With Brandon Sutter on the injury reserve list, the Vancouver Canucks have needed other players to step up in his absence. This has become an annual occurrence as he has missed time with injury almost every season.
It’s unfortunate because Sutter was having somewhat of a career renaissance to start the season. He was a key part of the penalty killing unit and more importantly was putting up points. Now the Canucks will be without him for the foreseeable future. So with that said, let’s take a look at three players who have stepped in and attempted to fill his skates.
Adam Gaudette is the obvious choice to step in for Sutter. He hasn’t had much experience on the penalty kill yet and he struggles in the face-off dot, but he can still anchor a solid third line.
He is also on fire offensively right now. In the 11 games played this season he has eight points. With Sutter out of the lineup, head coach Travis Green will be forced to give him more minutes and play him in more situations.
In the most recent game against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Gaudette stepped up in a big way centering the second power play unit and the third line with Josh Leivo and Sven Baertschi. He scored two goals and was dangerous almost every shift.
For Gaudette, the time is now to convince the coaching staff that he belongs in the National Hockey League as a permanent fixture. There should be no more shuttling between the parent club and the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets. He has the tools to succeed, it’s time for the Canucks to let him loose.
Here we go again, Bo Horvat is a penalty killer. To start the season, he was rarely deployed in defensive situations, which included situations when the Canucks were down a man. Now that Sutter and Jay Beagle are part of the walking wounded again, he has been forced to take on their roles. Last season he did a tremendous job playing the role of two players. But for him to be at his best, he cannot be overworked and expected to take every face-off known to man.
This season he has the luxury of J.T. Miller to take a little of the workload when it comes to face-offs. But judging by the past couple of games, Green has still deferred to Horvat when it comes to matters of the faceoff dot. Over the past two games, he has taken a total of 59 face-offs. The nearest centerman to that number is the aforementioned Miller with 22, and he doesn’t normally play that position.
Horvat is not only taking an insane amount of face-offs, but he is also winning most of them too. At one point against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, he had won 23 of 26 draws in the game. Overall, his success rate over the past two games has been 66 percent. With those types of numbers, he’s in Patrice Bergeron territory.
Clearly, the tutelage of assistant coach Manny Malhotra is paying off right now. If he keeps it up, he will finish the season with a career high in face-off success rate. Currently, he is batting 59 percent in that category.
Horvat may be struggling offensively right now with only one goal in 11 games, but he is definitely stepping up with two key face-off men out of the lineup. He is also playing the minutes of a top defenceman as well, eclipsing the 25-minute mark twice over the past three games. He has seen time on both special teams and is in the role of match-up centerman as well. Right now he should be nicknamed Captain America because he is doing everything for this team right now.
Miller has been a revelation for the Canucks since coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason. Currently tied with Brock Boeser for third in team scoring, he has been more than worth the first-round pick surrendered in the trade. He has played primarily on a line with the aforementioned Boeser and Pettersson, but in recent games, Green has used him to spark other lines.
With Sutter and Beagle injured, Miller is being used as a penalty killer as well to go along with his usual duties on the power play. This has translated to a bit of a dip in point production (three points in five games), but he still has looked excellent on every line he has been placed on. He is also a swiss army knife, able to play wing or center where needed.
Just like Horvat, Miller has played a tonne over the past couple of games averaging over 23 minutes of ice time. 19-20 minutes is the sweet spot, but with the injuries, he is needed to fill a void at center ice and on the penalty kill. One thing is clear, he has been key to the Canucks’ success so far this season. He is flirting with MVP status, and that was not what people expected when he arrived in Vancouver.
Canucks Going Forward
If the Canucks hope to successfully navigate through November with all the injuries, these three players will have to continue what they are doing right now. For Horvat, his conditioning will be put to the test, as I don’t see Green pulling back from playing him 24-plus minutes a night. He will also be leaned upon heavily on the upcoming six-game road trip. He will be hard-pressed to keep up with the pace if Sutter and Beagle are gone much longer.
For Miller, the extra time on the penalty kill will also test his resolve and his ability to put up points. He probably will see less time with Pettersson as well, although he was reunited with him on Saturday. Bottom line, his versatility could keep him away from the favorable offensive situations. Sutter and Beagle better return soon, because their absence is throwing a huge wrench into the top-six.
Gaudette I believe is the one that will benefit the most with Sutter out. He has already stepped up offensively with four points in the two games since the injury. He is finally playing with Baertschi, who had the most chemistry with him during the preseason, and his energy is rubbing off on the rest of the team.
Gaudette’s celebrations have been epic as well, which makes his goals that much more exciting. Hockey Gaud is finally here to stay, let’s strap in and enjoy every minute of it.
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.