Since losing back-to-back games to the St. Louis Blues at the end of March, the Vancouver Canucks have yet to lose a game in regulation and carry a four-game winning streak into their match against the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, a team they beat 5-1 just a week ago. With only eight games remaining on their schedule and a possible 16 points up for grabs, they sit six points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference held by the Dallas Stars and surprisingly, six points out of the Pacific Division’s third spot held by the Los Angeles Kings who have played two more games than them. If the Canucks win their two games in hand, they will be only two points back with six games remaining.
Basically, something that seemed impossible at the end of March is now a very distinct possibility of happening in April. So, what changed? Well, it has been a combo platter of the Kings losing seven of their last nine games and the Canucks winning on the back of a complete team effort from their goaltender all the way out to their stars and supporting cast.
Pettersson Returning to Superstar Form from 2018-19 Season
It seems like a lifetime ago that we were talking about Elias Pettersson struggling to find his game. Well, he’s found it and then some since the calendar flipped to 2022 as he’s put up points at a ridiculous rate of 42 in his last 39 games. What many people thought was going to be a career-worst season may end up being his best as he’s only three goals and eight points away from shattering his career-high of 28 goals and 66 points set in his rookie season (2018-19).
In the last 10 games alone, Pettersson has eight goals and 16 points, so it’s not really out of the question that he could break that mark and maybe even hit 30 goals and 70 points before the season is done on April 29. What’s crazy is that if he had started the 2021-22 season on this type of tear, he would have been at a 120-point pace.
The entire Pettersson arsenal has been on display over the last few months from his lethal one-timer, wrist shot and playmaking abilities to his otherworldly hockey IQ and two-way game. He has seemingly done it all for the Canucks as he not only plays on the power play but also kills penalties, something he has proven to be very efficient at because of that aforementioned hockey IQ. Apart from J.T. Miller, who has been amazing in his own right this season, Pettersson has arguably entered the conversation as the team’s MVP, at least for the second half of the campaign, anyway.
All in all, general manager Patrik Allvin might have to reconsider his comments about the Canucks not having a superstar on their roster after the show Pettersson has put on lately (from ‘Canucks: GM Patrik Allvin is a believer in open minds and hard work’, The Province, 4/3/22).
Hughes Hits Career High In Style
Quinn Hughes entered the game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday (April 12) with 53 points, which ties the career-high he put up during his first full season in the NHL back in 2019-20. By the end of the night, he had a new one of 55 points after brilliantly and patiently putting the puck behind Robin Lehner for the game-winner in overtime to move closer to that elusive playoff spot.
With those two points, the Doug Lidster watch continues as Hughes is now nine points away from shattering the mark set by him during the 1986-87 season. If he doesn’t do that by the end of the season, he will most certainly break 60 points and pass Dennis Kearns, who put that total up in 1976-77. Regardless, he is having a banner season worthy of some Norris Trophy votes.
Chiasson Providing Valuable Production in the Top Six Without Boeser
Another player stepping up in the midst of this improbable playoff push is veteran 31-year-old Alex Chiasson. After winning a contract following a solid training camp with the Canucks, he slowly, but surely produced points in the bottom six and on the power play accumulating seven goals and 12 points in 56 games before the beginning of April. Overall, good, but not spectacular production. Basically, he was a utility forward and power-play specialist who was in and out of the lineup on a consistent basis.
Fast forward to the middle of the month and Chiasson is playing regularly in the top six in place of the injured Brock Boeser and has even developed a little bit of chemistry with one Elias Pettersson. So much so, that he has three goals and seven points in his last five games, which is just five points away from the total he put up in 56 games prior to that. Talk about a huge turnaround.
It’s not like Chiasson hasn’t played with superstars in the past, as he spent a lot of time with Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl during his career season back in 2018-19 with the Edmonton Oilers. So, he knows how to get open and get ready for any opportunity that comes his way when players of that calibre are on the ice. Now, Pettersson isn’t McDavid or Draisaitl, but he’s still a superstar in his own right, and Chiasson has started to show everyone why he was so effective with them when he was a regular component of their line a few seasons ago.
