Who Had a Good Week:
Thomas Vanek- I’ll come right out and say it: I was dead wrong about Thomas Vanek. Vanek’s scoring has been a pleasant surprise, but the way he is getting those points is even more impressive. Vanek battles hard and works well with a variety of linemates, but especially well with Brock Boeser. Even though Vanek and his linemates went pointless on Saturday after his five point outburst against the Blackhawks, the new “top” line still looked dangerous.
Brock Boeser- Everyone should be fully aware by now that Brock Boeser can score goals, but his three assist effort against the Blackhawks also showed some serious playmaking skills. The drop pass to Vanek was one for the ages, and it’s all further proof that Boeser is far from a one-trick pony. It seems that, from here on out, the Canucks’ top line will be whichever line Boeser is playing on.
Sam Gagner- Gagner had a tough start to the year, but these past two weeks have seen him step up into the top line role vacated by Bo Horvat, and Gagner is thriving. The line of Vanek-Gagner-Boeser has definitely clicked, but improved offensive play by Gagner is a major part of that. His defensive game still needs some work, but this sort of depth scoring is exactly what the Canucks signed Gagner for.
Nikolay Goldobin- Goldobin played two games this week and didn’t crack 20 minutes of ice time, but he still put up a goal and an assist. Goldobin is the sort of player that plays best when he’s confident, and his goal against the Kings was the most confident move he has made as a Canuck. Goldobin is a player who looks ready to breakout.
Troy Stecher- Stecher also had a tough start to the year, but his confidence seems to returning in a big way. Stecher is rushing the puck with more frequency, and effectiveness, than he ever has before, and he got results this week with two points in two games. Stecher has finally seen his ice time increase as a result of his improved play.
Who Had a Rough Week:
Erik Gudbranson- Gudbranson is the sort of player that needs to be tuned into the game to be effective, and he simply looks disengaged out there. Perhaps Gudbranson knows that a trade is imminent, but he certainly isn’t doing much to increase his market value. Gudbranson may be putting up plenty of “hits” in the stats department, but he’s not being the kind of physical presence he needs to be to make a difference.
Ben Hutton- The Hutton-Gudbranson pairing has been a real disaster, and it’s hard to separate the performance of one from the other. However, it seems obvious that the play of Hutton hasn’t been helping matters. Hutton did put up two assists against LA, but his defensive game has completely fallen apart. Fresh off a healthy scratch, Hutton needs to rapidly improve his defensive positioning to hold on to his spot on the roster.
Alex Biega- Let this be the end of the “Biega as a winger” experiment. He’s a fine depth defender, but there’s no reason to be playing him at forward with other forwards available.
All signs point to an Erik Gudbranson trade in the near future. There was the mysterious “trade imminent” tweet by JD Burke that was quickly deleted, along with apparent changes to Gudbranson’s social media bios. Aside from the internet evidence, there’s the simple fact that Gudbranson doesn’t seem to have much of a future with the Canucks, and other teams appear to have an interest in him. The word on the street is that Gudbranson is likely going to a team in the Atlantic Division.
With Gudbranson on the market, there’s little chance the Canucks healthy scratch him, so it will probably be Ben Hutton sitting out again whenever Chris Tanev returns. All the more reason to get a Gudbranson trade done sooner rather than later. Hutton needs a fresh start with a new partner to salvage his career.
The topic of whether or not to trade Thomas Vanek at the Trade Deadline came up this week, spurred by Vanek’s five point game against the Blackhawks. While some Canuck fans wouldn’t mind seeing Vanek re-signed, this should definitely be a “sell high” sort of scenario for Jim Benning. Vanek is outperforming expectations, but he was signed as potential trade bait, and now it’s Benning’s job to cash in on the return.
The Utica Comets are officially slumping, and another winless week has dropped them out of a playoff spot in the North Division of the AHL.
