Canucks season-end grades: Young core restoring hope in Vancouver

Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green discuss what the team needs to address in the offseason, and what kind of impact Tanner Pearson had on the club.

VANCOUVER — Smart players say they never stop learning.

No wonder the media never stops grading them. Here are our season-ending letter grades (A to D) for the Vancouver Canucks, coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning.

Among the 20 who played at least half the National Hockey League season in Vancouver, there are three As, three Bs, five C-pluses, five Cs, one C-minus and three Ds, which when we went to school was a fail. Players with fewer than 41 games for the Canucks this season were not graded. (But yes, we’d give Quinn Hughes an ‘A’ for his five games).

Discuss among yourselves.

GRADE: A

C Elias Pettersson, 20
71 GP, 28-38-66, 18:13 TOI

Became 5th player in 100 years to start NHL career with 10 goals in 10 games and led Canucks’ offence wire to wire. Struggled the last six weeks but still broke Pavel Bure’s rookie points record in Vancouver. Electrified the market and gave it hope.

C Bo Horvat, 24
82 GP, 27-34-61, 20:50 TOI

Workhorse took his game to another level. Just keeps getting better. Offensive numbers more impressive than they look due to ever-changing wingers and starting 60.1 per cent of shifts in the defensive zone. Led NHL with 2,018 faceoffs and won 53.7 per cent of them.

G Jacob Markstrom, 29
60 GP, 28-23-9, 2.77 GAA, .912 SV%

Eradicated questions about whether he is a legit NHL starter by posting .920 save rate after November and carrying Canucks through stretches. Remarkable progress. Only four NHL goalies played more, and just 11 had more wins. In Year of Pettersson, Markstrom was MVP.

GRADE: B

RW Brock Boeser, 22
69 GP, 26-30-56, 19:09 TOI

Serious back and wrist injuries at end of last season left him behind others in October. Boeser also twice left the lineup with groin injury. Despite this, still scored 26 times and noticeably improved his two-way game. Deserves to get paid this summer, and will be.

LW Antoine Roussel, 29
65 GP, 9-22-31, 13:45 TOI

Controversy about expensive free-agent contract quieted as soon as Roussel started playing. Hustled and agitated, but also set career-high for points before serious knee injury ended season. His 2.08 pts/60 trailed only Horvat, Boeser and Pettersson among regulars.

D Alex Edler, 32
56 GP, 10-24-34, 24:34 TOI

As debate droned on about whether Canucks should trade their best defenceman — Edler had a NTC and wasn’t going anywhere — he quietly had his best season since 2012. Was coach Travis Green’s first choice in all situations. Team went 7-14-5 without him.

GRADE: C-plus

D Ben Hutton, 25
69 GP, 5-15-20, 22:21 TOI

Salvation season for D-man who had appeared to play his way out of the organization. Made good on promise to improve conditioning, and made most of the opportunity that was his reward. Topped Canucks’ TOI in several games. Grade diminished by 45.6 per cent Corsi.

RW Josh Leivo, 25
49 GP, 10-8-18, 15:57 TOI

Had trouble getting into the lineup with Toronto, but was an effective pickup for the Canucks. Got to the net and capably played as a top-six winger in the absence of better candidates. Looks like an NHL player and could provide secondary scoring for years.

RW Jake Virtanen, 22
70 GP, 15-10-25, 14:49 TOI

Probably will never justify 6th-overall draft slot, but continued to progress and is going to be an NHL player. Second on team with 154 hits. Virtanen had more consistency in his game, more patience with puck. Could be a 20-goal scorer next season.

D Troy Stecher, 25
78 GP, 2-21-23, 19:55 TOI

Said a lot that when Canucks marched players to post-season press conferences, Stecher was in first group with Boeser, Horvat and Pettersson. Smart, puck-moving D-man competes and took a step in third NHL season.

