One of the areas the Vancouver Canucks were determined to improve over the summer was their defence.
While Quinn Hughes was already slated to take on a full-time role, the team went out and added Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn in free agency to complete the blue line overhaul.
Four games in, it already seems clear; the Canucks defence is vastly improved.
Offence from the defence
Of the new additions, Hughes is clearly the biggest difference-maker. The 2018 seventh overall draft pick is reshaping what it looks like to play defence, using his unmatched speed and agility to create opportunities in a way this team has never seen.
He’s played primarily with veteran stay-at-home defenceman Chris Tanev, and the two seem to bring out the best in each other.
“We’re having fun out there,” Tanev said after Saturday’s 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s enjoyable playing with him and I think we feed off each other and we have fun.”
The ‘fun’ was most evident on Tanev’s goal during their home opener against the Kings, a 3-on-2 involving both Vancouver defencemen that led to a tap-in right on the doorstep.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) October 10, 2019
While Tanev’s experience, leadership, and steady defensive presence are benefits to Hughes, it’s elder statesman who probably benefits most from the partnership.
The oft-injured 29-year-old is playing a more up-tempo style of game with Hughes, able to create more offensively instead of playing in his usual shutdown role.
It’s still very early, but through four games Hughes is among the league leaders in a number of advanced stats, and it’s reflecting positively on the scoresheet too with a goal and two assists for both him and Tanev.
No surprise early on, Quinn Hughes has been dominant.
NHL Ranks, D-Men:
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 13, 2019
The Canucks have struggled to produce offence from the back end for what seems like forever, but they’re on the right track now to fixing that problem.
Through four games, the Canucks defencemen have scored four goals and directly created at least two others from point shots that were deflected.
That’s a stark contrast from last season, where it took the Canucks six games to get a goal from a defenceman. After 12 games last year, the team had just two goals from their blue line.
If the Canucks’ new-look defence group can keep this up, it’ll go a long way to improving a team that has struggled to create enough offence the past several years.
Myers making a huge impact
Pardon the pun, but Myers has had a huge impact for the Canucks through the first four games.
The 6-foot-7 defenceman was signed to a five-year, $30-million deal this offseason that generated mixed responses from Canucks fans.
While the long-term merits are very much still to be determined, Myers’ play has been as advertised for the Canucks so far.
Playing on the top pair with Alex Edler, Myers has one assist while averaging just over 22 minutes a game and seeing regular time on both special teams units.
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Myers has always been known as more of an offensive defenceman, and his puck-moving ability is helping the Canucks break out more efficiently, resulting in more time in the offensive zone.
But where Myers has surprised most is in the defensive zone, where – outside of one costly turnover in Calgary that resulted in a goal against – he has looked equally as competent.
The stats back up the eye test, too. With Myers on the ice, the Canucks have controlled 58% of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, a rate that is second-best on the team behind Hughes (60%).
And while not known for being overly physical, Myers has also shown he’s more than capable of laying the body when he wants to.
Flyers really can fly 💪 pic.twitter.com/XaAXZ2UvMK
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 13, 2019
Another benefit of the improved depth on the back end is the flexibility it provides the Canucks coaching staff.
Travis Green acknowledged it on Saturday, adding that “they’re all capable of playing as many minutes as you need. We’ve seen [Troy] Stecher play a lot of minutes in the past and Benn averaged I think [around] 17-18 minutes last year.”
Having depth means Green has more options to work with when certain situations arise in a game.
“We didn’t really change the pairings tonight,” Green said. “We just did it out of necessity once in a while – if guys were in the box or coming off of special teams.”
While the pairings were never permanently changed on Saturday, the Canucks’ blue line saw a number of different situational pairings, most notably Hughes-Stecher after penalty kills and Benn-Tanev after power plays since they don’t play on those units.
The defence has been a big issue on this team for years, both offensively and defensively. With the new additions this year, the Canucks are hoping those issues are behind them.