Welcome to the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks player grade series. In this series, we at The Hockey Writers look back at each Canucks player from the past season and break down how their campaign went. This edition will focus on Brock Boeser, Nils Höglander and Tanner Pearson.
With player grades comes an interpretation of what each person saw over the course of the season, with each list consisting of breakdowns of roughly three players. With each, we’ll not only look into their overall stats and analytical numbers, but also their impact on the organization and outlook moving forward with the team.
The 2021-22 season was a tale of two campaigns for Boeser. Let’s start with the bad, and that was the Travis Green era. In his first 22 games of the season, he scored four goals and added six assists. This despite playing over 18 minutes a game and getting time on the power play. It looked as though he had lost all confidence in his game until a coaching change rejuvenated him.
With the arrival of Bruce Boudreau also came the arrival of Boeser’s game. In the 49 games he played under the new coach, the Canucks sniper scored 19 goals and added 17 assists for 36 points. He also saw his shooting percentage rise from 7.1% to 13.7% and registered the most power-play shots on goal with 40 during the 49 games he played under the new regime. It was clear that the new coaching and playing style benefited him and helped him bounce back after a tough start.
When it comes to Boeser’s defensive game, the phrase “good enough” comes to mind, as he is defensively responsible, isn’t afraid to block shots and can create takeaways. While there is some concern regarding his skating and ability to get back into the play, he is not a defensive liability. For a player who is paid to score goals, he does bring some defensive value as well.
It was a tough year at times on and off the ice for Boeser but overall, he had a good year and showed that he was still a reliable 25-goal scorer in the NHL. If the Canucks would have made the coaching change earlier, it is very possible he would have set career highs in points while finally eclipsing 30 goals. Despite how it started, the 2021-22 campaign showed why he is such a valuable player to this organization and that it would be in the Canucks’ best interest to re-sign him long-term.
Player Grade: B
Höglander’s second season in the NHL was a disappointment, as he was unable to build on a rookie campaign that saw him put up 27 points in 56 games. Unlike Boeser, he actually had a better season while Green was the head coach with ten of his 18 points coming in 25 games. In the case of the young Swede, it is safe to say the sophomore slump hit him hard.
On the defensive side, Höglander struggled. While he did see an increase in hits from 26 to 41, he saw a major decrease in takeaways from 42 to 25. He also blocked three fewer shots and had five more turnovers and eight more penalty minutes. On the plus side, he did produce a positive Corsi at 53.4% but benefited greatly from strong goaltending that helped his overall plus/minus.
It was not just Höglander who struggled to score but anyone who was aligned with him, as the Canucks registered a 5.9% shooting percentage when he was on the ice this season. That was the lowest of any player who played over 20 games. His struggles also led to being benched and only playing over 15:30 of total ice-time once under Boudreau. Lastly, he was one of 11 Canucks to produce a negative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) score with his minus-0.3 being third-worst on the team of players who played at least 20 games.
The best thing for Höglander is to try and forget the 2021-22 season and focus on the future. He showed that he has the capability to be a productive middle-six forward in the NHL based on his rookie campaign, so it is far too early for the team to give up on him. With a solid training camp, he could get back into Boudreau’s good graces and bounce back in 2022-23.
Player Grade: C
There is a lot of criticism heaped on Pearson in the Vancouver market because of his contract. With an average annual value hit of $3.25 million, some believe that cap space can be used better. Despite how fans may perceive him, the former Stanley Cup champion had a good year in 2021-22 bringing value and decent offensive production to a team that was desperate for depth scoring.
This season, Pearson finished with 34 points in 68 games. From a purely points-per-game perspective, it was his third-best season in the NHL. What makes him an effective winger is his ability to read off his linemates and get to open spaces. Whether it was with J.T. Miller or Bo Horvat, he showed that he could adapt his game to best suit the linemates he was with. He has a nose for the net and helped facilitate the offence at even strength even when he didn’t get on the scoresheet.
Diving into the advanced analytics, they show how valuable Pearson was when it came to defence, as he ranked second in even-strength defence above replacement and overall defence above replacement. In short, the opposition had a tough time generating chances when he was on the ice. All in all, he brought some stability to the Canucks’ forward group when it came to defensive zone play, which was desperately needed for a team that bled scoring chances all season.
As mentioned, some may criticize Pearson for not producing, but he does bring other tools to the table. It is fair to question whether or not he should be playing in the top-six but it should be established that he is a valuable member of this Canucks team. If he can have another season as he did in 2021-22, it will benefit Vancouver greatly in the standings.
Player Grade: B+
The offseason for these three players should be interesting as all have been the target of trade rumours lately. While they may have value in the trade market, Boeser, Höglander and Pearson all have the potential to be key parts of the Canucks in 2022-23. Make sure to keep checking The Hockey Writers for more player grades as the offseason continues.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.