D Alex Biega, 31
GP 41, 2-14-16, 17:40 TOI

What’s a depth defenceman vulnerable to demotion doing with a C-plus? Because we thought it inappropriate to give him a B. Averaged 2.5 hits per game. His 1.32 points/60 were second among D-men to Edler’s 1.45, and Biega had positive possession numbers.

GRADE: C

D Chris Tanev, 29
55 GP, 2-10-12, 20:10 TOI

Veteran is not quite the shutdown force he was, but still gets all the tough assignments. More D-zone starts (61.5 per cent) than any other blue-liner. Was second to Edler with 122 blocks, which is partly why he doesn’t stay healthy.

RW Markus Granlund, 26
77 GP, 12-10-22, 15:02 TOI

Gets lots of criticism and, eventually, Granlund will be replaced. But versatile forward was handy for Canucks this season, helping lead 11th-ranked penalty kill and chipping in 12 goals from bottom of the lineup despite low O-zone starts.

C Jay Beagle, 33
57 GP, 3-10-13, 13:39 TOI

Checking centre led by example, but three goals aren’t enough. Led Canucks with 56.2 faceoff percentage, was vital to penalty kill, and only three of the 584 NHL players who logged at least 41 games started in their own zone as often as Beagle (81.1 per cent).

LW/RW Tyler Motte, 24
74 GP, 9-7-16, 12:46 TOI

Wasn’t supposed to even play, but won NHL spot and became most consistent “energy” player for coach Travis Green. Led the team with 200 hits, was good on penalty kill and contributed nine goals without power-play time. Would have graded higher were it not for 43.8 per cent Corsi.

C Adam Gaudette, 22
56 GP, 5-7-12, 10:56 TOI

Everyone loves Gaudette’s potential, but we need to see a lot more offence if he’s going to play third line. Former NCAA scoring champ and Hobey Baker winner generated only 55 shots, scoring five times as a rookie. But his competitiveness is something to build on.

GRADE C-minus

RW Nikolay Goldobin, 23
63 GP, 7-20-27, 14:59 TOI

Nobody achieved less with more than Goldobin, who disappeared after decent start. Despite playing mostly in top six and averaging 2:33 of nightly PP time, he finished season with two goals in 32 games and was healthy-scratched in 10 of last 11. May not be back.

GRADE: D

LW Loui Eriksson, 33
81 GP, 11-18-29, 14:03 TOI

Even with diminished expectations for $36-million winger, it’s impossible to square Eriksson’s contributions with his salary. He was OK defensively, but registered just three hits all season, making him the least physical player in the NHL. Where do Canucks go from here?

D Derrick Pouliot, 25
62 GP, 3-9-12, 17:09 TOI

Like Goldobin, Pouliot utterly failed to seize opportunities given to him. His 39 giveaways were worst on the defence, and despite offensive pedigree he generated just 12 points and 0.94 shots per game. Scratched in 13 of last 14 games, Pouliot may be finished as a Canuck.

LW Tim Schaller, 28
47 GP, 3-7-10, 10:39

The best thing about Schaller’s free-agent signing last summer is it was for only two years. Failed to provide the physicality and fourth-line push Canucks expected, and was scratched nearly as often as he played. Candidate for the minors, if not a buyout.

Coach Travis Green, 2nd season

Grade: B

Got the most out of what he had to work with. Unwavering in merit-based beliefs when shaping young players, and had more development successes (Hutton, Stecher, Virtanen, Gaudette, Boeser, Pettersson) than failures (Goldobin, Pouliot). Has to own share of power-play ineptitude, but Canucks play hard for the coach. Canucks are building an identity.

General manager Jim Benning, 5th season

Grade: C

Admitted defeat on Erik Gudranson and Sam Gagner, should have handled mid-season goalie crisis better and has to sort out AHL development issues. But Benning made good pickups in Josh Leivo, Tanner Pearson and Luke Schenn, added late draft picks for expiring assets, and continued to get more young players into his improving team. Would have looked better had Hughes played the full season. And if Schaller had scored before March 17.

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