PHOENIX – The loudest cheer in Canucks Nation a year ago came when general manager Jim Benning leveraged outgoing veteran Jannik Hansen to acquire 2014 first-rounder Nikolay Goldobin from the San Jose Sharks.
The second-loudest cheer came from the Russian, who was eager for a new start and a better chance to play in the National Hockey League. But 12 months later, after just six points in 18 games for the Canucks in a season spent mostly in the minors, Goldobin is no longer one of the brightest baubles on the development tree.
He was beaten out of an NHL roster spot last fall by rookie Brock Boeser and third-year pro Jake Virtanen. When recalled from the Utica Comets, Goldobin has been in and out of coach Travis Green’s lineup.
And a line of talented, even younger forward prospects, is quietly queueing up behind the 22-year-old winger. U.S. college star Adam Gaudette will probably play for the Canucks in March, and fifth-overall draft pick Elias Pettersson has a good chance to make the team next fall, as does robust second-rounder Kole Lind.
As their rebuild progresses, the Canucks aren’t becoming easier for Goldobin to make. The competition is getting harder. Goldobin’s advantage is that he is here already, and those other guys aren’t.
But nobody’s opportunity is unlimited, and as Goldobin plays with the Canucks during their three-game road trip that traverses Monday’s trade deadline, it’s possible that Benning could make another move involving the Russian.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the NHL,” Green said Friday. “Whether you’ve been in the league as a rookie, as a young guy, as a guy that’s three or four or five years into the league … there’s always going to be someone that’s looking to take your job unless you’re one of those bonafide top guys. And we’re trying to find as many of those guys as we can. But in the meantime, we’re trying to progress our young guys to become full-time NHL players that you can win with.”
Goldobin can score in the American League, where he has 30 points in 28 games in his third minor-league season, but hasn’t been able to carry that game to the NHL. In his 18 games for the Canucks, spent mostly on the top three lines, Goldobin has generated only 20 shots on net.
“He does a lot of good things,” Green said. “The thing about skilled players is pushing them to be intense away from the puck. It’s a bit of a learned trait for some of the young guys. I find in Goldie’s game, when he has the puck he does a lot of good things. (But) how does he get the puck back? How does he stop the other team from simply breaking out of their zone? A lot of that is willingness to get to places quick.
“We do understand that Goldie is a young, skilled player that has some parts in his game that I’m not thrilled with — that we’ve talked to him about and he’s worked on. But there’s also some parts that he’s really good at, areas that we need. So if we can combine that, he knows what he needs to do. Part of the onus is on us, and a lot of onus is on the player. He’s not the only one.”
In Friday’s 6-3 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights, Goldobin skated with Bo Horvat and Boeser.
Three nights earlier, in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Goldobin had a goal and assist and may have played his best game since his season debut on Nov. 30, when he set up Boeser’s game-winner in Nashville.
“I feel confident,” Goldobin said. “I’m playing a little more minutes. You have to play well to stay in this league. There is pressure. Every year I’m getting older; I expect from myself to stay in the lineup every game.”
Goldobin conceded he has been “frustrated” at times this season and declined to answer whether he thinks the Canucks have treated him fairly. But he also knows he can play better.
“Of course, it could go better,” he said of his season. “I was thinking to make the team from the start of the season. But I’m glad I’m here with the team now.
“Anything can happen (at the trade deadline). If traded, then I get chance with another team. It’s not my control. But I’m happy to be here. We’ll see what happens next year. If it doesn’t work out and I’m not playing in NHL, maybe there’s a chance for KHL. But my dream is to play in NHL.”
The Canucks’ dream is that Goldobin plays for them. But you can’t sleep forever.