Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bure, Ohlund and Sedin: The World Junior's All-Canucks Team

Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Bure and Daniel Sedin have all
starred in the World Juniors as Canucks prospects.

Until they actually make it to the NHL, the World Juniors is far and away the most closely-scrutinized and highly-celebrated stage for the league's best prospects. And when the average hockey fan is reduced to reading the same cliche scouting reports on their team's draft picks over and over and over, there's nothing like actually watching a player like Jake Virtanen or Thatcher Demko perform at the highest level among their peers.

And every so often, you'll be lucky enough to not only see your team's best prospects play internationally, but watch them absolutely dominate the tournament. A couple of years ago, we highlighted the very best Canadian Junior performances by Canucks prospects of all-time. Cody Hodgson's 16 points in 2008 was there. As was Luc Bourdon's All-Star Team performance at GM Place in 2006.

See also: The All-Time List of Canucks Prospects to Play for Team Canada at the WJC (up to 2013) 

But while Canadian prospects will always get more exposure at this tournament, Vancouver have a long history of drafting top flight international prospects. This year, Canucks fans are spoiled with a United Nations showing of Virtanen (Canada), Demko (USA) and Gustav Forsling (Sweden) playing for their respective countries. (Not to mention Cole Cassels narrowly missing a roster spot with the States.) So with this year's international flavour in mind, we've highlighted the best World Junior performances by Canucks prospects -- Canadian or not -- in the history of the tournament:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cole Cassels dual citizenship: Is he competing for a spot on the "wrong" team?

I have no idea which one is Cassels -- but he's somewhere on this
bronze medal-winning Ontario team from the 2012 World U17s.
Image: Hockey Canada

There was considerable surprise when Cole Cassels was named to Team USA's preliminary roster for the 2015 World Juniors. USA Hockey made the announcement just a week after Cassels was handed a 10-game OHL suspension for a hit to the head of Damir Sharipzyanov. (Amazingly, the 18-year-old defenceman didn't miss a game and is currently on Russia's preliminary WJC roster.)

Because the IIHF (strangely) upholds CHL suspensions, Cassels would be ineligible to play the United States' first two games. But for those of you who have been following Cassels' progression this season, he has added to his two-way reputation an offensive upside that -- if not for his current suspension -- would put him among the OHL's top five scorers

It'll be interesting to see whether USA Hockey retains him on their roster. With the United States' second game coming against Germany, they'll only truly miss him for the opener against Finland. And he'll still be able to practice with the team and compete in exhibitions, so it's not as if he'll be coming into the tournament cold.

But the more interesting question is this: If not for his suspension, would the Ohio-born and Connecticut-raised Cassels be competing for a spot on Team Canada instead? Better yet, would he prefer to play for Team Canada?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Watch Radim Vrbata pull off the same ridiculous deke three years apart

Image credit: Canucks YouTube

Besides a point in the standings, if tonight's 4-3 meltdown against the Sens was worth anything, it was bearing witness to Radim Vrbata's outrageous behind-the-net tuck-in on Craig Anderson to open the scoring.

When you're a team whose two offensive stars are playmakers, the highlight reel goals you're used to seeing are typically some sort of tic-tac-toe, no-look-pass wizardry. Enter about every other goal that both Sedins are in on.

Then a natural goal-scorer like Vrbata comes along and for the first time in a long time, you see an individual effort with enough filth to make all the Miley Cyruses among us blush. Yes, Old 17 was also good for the odd solo effort, but his eventual insistence on doing it alone every single rush was so infuriating that the wonder was lost when it actually worked.

After the game, Vrbata told reporters it wasn't the first time he had used that move before.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Vancouver Canucks Top 5 Goals of the Month | November 2014

One of these months I'll actually post these videos in a timely manner. But nonetheless, the Canucks are another month and change into this blissfully surprising season and much like the first month-in-review, this past November was well worth documenting.

Going 9-4-1, the Canucks continued to duke it out with Team Giordano over in Calgary for surprise team of the year. And while the quick start of the first two lines, catalyzed by Vrbata and Bonino, was the story of October, the emergence of the team's bottom six have allowed Willie Desjardins to make good on his promise to roll all four units. It's one thing to do it, but with literally all six current members of the bottom two lines on a 30-plus-point pace, the Canucks have never looked so good in the process.

It makes sense then that in this November's edition of the Top 5 Goals of the Month, all four lines are well-represented. From Hank and Dank's continued dominance in overtime to Bo Horvat's first NHL goal, this one's full of talent, grit and sweet, sweet career milestones:

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Canucks monthly recap [Top 5 Plays of October]

Back in 2013, this blog ran a series of filler monthly Canucks recaps complete with 'top five' videos. And much like the Sedins so far this season, that monthly feature is being officially resurrected. Unfortunately, much like Luca Sbisa on any given shift, the timing is also already just a little bit off. So let's forget that the Canucks are already three games into November and take a look back at the team's best during the first calendar month of the season.

Not a bad start for the new regime. Some quick thoughts:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Luongo's 67th shutout and the generational disparity with Patrick Roy

With his 67th career shutout, Luongo has bested Roy all-time.

After three straight wins and a shutout two nights ago, it is officially Miller Time in Vancouver. But hockey fans around here have obvious reason to follow the goaltending in Florida these days. And for that reason, it should be noted that Friday's showdown between the Panthers and Sabres had notable implications beyond Connor McDavid. 

Stopping all 18 shots against CoHo and company, Roberto Luongo recorded his 67th career shutout last night. In the process, he surpassed Patrick Roy for 13th overall on the all-time shutouts list.

Granted, that's not quite as shocking as other recent hockey news out of Florida. (If Lu had waited two more games to pitch the shutout against St. Patrick's Colorado Avalanche himself -- well, there's a legitimate story.) Nonetheless, passing one of the top three goalies of all-time and father of the butterfly in any major stat is a significant achievement. But there's a legitimate counter-argument worth exploring.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Radim Vrbata: The Canucks' shiniest new toy and his top ten career goals

This guy. And everything he means to the Sedins
this season. Thank goodness. (Flickr: Bridget Samuels)
It's hard to decide which of the Canucks' shiniest new toys -- Radim Vrbata or Ryan Miller -- could end up being more impactful this season. On paper, Miller's Vezina and $6 million salary indicate that the key cog to Vancouver's "New Game" will be in net. But if the season-opener is any indication, Vrbata on the right side of the Sedins is going to give Miller a very healthy run for best off-season signing.

It's not that Vrbata is going to be more valuable than Miller in and of himself. But what Vrbata brings to the Sedins is something that they have so sorely missed in the past few seasons of their gradual statistical decline -- legitimate finish. Last season was many things, but it was not a disaster in net with Lack. The possibility of Vrbata reigniting the Sedins' point-per-game form will ultimately help this team more than the difference between Miller and Lack.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Five points out of the playoffs, but hey look! Nicklas Jensen!

Jensen led all SEL rookies with 17 goals in 50 games last year. After a slow start
with Utica, he's living up to the hype on the Canucks' top line. (Flickr: anders-h-foto)

Back in early-February, I wrote an article lauding Eddie Lack and how his play was one of the Canucks' few redeeming stories this year. It was a post grasping for any kind of positivity in the face of a precariously-held playoff spot. Oh, that playoff spot. It was a whole fifteen games ago now that the Canucks were still ahead of both Dallas and Phoenix -- if just barely.

Although Lack's baptism-by-fire, post-Luongo, has loosened his play, he remains one of the few Canucks playing beyond pre-season expectations. And for the past couple of weeks, he's been joined by another pleasantly surprising rookie in Nicklas Jensen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nagano to Sochi: Canada's all-time Olympic numbers in the NHL era

Photo from
Salt Lake City, Vancouver and now Sochi. In the five Winter Olympics since NHL players were allowed to compete, Canada has won gold in three of them. And while more zealous fans will tell you that we should have had all five, the best team on paper never wins a hundred percent of the time.

It can take a very under-appreciated resiliency to be the best and live up to it. To stick to sound and systematic play -- especially when it only gets you a 2-1 win against an Arturs Irbe-less Latvian team. Or just two measly assists through five games from the best player in the world.

But here we are, just barely recovered from a deprived sleep schedule and with ultimate bragging rights for at least four more years. And thank Price, because we all know how much longer four years can feel after having left Gretzky on the bench in Nagano.

Since 1998, Team Canada has played a total of 31 games. That is nearly half a regular season's worth of the most scrutinized hockey known to man. Makes for a pretty decent sample size. Which makes you wonder where Sidney Crosby's pair of Olympic performances might stack up against, say...Joe Sakic's. Or Steve Yzerman's. Or where Shea Weber and Drew Doughty rank among the Scott Niedermayers and Chris Prongers of yesteryear.

One can only Google so hard until they take matters into their own hands. If there's already an all-time list out there, well, it's not in the first 10 pages of a standard Google search. So go, go gadget Excel spreadsheet. The career rankings of Team Canada players since 1998:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Finland: The little hockey engine that very consistently could

How many times can a team succeed before you stop calling them underdogs?

Nevermind that they have the world's most likable player in captain Teemu Selanne. (And around these parts, the most likable ex-Canuck in Sami Salo.) Or that they just won their third consecutive Olympic medal by toppling the generally-hated Team USA. In international competition, Finland has been as endearing to the hockey world as they are efficient and successful.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Eddie Lack: All-Rookie Team front-runner?

File:Eddie Lack Canucks.jpg
Lack is exceeding all expectations this year. And maintaining his entire
team's fading dignity in the process.

His numbers are among the league's elite. With a 2.22 GAA and .922 save percentage, Eddie Lack is tied for eighth and ninth in the NHL, respectively. Yet with a 8-8-3 record, he is one of only two goalies with a .500-or-worse record among the league's top 15 in GAA. The other goalie? Cory Schneider.

That speaks volumes. Because unlike the dispatched ginger in his tenure here, Lack has accomplished his top-level stats on what is now a truly mediocre team. The next-highest ranking goalie without a winning record is Justin Peters at 7-9-4 with Carolina.

Monday, January 06, 2014

My Team Canada, BTD style

Hockey Canada, I demand to have equal say as Corb Lund and Gerry Dee. Milos Raonic be damned. Here's my Team Canada:

UPDATE: Well, 21/25 ain't bad. It appears that Hockey Canada doesn't hold Logan Couture, James Neal, Eric Staal or Corey Crawford in the same regard that I do.

Bo Horvat at the World Juniors: Not Canada's first-line centre, and that's okay

Horvat didn't turn in the ideal offensive performance,
but he was among Canada's best overall players.

It isn't often that Canucks fans are blessed with a Canadian poster boy for the World Juniors. In the last three years before 2014, the Canucks didn't have a single Canadian in the competition, period. (#ShouldHaveBroughtCorrado.) Between 2006 and 2011, Canucks management took a total of three Canadians in either of the first two rounds of the draft -- Taylor Ellington, Yann Sauve and Cody Hodgson.

Not only was he whose name we do not speak Hodgson (2008) the last player to even suit up for Canada at the Juniors before Horvat, he is likely the most successful Canucks prospect at the tournament of all-time. And well, we all know how that ended up for Vancouver. So with both Hodgson's infamous end as a Canuck and the team's recent dearth of high-end Canadian prospects in mind, it was with great anticipation that Horvat was earmarked as the country's number one centre.