Canucks playoff stock watch: Who’s trending up, who’s trending down after 10 games?

EDMONTON — There can be no doubt that this group of Vancouver Canucks players is bought in.

They’ve bought what they’ve been sold. They play extraordinarily disciplined, structural hockey.

Brian Burke famously said of Jacque Lemaire’s Minnesota Wild: “They’re not a hockey team, they’re a cult.”

It’s a phrase that might as well apply to this Canucks team, especially now that they’re playing the role of pesky underdog, scrapping it out against an Edmonton Oilers side loaded with marquee names and high-octane offensive weapons but with a penchant for lacking focus and shaky goaltending.

We all know how that one ended. Now perhaps the shoe is on the other foot.

With a gut-punch loss in Edmonton in Game 4, this series is now a best of three. And the Canucks have two of those three games at home.



How Oilers survived improbable Canucks rally to win Game 4

This is an incredible opportunity; a chance to prevent an Oilers side built to win now from getting to the conference final in one of the highest-stakes seasons of the Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid era.

And yet Vancouver was soundly outplayed in Game 4. The extent of the Oilers’ dominance might be obscured by the way Vancouver rallied late incredibly, again (an endless supply of faith is typical of cults), but it shouldn’t be ignored.

Rick Tocchet certainly didn’t ignore it when he reflected on Game 4 postgame Tuesday night.

“We need five or six guys to get going here,” Tocchet said of his club’s performance. “I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. There’s some guys I’m not sure if they think it’s the playoffs. We can’t play with 12 guys, so we’ve got to figure it out quick.”

Tocchet has achieved a rare level of buy-in on this Canucks team. And every time he’s challenged them all season long, he’s managed to elicit the desired response. The Canucks will need a response performance in Game 5 on Thursday night, considering how Edmonton dialled things up defensively in Game 4.

In the wake of Tocchet’s commentary and because Vancouver has now played 10 postseason games, let’s look at the Canucks skaters trending up and down in the playoffs so far.

Trending up

Brock Boeser

Boeser hasn’t just elevated his game for the playoffs. What we’re seeing is the product of the work he’s put in to reconfigure his game to play star-level winning hockey.

As this season has rolled along, Boeser put it together as a more complete player. He’d shown flashes of improved playmaking (particularly from down low), a more well-rounded goal-scoring toolkit — which now includes serious touch as a deflections master — and an upgraded defensive game, and now they’re all hallmarks of what Boeser brings to this team every single game.

Boeser has proven across 10 playoff games that he’s arrived as a lethal, clutch, crunch-time top-line winger capable of winning in tough matchups at the hardest time of year.

J.T. Miller

Miller struggled in Game 4 — and harshly pointed the blame at himself for being unable to block Evan Bouchard’s game-winning goal — but his overall body of work in these playoffs has been outstanding. He’s scored 11 points in 10 games, leads Canucks forwards in averaging 21:07 per game and has been a dominant 58.1 percent faceoff winner.

Through 10 playoff games, Miller’s helped the Canucks control 58.7 percent of scoring chances during his five-on-five shifts. He’s excelled playing a hard-nosed, competitive defensive game, surrendering just 1.16 goals against per hour at five-on-five. Miller has been the most frequent Vancouver forward matched up against Connor McDavid at five-on-five in this series and hasn’t allowed a goal against in 37:37, even though the run of play has been lopsided in Edmonton’s favour.

Offensively, Miller’s playmaking has been on point. He’s done a lot of the heavy lifting when the Canucks’ power play has produced. For a while, especially in the Nashville series, it felt like his line was the only one that could reliably generate offensive looks.

Miller may be upset with his Game 4 performance but he’s been a two-way workhorse during this playoff run.

Nikita Zadorov

Zadorov has cemented his status as a cult hero this postseason.

The quotable 6-foot-5 defender has played bone-crunching physical hockey, earned Tocchet’s trust as a top-four defender in the biggest games and pitched in four goals and seven points across Vancouver’s 10 playoff games so far.

Elias Lindholm

Lindholm has been one of the most impactful trade deadline acquisitions. Maybe it’s not in the exact role the Canucks envisioned — he didn’t fit as a scoring winger on Elias Pettersson’s line early in his Vancouver tenure — but it doesn’t matter. He’s been a legitimate two-way difference-maker.

Lindholm ranks second among Canucks players with five goals. He’s been tenacious recovering pucks on the power play (especially in Game 3 against Edmonton) and assertive and physical on the forecheck at even strength. Tocchet trusts Lindholm for key faceoffs and a ton of defensive zone starts (occasionally even double-shifting him for them).

The 29-year-old pending free agent has also been spectacular on the penalty kill — he leads Canucks forwards in short-handed ice time yet has been on the ice for just two goals against on the PK the entire playoffs.

Arturs Silovs

Silovs was one of the only reasons the Canucks had a shot at winning Game 4. Vancouver didn’t start generating dangerous offensive shifts and high-danger chances with abundance until Garland’s goal in the third period. Before that, Silovs was under siege, especially in the first period and during Edmonton’s third-period power play.

The 23-year-old Latvian outdueled Juuse Saros in Round 1. He’s only had one below-average start through six games, in Game 1 against Edmonton, but he’s more than made up for it as the series has progressed. Frankly, it’s remarkable he’s holding up this well against Edmonton — he had zero prior experience against the Oilers’ superstar-laden offensive attack.

Silovs’ explosive athleticism and rebound control have been excellent. He’s occasionally had trouble tracking medium- to long-distance shots with traffic in front, but his overall body of work has been sensational for a third-string goaltender.

