Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy: What is Linden Vey’s role with Canucks?

Marko Dano had two goals and an assist as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2.

In this edition of Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy, Dan Murphy and Thomas Drance debate what Linden Vey‘s role on the Canucks should be, and if his days in Vancouver are numbered.

Nerdy Guy: With Henrik Sedin out of the lineup nursing an injury last week, the Vancouver Canucks turned to 24-year-old forward Linden Vey. In a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Mar. 7, Vey played almost 20 minutes. Then he played nearly 21 the next game against the Arizona Coyotes.

Vey has become to Willie Desjardins what Aaron Rome was to Alain Vigneault: a fine depth piece often criticized because he’s widely perceived to receive more ice time and opportunity than his performance warrants.

It’s understandable that fans would want to see, say, Jared McCann play more than Vey – considering his youth, pedigree and the chemistry he flashed with Daniel Sedin in a top-line role around Christmastime. It’s also understandable that fans would roll their eyes when they see Vey gifted prime opportunities on the first power-play unit when he’s produced 5-on-5 offence at a fourth-line rate since arriving in Vancouver.

The fan’s perspective is relatable, but so is Desjardins'.

This may say more about Desjardins’ options down the middle with Sedin and Brandon Sutter out than it does about Vey’s suitability in a first-line role, even as an injury fill-in. But the underlying numbers do suggest that when Henrik goes down, Vey is the best healthy two-way centreman on the Canucks’ roster.

Among the 12 Canucks forwards that have logged at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes over the past two seasons, only six have had a positive impact on preventing shot attempts against relative to team performance. The Sedin twins lead the way and carry two of their most regular linemates since 2014 – Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen – with them. Unsurprisingly, Sutter also makes the grade here, which isn’t a surprise considering his defensive acumen. The sixth player: Vey.

That two-year trend is reflected in Vey’s underlying performance this year. He isn’t a faceoff winner – though he’s shown significant improvement in this area – or a particularly physical player, so he’ll never be confused for a defensive specialist. But Vey’s presence does seem to allow the Canucks to restrict the rate at which opponents generate shot-attempts.

In seeking to identify precisely what it is that Vey does well, one attribute jumps off both the ice and the stats pages: Though it perhaps goes unnoticed because Vey hasn’t generated much offence during his Canucks tenure, he’s actually surprisingly effective when it comes to maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

Montreal-based player tracking firm Sportlogiq records hard time of possession for individual players, and they’re able to break that puck possession down based on the zone of the ice in which it occurs. These numbers can tell us which players genuinely spend the most time handling the puck in the offensive end of the ice.

The top of the list is dominated by the best playmakers in the game: Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar and Henrik Sedin. Vey ranks in the top-50 among regularly-used NHL forwards by this metric. His offensive zone possession rate compares closely to players like Alex Steen, Nathan MacKinnon and Jordan Eberle.

Obviously Vey hasn’t produced offence like any of the names listed in the paragraph above, but for a Canucks team that has struggled to control play, it seems likely that Vey is their best two-way option at the moment.

Oh, and as for the prime power-play minutes, among NHL forwards that have played at least 200 minutes in 5-on-4 situations over the past two seasons, Vey ranks 38th in goal-scoring rate. It’s even possible that he’s not miscast on that first unit.

Naked Eye: Linden Vey was one of Canuck Nation’s favourite whipping boys last season. There’s no question his on-ice play was a reason for that, but you could argue that optics played an even bigger role.

General manager Jim Benning gave up a second-round pick for Vey. He was seemingly gifted a roster spot and, to top it all off, his former junior coach Willie Desjardins gave him preferential power-play time and continued to dole it out even when Vey was having an average season.

I’ll be honest: I was not a Vey backer last season, but 10 goals and 24 points in 13:10 of ice time was not reason enough for the amount of heat he took. It was, however, clear that he didn’t take hold of the opportunity given to him, and when he failed to impress in the 2015 pre-season, the Canucks waived the young centre, sending him to Utica. It was the right call, and for the most part, Canucks fans were giddy.

Vey got his shot at redemption with the big club when he was recalled in mid-December, and he immediately made an impact, scoring the shootout winner against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 18.

Seriously though, Vey is not close to being one of the Canucks' biggest problems this season, which is depth. He is a part of the problem, yes, but there are much bigger fish to fry. And in fact, you could say that Vey has been pretty darn useful — just don’t try to tell those who made up their mind sometime last season.

When Vey scored versus the San Jose Sharks on Mar. 5, I threw this out there on twitter:

Judging by the replies it garnered, it still is.

I guess it doesn’t help that Vey’s name was part of that group of seven that was leaked to be available leading up to the deadline. (If the Canucks were willing to let him go, then he can’t be any good, right?)

Wrong!

Vey has earned himself another look in this league. It just likely won’t be with Vancouver. The Canucks will go Henrik-Sutter-Horvat in the one-through-three hole at centre next season and I’m not sure anyone believes Vey is suited for a fourth-line role. But you can bet that another team will be willing to give him a chance.

By no means is Vey the answer to a team’s offensive woes, but at only 24 years old, I’m not willing to say he can’t be part of an answer for someone moving forward.