worthy of the superstar label. What’s even more exciting is that he’s only 24 years old and has yet to hit his athletic prime.
Horvat On Pace For a Historic Season
Bo Horvat is on pace to score 61 goals after recording 17 in his first 23 games this season. If he were to hit that, he would shatter the all-time single-season record of 60 that Pavel Bure accomplished in 1992-93 and 1993-94. While he’s not known for his goalscoring, he should probably be getting more credit for that part of his game considering he’s now on the cusp of recording the sixth 20-goal season of his career. In fact, he has yet to have a campaign without at least 10 goals. I don’t about you, but I would say that’s enough of a resume to call him a goalscorer.
Latest News & Highlights
No matter what you call him, Horvat’s 2022-23 season so far has been nothing short of amazing. Currently two back of Robertson in the Rocket Richard Trophy race, he’s brushing shoulders with some of the league’s most elite snipers like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and David Pastrnak. In fact, he’s five ahead of Auston Matthews, who scored 60 last season. While Horvat probably won’t hit that particular summit this season, he probably will score at least 40, something that hasn’t been seen in Vancouver since Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin did it back in 2010-11.
Schenn Aging Like a Fine Wine
Moving from offence to defence, let’s talk about Luke Schenn, shall we? The former fifth-overall pick from 2008 is aging like a fine wine in his 15th season and the Canucks are reaping the benefits. Currently second in the NHL when it comes to hits with 97, the 33-year-old Saskatoon native has been the Canucks’ best defenceman – yes, even better than Quinn Hughes – this season. Leading the team in hits (97), blocked shots (34), and plus/minus (plus-10), there could be an argument made that he has been playing the best hockey of his career over the past two seasons.
Schenn, who is predominantly known as a defensive defenceman, has also been contributing to the offence quite a bit since returning to Vancouver in 2021. After scoring five goals last season (which was his best total since 2010-11), he already has two goals this season, surprisingly ahead of the Canucks’ two best offensive options in Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson who have zero and one respectively. He also regularly sticks up for his teammates with his physical play and although he doesn’t have an “A” on his sweater, he bleeds leadership and could conceivably be captain of this team if Horvat wasn’t already wearing the “C”. Quite the package for only $850,000.
Kuzmenko Has Exceeded Expectations
When Andrei Kuzmenko signed with the Canucks in the offseason, no one really knew what was going to happen in his rookie season. Was he going to light the NHL on fire like Artemi Panarin, or be a disappointment like Vadim Shipachyov? Well, so far, Canucks fans have been treated to more Panarin than Shipachyov. With 11 goals and 21 points in 22 games, he’s on pace for 41 goals and 78 points, which would be 11 goals and one point more than Panarin put up in his rookie year back in 2015-16 with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Along with his exploits on the scoresheet, Kuzmenko has endeared himself to Canucks Nation with his fun-loving personality and celebrations not seen since Adam Gaudette. He also has developed insane chemistry with Pettersson and fellow newcomer Mikheyev, a trio that has been together since the latter returned from injury. Famous in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for his playmaking, deft touch around the net, lethal shot, and ability to play with skilled linemates, he’s showcased that entire package in the NHL so far. Some might say he’s even made Pettersson a better player, who was pretty good to begin with.
All in all, Kuzmenko has exceeded expectations and could be the Canucks’ first 30-goal Russian forward since Bure and Mogilny. In my preseason predictions, I was conservative and put him at 23 goals and 50 points. That might still come to pass, but seeing his chemistry with Pettersson and overall confidence in the NHL growing by the day, I wouldn’t put the 30-goal, 70-point plateau past him either.
Martin Becoming a Legitimate 1B Goaltender in the NHL
Spencer Martin has been quite the story since debuting with the Canucks on Jan. 21, 2021, against the Florida Panthers. In that game, he only allowed one goal on 34 shots and lost 2-1 in a shootout. The next five starts were more of the same as he surrendered three goals only once and finished the season with a 3-0-3 record alongside a sparkling 1.74 goals-against average (GAA) and .950 save percentage (SV%).
Given the opportunity after injuries and COVID protocol took out Jaroslav Halak and Thatcher Demko, Martin ran with it and parlayed his strong performance into a two-year contract and the backup job for 2022-23. Starting the season with another three wins and an overtime loss, he is now the only goaltender in franchise history to earn at least a point in each of his 10 starts with the team. Previously held by Curt Ridley who had points in eight straight starts in 1975-76, Martin broke it when he made 26 saves in an 8-5 win over the Anaheim Ducks to run his record with the Canucks to 6-0-3.
Unfortunately, after running the streak to 10 games against the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs burst Martin’s bubble when they squeaked out a 3-2 regulation win on Nov. 12. Now 6-2-1 in nine appearances this season, he’s already eclipsed his career high for starts set in 2021-22, and while his numbers on paper don’t scream elite, he’s been good enough to get his team six of their nine wins. That’s significant since Demko only has three of those victories and worse stats overall.
Basically, if not for Martin, the Canucks would likely be flirting with the likes of the Anaheim Ducks at the bottom of the standings rather than two points out of the last wild card spot. That’s pretty good for a guy that many thought would just be a third- or fourth-string stop-gap in the American Hockey League (AHL) when he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for future considerations in July 2021.
Will All These MVP Performances Be Wasted?
Despite all these MVP performances, the Canucks still sit with a mediocre 9-11-3 record just past the first benchmark of the regular season. The quarter pole usually is a good indicator of what the rest of the season will bring, so unless they can quickly fix their glaring issues of team defence, bad penalty killing, and holding leads, the chances of making the playoffs are slim. Having said that, the Pacific Division isn’t the toughest out there, considering they are only seven points back of the Los Angeles Kings who hold down the third spot. With a full slate of home games in the month of December, it’s now or never to make sure these individual performances aren’t wasted on yet another year outside of the postseason.
Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.