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Abbotsford Canucks

Early Season Takeaways From the Abbotsford Canucks

We’re 11 games into the existence of the Abbotsford Canucks, and already, we’ve seen quite a bit from this squad

Early Season Takeaways From the Abbotsford Canucks

Small Digression: Massive flooding has impacted British Columbia this past week, cutting off major highway routes and causing an incredible amount of damage. One of the heaviest hit regions is Abbotsford, where the situation still remains very serious. I’d like to link some ways that you can support the communities, so please check it out if you can.

VANCOUVER, B.C. – We’re 11 games into the existence of the Abbotsford Canucks, and already, we’ve seen quite a bit from this squad. Currently sitting sixth in the Pacific Division, here are some very early takeaways from their first couple of matchups. 

Very Average Special Teams 

If there was one thing that defined the first couple of Canucks games, it was the lack of discipline shown by Abbotsford at the worst possible times. Though they sit 19th with 171 penalty minutes, they’ve also played fewer games than anyone in front of them (except Tucson, who’ve miraculously amassed 226 PIM in 11 games).

That being said, the Canucks’ specials teams have looked… alright. I’ve definitely been more impressed with the penalty kill than the powerplay, but by the numbers, both are hovering about the middle of the pack. The powerplay sits 19th with 17.8%, while the PK is 12th with 83.1%. 

The numbers also do describe what the eye test has shown. The PK is 6.2% off the league leaders, while the PP is closer towards the bottom. Starting off with the aforementioned powerplay, they’ve looked on the static side. At times, the Canucks have struggled to enter the zone, and when they do, the chances they generate are not high danger. The powerplay is at its best when the players are moving the puck and themselves fluidly, and we got a glimpse of that in the 7-1 win against the San Jose Barracuda. The next test will be seeing if the Canucks can replicate that consistently as the season progresses. 

On the other hand, the penalty kill has been solid from day one. It needed to be, too, with the penchant for undisciplined play to bite the Canucks. Though they are outside the top-10 in percentage, they haven’t looked bad on ice, limiting the opposition to perimeter chances the large majority of the time. It’s also a little unfortunate that they’re in the same division as the Ontario Reign, who have scored four out of the seven powerplay goals the Canucks have conceded all year. They lead the league in PP efficiency with 26.7%. 

Long story short, Abbotsford does have to improve their special team play if they want to be contenders in the Calder Cup conversation. In particular, the powerplay will have to find a way to keep clicking, becoming more consistently potent. 

Stepping Up Amid Chaos

The Abbotsford Canucks had never played together as a unit until their first game of the season. Chemistry was always going to be a work in progress, and what hasn’t helped matters is the many roster moves by Vancouver. Just when things started to get on a roll, key players have been brought up into the NHL and away from the AHL squad. And then there’s the whole Travis Hamonic kerfuffle, where a roulette of different defensemen get called up whenever the team heads to the United States. 

Justin Bailey hasn’t so much emerged, but continued, being the dynamic player in the AHL that he was with Utica. His speed and grit just seem to be a level beyond his peers and he has consistently been Abbotsford’s best player. After a stint with the big club, he’s recently been returned to Abbotsford, but who knows when he’ll be called up again.  

In his place, production-wise at least, Sheldon Dries has been more than admirable. He currently leads the Canucks with 12 points (6G, 6A) through ten games, leading the charge offensively. His linemate Sheldon Rempal sits second, tallying ten points in 11 matches. It’s not that they weren’t expected to produce, but rather, because of the circumstances they’ve stepped up to fill the void. 

I’ve also been really impressed by Noah Juulsen’s work on the defensive end. Acquired along with Juho Lammikko in the Olli Juolevi trade, the Abbotsford native has been solid on the back end. He hasn’t put up any points, but the physicality he brings while eating up tough matchups makes Juulsen a key cog in the D-corps.

The Kids Are Alright

While Abbotsford might not have a blue-chip prospect in their ranks like Alex Turcotte, the prospects that are minors are playing quite well. Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Danila Klimovich has been improving each and every game that he’s been in thus far, showing a very pro-ready toolbox. He tries things that no one else would try, such as this attempted shootout winner in their last game:

Klimovich only has four points in 11 games, but don’t be deceived: this kid is the real deal. At times he looks like the most talented player on the ice. The emphasis is at times. Klimovich does still need to work on his play and awareness in the defensive zone, though it has improved since the start of the year. He’s still young, and there are many things to learn, such as not changing in the middle of a shift in the d-zone. 

Moving on, Jett Woo has been steadily progressing in the minors himself. He started the year off on the first pairing with Ashton Sautner but has since been paired with Cameron Schilling on the second pair. It’s not really a demotion as it is just a better matchup. There, Woo doesn’t have to take on the primary offensive threats of opposing teams. That being said, he didn’t fare poorly in his time with Sautner, playing a solid responsible game with little risk. I like him being in a top-four role and not the top pairing, giving him the chance to learn without getting burned. Woo picked up his first goal of the season recently too! 

What would Canucks hockey be without some goalie controversy? Both Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs have looked excellent in their starts. DiPietro is currently sporting a 2.62 goals against average with a .915 save percentage, while Silovs has a 2.22 goals against average with a sparkling .924 save percentage. Both goalies have two wins and two regulation losses to their name, with DiPietro having two overtime and shootout losses as well. They’ve been very good, keeping the Canucks in games at times whenever they were getting shelled and giving the team in front of them a chance to win hockey games. 

There’s room for improvement for them as well. In particular, DiPietro’s rebound control has become a concern. I’d like to see improvement in that department as limiting those second chance opportunities would reduce a lot of high-risk play around the net. As for Silovs, it’s all about comfort playing the puck. There’s been a couple of dicey moments and I’d think it’s more of an experience thing for him to tweak.

It’s been an interesting start to the season, to say the least, and Abbotsford is in a tough battle in a tough Pacific Division. There’s been good signs and room for improvement all around, with adjustments surely inbound. The Canucks return to action on Friday night in Arizona, where they play the Tucson Roadrunners. The first faceoff is set for 7:00 PM Pacific time.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Michael Liu covers the Abbotsford Canucks for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHCanucks.

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