The Vancouver Canucks have now had four games postponed with COVID-19 related issues. That can’t be good news for the team. Both spirits and confidence must be high after compiling a six-game winning streak under new head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Now that the Canucks won’t play until after Christmas, it must be a bit of a letdown. Who wants to end such a ride? No doubt about it, COVID-19 has messed with the momentum the team has generated.
The Canucks’ Recent Turnaround
What a turnaround. Simply stated, the team was in the tank prior to Boudreau’s arrival. He’s challenged them to play with more freedom; and, they seem to have accepted that challenge. Obviously, the team is still adjusting to the Boudreau system. But so far, so good.
Several more games are needed for the Canucks to either discover or claim their true identity with the squad that they’ve assembled. In fact, even Jim Rutherford – who’s known to pull the trigger quickly as an active trader – has said that the organization should wait until January to see “what we have.”
The Three Most Valuable Canucks’ Players – To Date
In this post, we’d like to review the season thus far. Specifically, we’d like to name who we believe have been the team’s three MVPs. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other strong players on this team; and, we’ll name some of the later. However, the three players we’ll focus on – to our eyes – have been the team leaders all season long. [I want to thank G. Miller for working with me on this post and sharing his knowledge about how hockey is played at the ice level.]
Most Valuable Player One: Goalie Thatcher Demko
The true MVP for the Canucks team all season has been Thatcher Demko. Others, such as J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, are worth considering for their consistent offensive playmaking. However, Demko has won games almost all by himself.
Against the San Jose Sharks on December 16, Demko stopped all but two of the 36 shots he faced in the 5-2 win. It was Demko’s fifth-straight victory; and, once Brock Boeser scored the first goal of the game, Demko was in the drivers’ seat. The game never looked in doubt.
The 26-year-old Demko has let in only seven goals during his five-game winning streak. He’s obviously a beneficiary of the systems new head coach Boudreau has instituted. Although the team is one game below .500, Demko’s record is 13-11-1.
Demko also carries with him a goals-against-average of 2.63, and a save percentage of .919. While those are far from elite numbers, his play recently has put him near the top of the NHL’s goalies. Last week he was selected as NHL Goalie of the Week.
Most Valuable Player Two: J.T. Miller
J.T. Miller’s game against the Sharks was an example of what he brings to the team regularly on a game-by-game basis. Miller scored a goal, added two assists, and was a plus-3 on the night. His three-point game made him the only point-a-game player on the team. He now has 10 goals and 22 assists (for 32 points) in 31 games.
Miller is always in the middle of the action – for good or ill. He’s one of the few Canucks’ players who plays a physical game – perhaps only Tyler Myers is more physical. He’s also patient with the puck and a master of anticipating where the play will go. He’s not afraid to outwait the goalie, as he did with the Sharks’ Adin Hill to score during the third period.
Most Valuable Player Three: Quinn Hughes
Quinn Hughes is a playmaker extraordinaire. During the eight games he’s played in December, he’s handed out 10 assists (five of them with the man advantage). He’s now up to two goals and 24 assists (for 26 points) in 30 games.
While he’s always been an offensive force, recently he’s working to get better in his own zone. The improvement’s been obvious. Even on a team struggling to reach the .500 mark, he’s a plus-9 on the season. Last season, he was minus-24. Few defensemen can wind up and control the game from his own zone through the opponent’s like Hughes. He’s not only a joy to watch; he’s growing into his own skill set – and quickly.
Other Canucks Worthy of Note
Since Boudreau has begun his short tenure with the club, other Canucks’ players have started to get back to the form they’ve played in the past and that fans have come to expect from them. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are two.
Boeser still struggles to find more open ice as other teams keep a close check on him and tend to shut him down quickly. Horvat is a faceoff machine, winning 57 percent of his more than his 746 draws. [Miller is the only other Canucks’ player with more than 50 percent of his faceoffs – he’s at 53 percent of 432 draws.]
Elias Pettersson is struggling. However, he’s starting to look stronger on the puck. Faceoffs remain an issue and sometimes his timing seems off. He’s also too quickly double-checked and nullified while he’s still thinking and looking.
Pettersson’s linemates need to rove a little more as a way to help him out. Instead, they often establish themselves into set positions on the ice and wait for him to pass the puck. Those passes are often easily blocked and result in turnovers.
Tyler Meyers is certainly asserting himself as someone opponents must keep a wary eye on for his mini-explosive rushes. We like that about him.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is just getting back into the lineup and more into the flow of things. However, he too looks like he’ll thrive under Boudreau.
We also really enjoy watching Nils Hoglander, Connor Garland, Vasili Podkolzen, and Jason Dickinson. All are tenacious and potentially dangerous in the offensive zone. And, for a team that isn’t known for finishing their checks, they are doing just that.
The Canucks Might Be IShaping Up Nicely
Under Boudreau, this team is shaping up nicely. The three most valuable players listed above are continuing to thrive and add value to the stronger play of their teammates.
The challenge ahead for Boudreau and the team is to put together a solid 20 minutes of play, especially at five-on-five, and then repeat that solid 20 minutes two more times each game. Then, repeat that pattern every game.
If the team can give Demko and Jaroslav Halak the net-front support they need, it’s likely those wins will keep on coming.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf