Canucks fans are excited again. They have hope.
They had hope last season too, but it was for pathetic stuff like wanting Alex Burrows to score more than five goals, the Sedins to play like 33 not 43 year olds and Alex Edler to acheive better than the worst plus/minus in the league.
The team has a 3-0-1 record and sits atop the Western Conference, but everyone knows it’s early and this won’t last.
Fact is it’s not the standings that are fueling the hope. It’s the team’s future potential.
Watching the Stanley Cup Final last year, you saw Tampa Bay’s and Chicago’s big names – Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane, Marian Hossa and Steven Stamkos – pushed and supported by speedy, young Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Saad and Tuevo Teravainen.
The Sedins have needed skilled young players to support their scoring for years. Vancouver thought they had started the process years ago when Cody Hodgson emerged and was eventually swapped for Zack Kassian.
That youth movement had about the same success here as Target.
“Youth Movement 2.0” began last year with Bo Horvat and Linden Vey, and this year in a much bigger way with Jared McCann, Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen and Sven Baertschi.
There is one thing the team must keep in mind: to keep the positivity going, the kids need to develop. To do that, they must play.
During Tuesday’s game against L.A., with the Canucks nursing a 2-0 lead in the third, Virtanen and Baertschi sat glued to the bench. They weren’t released from their shackles until Vancouver scored their third goal and the win was secured.
Virtanen had a rough shift near the end of the second period, but that happens to all players – just ask Luca Sbisa. It would’ve been nice to see how he’d respond on his next shift, and how he’d perform under the pressure of holding a lead.
But maybe that’s how Desjardins wanted it – have Virtanen on the bench to watch teammates respond during a big moment. Eventually he’ll get a pressure shift, someday maybe two.
That’s how the coach operates – bring the kids along slowly, make them prove they can handle what’s coming.
We’re seeing this with Sven Baertschi, who it appears will be scratched against St. Louis based on practice line combinations. Asked about this potential scratch, Desjardins responded to reporters, “This isn’t a ‘try’ league, it’s a ‘gotta get it done’ league.”
Funny thing is according to the advanced stats, Baertshi is getting it done. He leads the entire team with an even strength corsi-for percentage of 57 percent, meaning he’s been on the ice when his team is applying pressure more often than not. The next highest forwards are Radim Vrbata and Bo Horvat who are around 53 percent.
Meanwhile Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett are rotating on the second line and getting power play time after putting up 41 and a team low 34 percent respectively.
But like Desjardins said, “It’s a ‘get it done league,'” and Prust’s team-leading three assists have apparently gotten it done.
Before going any further, do understand Baertschi’s numbers are likely helped playing alongside linemates Bo Horvat and Radim Vrbata. He also has the highest offensive vs. defensive zone start percentage on the team.
The point is, when bringing along this crop of young players, the hope is Desjardins will be quicker than he was with Horvat last year.
From the middle of the season, Horvat was one of the Canucks’ best forwards, driving the puck towards the opposition’s net with dogged determination. During the playoffs he was hands-down Vancouver’s most dangerous scoring threat behind the Sedins.
His reward? He never topped 13 minutes of playing time in the post-season.
Can Desjardins change his ways to develop the young forwards? Will he play them when it counts?
Or will he revert to his “real good” players – Brandon Prust, Derek Dorsett, Jannik Hansen and other veterans, sacrificing valuable learning experiences all the while?
Desjardins came to Vancouver heralded as a “teacher of the game” just over a year ago. If he really wants to get his message through, he should listen to the words of Benjamin Franklin:
Tell me and I listen. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.