The first loss came on Wednesday with a visit to Providence to take on the Bruins. The Comets dropped the contest 5-4 in a shootout, with Thatcher Demko tending the net. New addition Dylan Blujus had a two point night with a goal and an assist, as did Michael Carcone. Ashton Sautner and Joe LaBate had the other goals for the Comets. Single assist came from Patrick Wiercioch, Zack MacEwen, Alexis D’Aoust, Cole Cassels, and Tony Cameranesi. No Comets were able to score in the shootout.
The Comets faced the Bruins in Providence once again on Friday, and the result was a 3-1 loss in regulation. This time, it was Richard Bachman in net. MacEwen had to lone Utica goal, assisted by Cassels and Philip Holm.
Utica finished off the week with yet another loss, but this one came in an amazing Saturday shootout against the Syracuse Crunch that went an astonishing 11 rounds before Ben Thomas scored to give the Crunch a 3-2 win. Michael Carcone, who was been hot of late, scored in regulation for the Comets, as did Marco Roy. Darren Archibald, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield had the assists. Archibald, Holm, and Cassels were the only Comets to score in the shootout.
The Week Ahead:
The Canucks are definitely enjoying the quietest portion of their schedule, with only five games over the course of two weeks. This week sees:
Canucks hosting Anaheim on Tuesday, January 2 at 7:00PST.
Canucks at Toronto on Saturday, January 6 at 4:00PST.
Canucks at Montreal on Sunday, January 7 at 4:00PST.
2018 Draft Eligible Prospect of the Week:
Rasmus Kupari, C-
I wanted to pick a prospect that for this week that fans can watch in the World Juniors, and I’ve already covered the top few like Dahlin, Svechnikov, and Tkachuk, so Kupari will have to do! Kupari is currently playing for Team Finland alongside Olli Juolevi.
Although Kupari is thus far pointless in four games at the World Juniors, he is described as a talented player who can make plays a top speed. He only has four points in 19 games in the Finnish Liiga for Karpat this season, but he has 11 points in 14 games at the junior level. Most of Kupari’s most-discussed traits, like being “slick” and “dangerous,” are extensions of his skating ability, so his lack of eye-popping offensive numbers may be the result of hands that haven’t yet caught up to his feet.
Kupari has good physical traits, standing at 6’1” with a frame that is described as strong. Kupari has a great shot, although he’s not a natural goal-scorer, and his work ethic is frequently complimented. Kupari is also versatile, able to play both center and the wing. Kupari looks to be a classic middle-6 Finnish forward, offering a blend of offense, speed, and defensive effort.
Currently, Kupari is ranked somewhere around 10th for the 2018 Draft.
Here’s a five point game for Kupari against Slovaki at the Ivan Hlinka:
Top 10 Canuck Moments of 2017:
-Instead of Bits and Bobs this week, here are my top ten Canuck moments of 2017, off the top of my head:
10) Thomas Vanek’s five point night.
9) Derek Dorsett returns from injury to shutdown McDavid.
8) Hotdog Horvat.
7) The hiring of Travis Green as head coach.
6) The trade for Derrick Pouliot.
5) The 2017 Trade Deadline yielding Goldobin and Dahlen.
4) Drafting Elias Pettersson, and the 2017 Draft as a whole.
3) Daniel hits the 1000 point mark.
2) Brock Boeser, destroys Matt Murray’s confidence with his “comedy” routine.
Bonus World Junior Update:
-As expected, Elias Pettersson is absolutely dominating the World Junior Championships. He currently sits tied for third in tournament scoring with six points in four round robin games, and he did this:
-Jonah Gadjovich has looked strong for Canada, both figuratively and literally. He has two goals and an assist in four games, and has been a constant physical presence.
-Olli Juolevi has looked fine, although his production is a little bit below where fans would like it to be. He currently has two assists in four games, but the Finns have been disappointing overall, so that’s not entirely on Juolevi.
-William Lockwood was always destined for a grinding role with Team USA, and he was held pointless in three games. His tournament ended with an injury in the outdoor game against Canada, however, he did have a few moments of brilliance before that happened.