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Arturs Silovs makes a save against Dylan Holloway in Game 4. (Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

Trending down

Elias Pettersson

It’s impossible to discuss Pettersson’s struggles without addressing the elephant in the room: He has terrible linemates. Ilya Mikheyev can’t finish a chance to save his life. Nils Höglander has been disappointing. And his most recent winger in Game 4, Sam Lafferty, is a struggling fourth-liner.

Yes, Pettersson’s being sunk by underperforming wingers. But he needs to do more individually to create offence and drive play, too.

Pettersson won the key draw to earn a secondary assist on Boeser’s 2-2 tying goal in Game 4 against Edmonton and he finally scored on the power play in Game 2, but he hasn’t registered a single five-on-five point in four games against the Oilers and had just one against Nashville. Pettersson’s had the luxury of third-line quality matchups — he frequently played against the Predators’ Colton Sissons line and has drawn the Oilers’ Ryan McLeod line — but he hasn’t been able to capitalize. He has held his own defensively but the Canucks have been outscored 5-2 during his five-on-five shifts in the playoffs.

Vancouver’s star Swede has had spurts where he’s generated chances, but those stretches have been fleeting. He’s consistently losing puck battles and falling to the ice too easily when he faces contact.

The Canucks likely won’t go much deeper in the playoffs if Pettersson’s line continues to be a non-factor.

Filip Hronek

The Vancouver market is starting to sour on Hronek.

After a sizzling first half of the regular season where he noticeably elevated Quinn Hughes, Hronek has come crashing down to Earth in the fan base’s eyes. Hronek is without a point through 10 playoff games and logged just 12 points in his final 39 regular-season games. It’s strange seeing a player who produced 36 points in the first 42 games become a non-factor offensively in the playoffs. Defensively, he’s been up and down, too.

It’s not that Hronek has been a liability or concern on the blue line because Vancouver’s top pair is still driving strong results. The trouble is he’s not moving the needle individually. He’s a clear passenger next to Hughes instead of performing like the elite supporting piece he was for large chunks of the season.

Ian Cole

Cole had a very strong Round 1, but it’s been tough sledding for the veteran defensive blueliner of late.

Cole has been on the ice for seven of 14 goals in the Oilers series, with several of those goals — including an overtime winner in Game 2 — bouncing into the Vancouver net directly off Cole’s body or stick.

A major part of the issue is that Cole is logging some really difficult minutes, especially as one of the first guys over the boards on the penalty kill against the weapon of mass destruction that is Edmonton’s first power-play unit. At five-on-five, meanwhile, Cole is logging the majority of his ice time against the Oilers’ dynamic top-six forwards.

Only about a quarter of Cole’s ice time has been spent head-to-head with Edmonton’s bottom-six forwards, and in those minutes, Vancouver has won the territorial battle and outshot Edmonton 10-3. And even against Edmonton’s second line, Cole’s work from the blue line in has still been solid. Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Evander Kane and company have had some success head-to-head against Cole in this series, but they’ve largely been kept to the outside.

Cole’s five-on-five struggles are mostly isolated to his head-to-head minutes with McDavid. In about 20 of those minutes, the Oilers have outshot Vancouver 12-2, though Edmonton only has one goal to show for it.

There’s no question things haven’t gone Cole’s way. And while the Oilers are so skilled that they’re going to have their moments, Cole has struggled to clear the puck and contribute to breakouts with his usual, productive calmness. That’s contributed to how much time Cole is spending in situations where the Oilers’ skill can play.

Perhaps there’s an argument for Tocchet using home-ice advantage to tamp down the difficulty of Cole’s five-on-five deployment in Game 5, but the Canucks also need him to sort out this run of bad breaks and results. The Canucks need one of their steadiest shutdown players to get back to being a steadying presence.

Ilya Mikheyev

If you’re a Canucks fan, do you even get excited or hopeful when Mikheyev gets a scoring chance anymore? Time after time, he gets golden offensive looks. And time after time, he buries the puck straight into the goalie’s chest.

Mikheyev doesn’t have a point in the playoffs and has scored one goal in his last 60 games. How is that even possible when you spend so much time next to Pettersson?

To make matters worse, he isn’t contributing in other areas. He doesn’t transport the puck up ice. He isn’t creating havoc on the forecheck. He rarely throws his weight around physically. He lacks the playmaking chops to bring anything to the table offensively. Sure, he won’t hurt you defensively, but the bar has to be way higher for a player making $4.75 million against the cap, especially with this type of lineup opportunity.

Sam Lafferty

Assigned to play with Pettersson to open Game 4, Lafferty ultimately played less than seven and a half minutes.

While Lafferty has occasionally bumped up the lineup without effect, he’s mostly played fourth-line minutes on this run. He hasn’t been a liability, which is the primary goal on an NHL fourth line, but he hasn’t made a consistent impact or played to a consistent identity either.

Nils Höglander

Höglander’s 24 five-on-five goals in the regular season made him one of the NHL’s most prolific even-strength scorers. The Canucks could sure use that version of him right now.

Höglander has been healthy-scratched for the last two games. He’s scored zero goals and just one assist in eight games. The feisty 23-year-old winger was a wrecking ball on the forecheck during the season but hasn’t forced turnovers with any regularity in the playoffs. And when he has recovered the puck in the offensive zone, he’s either been pushed off it too easily down low or has thrown possession away instead of successfully making the next play.

Tocchet hinted at lineup changes for Game 5 — if Höglander draws back into the lineup, he needs to be far more impactful than what we’ve seen to this point.

(Top photo of Brock Boeser: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

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