How the Canucks young stars have excelled in their first postseason games

Aug 7 2020, 12:11 pm

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These were the games we’ve been waiting for.

Not just since the race to the playoffs was halted on March 11, but since the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated by the Calgary Flames in Round 1 back in 2015.

It’s been five long years since hockey games really mattered in this market. After slow start to the postseason experience, the Canucks are starting to look more dangerous with each passing game.

A lot of the credit belongs to the Canucks young core. They needed to be difference-makers, and that’s been the case so far, with a trio of postseason newcomers leading the team in points: Quinn Hughes (4 points), Elias Pettersson (3 points), and Brock Boeser (3 points).

Here’s what the Canucks young stars have done well early in the play-ins.

Elias Pettersson

We all know that Pettersson is a wizard with the puck. When it comes to setting up his teammates and generating chances in the offensive zone, it’s no secret that the Canucks rely on him.

Defensive acumen apparent

However in the playoffs, you need more than just offensive zone wizardry if you want to go on a lengthy run.

Pettersson understands that, and we’ve seen his impressive performance on the back-check in the regular season before. He’s brought that 200-foot game to the play-ins as well, and it’s made a difference for the Canucks.

The play above is a mix of hustling hard and reading the play to make sure you’re in the right decision. Pettersson makes this look easy while cruising at top speed.

Some offensive players are also afraid of taking punishment to make a play as well. More on that below, but here’s another example where Pettersson takes a heavy hit in order to help move the puck up and out of his own zone.

Showing pushback

Number one of the Wild’s to-do list when this series started? Start wearing down Pettersson.

It was clear in Game 1 that the Wild were going to pummel the Canucks star forward with every opportunity they got. Throughout the first couple of games, it seemed like Pettersson had a Wild defender glued to him at all times.

In this city, we’ve been accustomed to seeing our star Swedish forwards, like Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins, take a beating from the opposition.

It’s wasn’t often that we ever saw Naslund and the Sedins do anything like this.

Aside from the overtly aggressive moments, it’s clear that the Canucks young superstar isn’t avoiding contact whatsoever.

There’s a growing sentiment that we’re going to see this type of behaviour from Pettersson as these playoffs progress.

Brock Boeser

You’d expect that one of the best flows in the NHL would be a leader at getting to the greasy areas.

Getting greasy

However, we know in Vancouver that Boeser doesn’t necessarily play that style of game. Perhaps that’s partly because he hasn’t been healthy but regardless, we’re seeing Boeser get to the greasy areas on the ice.

The best part? He’s being rewarded for it.

It was indeed a great play by Pettersson, but kudos for Boeser for being right in front of the net to be ready for the tap-in.

The underlying numbers show that Boeser is working to get into the dangerous scoring areas. At even-strength, Boeser has eight scoring chances. No other Canucks player has more than four.

Part of Boeser being effective at even-strength has simply been his ability to follow Pettersson into the scoring areas, as shown in the clip below.

Although it would have been easy to stick Boeser beside Pettersson from the outset of the play-ins, kudos to head coach Travis Green for eventually coming to that decision.

That creativity in the “greasy areas” has been evident both at even-strength and on the power play. Boeser’s diving play to bury the opening goal of Game 3 showcased his effort level.

The clip below also shows you his ability to be a creative offensive player while remaining in scoring position.

Making plays in transition

It’s not just Pettersson who’s been effective at creating turnovers in the defensive zone. Boeser has also had his moments to show up defensively.

I do think that matchup of Minnesota’s big boy line with Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Jordan Greenway was a handful at times for Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes in Game 3. However, the Canucks have gone three games without allowing an even-strength goal, and part of that credit belongs to Pettersson and Boeser for making smart, heads up plays in their own zone.

Quinn Hughes

Before explaining my confusing sub-head, some context:

Yes, apparently Jake Virtanen’s nickname for Hughes is “pulse,” because he sits there with his eyes closed before every game.

“Lack of pulse” shows on the ice

It’s a fitting nickname (much better than Huggy Bear, I might add), and it suits Hughes’ style of play on the ice.

So far through three games, only Oscar Fantenberg has been on the ice for fewer scoring chances than Hughes. However, no Canuck has been on the ice for fewer shots and shot attempts against than the rookie defenceman.

The Wild are having trouble generating any offence right now, but their attack has been anemic with Hughes on the ice.

It’s not like Hughes is doing anything fancy in his own zone either. You can see on Roussel’s goal below, Hughes gets the puck out with a simple clearing attempt around the boards.

Sometimes kids, the best play is the safe play.

Making the most of power play opportunities

I’ve written before about Hughes’ surprising lack of even-strength offence, however, we all know that the power play is really where he makes the opposition pay.

With the barrage of power play opportunities (Canucks have had 15 in three games), Hughes and the first unit have had their opportunities to bury the Wild.

They were slow and unorganized in Game 1, but Hughes and company started to get their chances in Game 2.

Hughes is unpredictable on the power play as well. As you saw on the Horvat goal, he’s not afraid to fire the puck at the net. He’ll also dish to Pettersson, as you saw on the Boeser goal above.

He even set up Pettersson for a power play goal off the rush to seal the Game 3 victory.

The point here? Hughes is a huge threat when he’s on the ice, especially on the power play. Whether it’s innate ability or slow-beating pulse condition, this is something that the Wild, or any NHL team for that matter, are going to have a hard time defending against.

Even though Games 1 and 2 were kind of quiet for Hughes, he was lights out in Game 3.

Let’s hope we get at least a couple more weeks of playoff Hughes. That’ll get us feeling like this:

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Trevor BeggsTrevor Beggs

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