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Vancouver Canucks Need to Give Adam Gaudette a Bigger Role

The last time Vancouver Canucks’ centre Jay Beagle was on the ice for a goal for was 15 games ago: Feb. 2 in a 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

In the 14 games since, not only has Beagle been on the ice for zero goals for at five-on-five (and eight goals against), but he’s been on the ice for nearly twice as many five-on-five scoring chances against as scoring chances for — 41 for and 73 against. That 35.76 percent figure is the worst on the Canucks and the 11th worst in the NHL for forwards with a minimum of 50 minutes played at five-on-five since Feb. 3.

During Sunday’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights — one that was arguably the Canucks ugliest of the season, other than maybe getting shut out by the Anaheim Ducks — there was yet more evidence of Beagle’s mighty struggles in 2019. Don’t get me wrong, the issue was bigger than Beagle alone. Here’s a heat map of unblocked shots to prove it.

A heat map of offensive zone unblocked shot attempts during the March 3 game between the Canucks and Golden Knights. The Canucks offensive opportunities are on the left, while the Golden Knights are on the right (via NaturalStatTrick.com)

The Canucks as a team got absolutely shelled at five-on-five, giving up 44 scoring chances against while creating just 18 themselves. As the heat map shows, many of the Vegas chances came from right in front of the net. Poor Jacob Markstrom.

At five-on-five, the Canucks looked awful, especially with Beagle on the ice, where they allowed 26 shot attempts against and generated nine. They surrendered 13 scoring chances against and mustered just three themselves. Beagle was also on the ice for two of the three Golden Knights’ goals.

St. Louis Blues Robert Thomas and Vancouver Canucks Jay Beagle

Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle struggled in February. His first game in March wasn’t much better. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Now, Beagle is not the focus of this article. The player he is taking minutes from, 22-year-old Adam Gaudette, is.

Because the Canucks have gone 3-8-3 in their last 14 games and now sit eight points out of a playoff spot, it’s time for Gaudette to get more minutes. Even if the Canucks were still in the playoff picture, the Northeastern University alumnus would still be due for a bigger role. At the very least, he deserves to be on the ice for more than 10:18 per game, which is what he’s currently getting and ranks 443rd for NHL forwards.

Related – Canucks’ Bo Horvat: The Emergence

Gaudette Used Sparingly Versus Golden Knights

In the first two periods of Sunday’s train-wreck, Beagle skated 10:10 at even-strength. During that time, he posted a 20 percent Corsi For (CF%) rating. With the Canucks down 3-0 heading into the third, you would think head coach Travis Green might want to give his young centerman, Gaudette, a few more shifts. Alas, that may have been asking too much, as Beagle skated 4:24 at even-strength in the third while Gaudette was on for 3:48, a whole ten seconds more than he played in the second period.

TSN 1040 Canucks reporter Jeff Paterson brought this up during the post-game show, using a word I very much enjoy: ‘curious.’

Gaudette — that’s a curious one…In a game that was getting away from the Canucks, guys that Travis Green was deferring to weren’t getting the job done and I’m a little surprised that he didn’t sort of change [tactics] mid-way through this hockey game and give a guy like Gaudette more of an opportunity. These are tough games. This is a tough place to play. This is a good Vegas team. I think this is all part of the learning curve.

Young players like Gaudette can’t learn if they don’t play.

Gaudette’s Production Has Increased

Gaudette has four goals in his last 12 games. For any player, rookie or not, that is nothing to scoff at. Half of his production this season — five points — have come in those last 12 games. That also means he has produced the same amount of points his first 28 games, as his last 12 games. Perhaps it earned him some trust, aside from Sunday’s game?

Not exactly. In his past nine games, where Gaudette has recorded four points, his ice-time has barely changed, skating an average of 9:19 per game at five-on-five. That is just 29 seconds higher than his average on the season (8:50).

Gaudette 5v5 Stats TOI/Game Points Points/60 CF% SCF% GF% Game Score
Oct. + Nov. (22 GP) 8:54 3 0.92 47.13 40.67 36.36 0.12
December (9 GP) 8:11 2 1.63 49.61 42.37 50 0.21
Jan-March (9 GP) 9:19 4 2.86 48.6 46.51 58.33 0.46
Total (40 GP) 8:50 (16th) 9 (11th) 1.53 (5th) 48.04 (9th) 42.71 (11th) 48.28 (5th) 0.22

The most obvious pattern from this chart is Gaudette’s increase in points per 60 minutes (P/60), which has risen over the course of the season to the point where he is fifth on the team with 1.53 P/60 in 2018-19. His 2.86 P/60 since Jan. 1 ranks first on the Canucks. Nine games is a small sample size, but it’s an indication that he might be capable of more if given the chance. There are a few things of note from the above chart (the rank in the bottom row is out of all Canucks forwards).

The second stat of note is Gaudette’s scoring chance for percentage (SCF%) steadily increasing. On the season, his 42.71 SCF% is still weak, ranking 11th of all Canucks forwards with at least 200 minutes played this season. But the point is it is improving. His relative minus-2.63 SCF% is in the red since Jan. 1, but Beagle’s is much worse, at minus-8.35 percent.

Third, Gaudette’s 48.28 goals for percentage (GF%) on the season is fifth of all Canucks forwards. It has also improved big time as the year has gone on, ranking ninth of all Canucks forwards for October and November, tied for fifth in December, and then second on the team since Jan. 1. I can (sort of) understand Green continuing to use Beagle if his alternative was continually on the ice for goals against. But the stats show that’s the case for Beagle, not Gaudette.

Canucks forward Adam Gaudette

Canucks forward Adam Gaudette has seen his stats improve as the season has gone on (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Lastly is the game score column, which comes courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards. Like wins above replacement (WAR), game score is still in its early stages in hockey and there’s no perfect equation yet. It’s derived by adding up everything a player does over the course of a game (goals, primary assists, shots on goal, blocked shots, penalty differential, faceoffs, etc.) and then weighing their importance in order to come up with a standardized measurement.

As the chart shows, Gaudette’s average impact on the game has improved considerably. For comparison, Beagle is the only Canucks player with a negative game score this season. He had a 0.05 average game score in 18 games in 2018, but in 24 games played in 2019, his average game score is minus-0.08.

Related: Canucks Need to Be Careful with Edler Extension

Canucks Spot in Standings Amplifies Need for Youth

The postseason is a lost hope at this point.

Eight points back is not insurmountable, but the Canucks would have to jump five teams to get in. They are closer to last place in the Western Conference (seven points) than they are to a playoff berth (eight points). And so, with the team in this position, would it not make sense to see what you’ve got for the future? What’s the worst that can happen? This?

Kidding aside, the worst case scenario is more losses, but that is already happening!

Green should already know what he has in Beagle, a player who is signed for three more years. There’s no downside to finding out what Gaudette might be able to do a couple of years down the line. This is a player that scored 30 goals and 60 points in 38 games in his junior year at Northeastern and tallied 11 points in 14 games when he was sent down to the Utica Comets earlier this season. Those are strong totals. But it doesn’t tell us if he has the necessary tools to be an effective third-line centre at the NHL level.

In order to answer that question as soon as possible, you have to play the kid, now. There truly is no time like the present.



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