The Canucks need everyone to be stepping up right now and someone who is only on a one-year, $750,000 contract is exactly the type of player that flies under the radar and ends up being a key piece to a Stanley Cup run. We will just have to see if he gets the chance to be that for the Canucks in a few weeks.
Podkolzin Close to Activating Beast Mode
Another bottom-six (or top-six now?) player that has been stepping up of late is 20-year-old Vasily Podkolzin. The man Craig Button called a “bulldog” in his draft rankings before the 2019 Draft has been living up to that moniker recently. While the points haven’t always been there for him, he has displayed a relentless forecheck and has not been afraid to mix things up in front of the net or after the whistle. He has also had some great forays into the offensive zone where he has skillfully driven to the net only to have the puck knocked off his stick, the goalie make a great save or his shot go wide.
Since the beginning of April, according to Natural Stat Trick, Podkolzin has generated 11 scoring chances, with six of them being of the high-danger variety. So it’s not like he has not been getting his chances. It’s just that luck hasn’t been on his side. That being said, he does have a goal and three points in his last five games. Maybe the tide is starting to turn for the young man.
All I know is that if he keeps playing in the top-six with skill like Miller, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland and the like, we might see him activate the Beast Mode everyone saw when he dominated the KHL Playoffs in 2021 with 11 points in 16 games. Now wouldn’t that be a lovely sight in the upcoming NHL Playoffs, right?
Horvat Has Already Activated Beast Mode
Speaking of Beast Mode, captain Bo Horvat has already activated it with the career-defining season he’s had so far. With all the focus on Miller’s insane campaign and Pettersson’s rejuvenation, he has somewhat quietly put together an MVP-like/Selke Trophy season himself. Leading all Canucks in goals with a career-high 31 and fourth behind Hughes, Pettersson and Miller with 52 points (nine off his career-high in 2018-19), he has led his team to the cusp of the playoffs.
Amidst unwarranted criticism from fans and the media about his leadership throughout the season, he has done everything and more for the Canucks. Consistently put out there in key defensive situations and playing the role of matchup center along with both power-play and penalty-killing time, the “C” is more deserving of being on his chest than in any other season so far. Now with his first 30-goal season and fifth 20-plus goal campaign under his belt, he’s ready to continue being the beast he unleashed during the 2020 Playoffs when he scored 10 goals en route to a second-round appearance against the Golden Knights.
Like Pettersson, Horvat has been on fire since the calendar turned to 2022. With 20 goals and 32 points in 36 games, he has scored more than half his goals in only three and a half months. He is also a plus-5 and has nine power-play goals, one shorthanded goal and three game-winners. All while averaging 19:11 of ice time a night and winning 57.5 percent of the 690 faceoffs he’s taken in the process. Overall, he has taken 1,469 draws on the season, which is behind only Draisaitl in the entire NHL. Finally, he ranks seventh with a 57.1 faceoff percentage amongst players who have taken 1,000 draws or more.
Impressive doesn’t even begin to describe it. If you want even more proof, just look at the stat line he had against the Coyotes on April 7: two goals, three points and an amazing 17-0 on faceoffs. Since the 1997-98 season, only Dave Scatchard and Curtis Brown have won more at 19-0. Beast Mode, indeed.
Canucks Will Need This to Continue All the Way to April 29 Against the Oilers
The Canucks have had a stellar April, there’s no doubt about that. Though it will mean nothing if they don’t continue accumulating points. Unfortunately, even if they do, there’s no guarantee they will make the playoffs. With games against the Stars on Monday (April 18), the Kings on April 28 and the Oilers on April 29, their stars and supporting cast will have to keep their production up all the way from now to the final second of the game against the Oilers on the 29th. It will continue to be tough without Boeser, Tanner Pearson, and Nils Hoglander, but if Chiasson and Podkolzin can keep up with the star power of Horvat, Pettersson, Hughes and Miller; and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Brad Richardson and Jason Dickinson can elevate their games as well, the Canucks might just be playing hockey in May after all.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.