Adam Gaudette could be the Canucks missing top six winger

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The Canucks missing top six winger could be their third line center.

There were three key unrestricted free agents for the Canucks heading into the offseason: Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Tyler Toffoli. Neither of them re-signed with the Canucks, but general manager Jim Benning found a way to replace two of the three, signing Braden Holtby to take Markstrom’s place at the net and trade for Nate Schmidt to fill the gap. left by Tanev in defense.On the forward, however, Benning was content to hold on, signing the Canucks restricted free agents again, but adding only Jayce Hawryluk, a savvy signing but no longer a replacement for also starter Josh Leivo. Benning doesn’t seem concerned about replacing Toffoli.

“In the regular season, let’s not forget, Tyler played 10 games for us,” Benning said earlier this month. “So we’re going to come back with pretty much the same group of forwards that we had last year and with our young guys we think they will continue to grow and improve. In doing so, it makes our team better. ”

That still leaves open the question of who will fill the vacant top six spot for the Canucks. The Canucks might turn to Jake Virtanen, but it can be frustrating. Hawryluk has untapped potential, but he’s mostly played a role in the NHL’s last six. Expecting a Canucks prospect like Kole Lind or Nils Höglander to step straight into a top-six role is asking a lot.

There’s another option the Canucks could try in the top six. It’s a winner from Hobey Baker, who finished fourth at the Canucks in points per hour behind Toffoli, Elias Pettersson and JT Miller. He’s got speed, great shooting and loves scoring goals, but he’s probably one of the last players Canucks fans consider a potential top-six forward.

It’s Adam Gaudette.

Okay, anyone who’s read the title of this article isn’t surprised at this point, but there might still be a bit of bewilderment in seeing Gaudette in the title in the first place. After all, Gaudette is prepared as the Canucks’ third row center, giving the Canucks a one-two-three punch down the middle with Pettersson and Bo Horvat.

But there are a few reasons to think Gaudette could be the Canucks’ best bet as the second right winger in the top six behind Brock Boeser.

The case of Gaudette as a winger

First, we see the crosses moving towards the wing all the time in the NHL. Players drafted as centers often end up playing on the wing at the NHL level, either because their style of play adapts better to the wing, or they lack the required two-way play to play. one cross, or because their team just has too many crosses.

This is one of the reasons why teams should not hesitate to stock up on crosses in the draft. While not all crosses can move to the wing, as these are different positions that require different skills, it is much easier to move a cross to the wing than a winger to the center.

The Canucks have a perfect example of that in their lineup: JT Miller. While he played on the wing with Pettersson last season, he was drafted as a center and played center in the NHL, but he mostly aligned on the wing. With the Canucks, Miller played on the wing with Pettersson, although he took most of the faceoffs.

In other words, it’s reasonable enough to suggest that Gaudette, a natural center, be moved to the wing.

But a bigger reason it would make sense is that Gaudette hasn’t really been great at center.

While Gaudette managed to rack up 33 points last season in a matter of minutes, most of that score came on the power play. He was excellent on the second power play unit and was a major driver of that unit’s success.

Evenly, with all the additional responsibilities of a center, Gaudette struggled. Only Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte were on the ice for a higher rate of shots against 5 on 5, and they were deployed mostly in the defensive zone.

You can see the big difference between Gaudette’s even-force impact and power play with Evolving-Hockey’s RAPM graphics. The center line is the league average for each statistic: goals for, goals expected for, corsi for, goals against and corsi against.

Adam Gaudette’s RAPM 2019-20 board via Evolving-Hockey.com

Gaudette’s impact on the power play is far above average, but the same can’t be said for his even-matched play, especially defensively. This is despite being considerably safe: no Canucks center played less against the top lines than Gaudette and no Canuck was on the ice for fewer faceoffs in the defensive zone.

There’s also the issue that he was clearly the Canucks’ worst center in faceoffs. He only won 41.2% of his draws, which limited his coach’s ability to start him in. the defensive zone.

That’s enough to make you wonder if Gaudette can really defend himself as a third-line center in the NHL, but his offensive production clearly shows he can score points. If only there was a way for him to continue playing in the NHL, perhaps in a more offensive role, without the heavy defensive responsibilities of a third-line center.

If only.

Gaudette is certainly aware of the need to improve his defensive game and he is mainly working on his strength and explosiveness to make sure he does not pursue the game as much next season.

“I think getting a little faster and a little stronger will help in that area,” he says. “Instead of being a step behind someone in zone D, I’ll be a little faster, a little faster, so I can explode in a place to be there before them… I think fill in, get a one. a little heavier and a little louder is going to help more than people think.

There’s another reason playing Gaudette on the wing in the top-six might be the right move: It worked out really well last season.

At the start of last season, Gaudette spent some time on the right wing, with Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle or Bo Horvat in the middle. It didn’t last, mainly because Sutter and Beagle’s injuries required a return to center, but it was working.

“There isn’t as much reflection in zone D as with a center,” Gaudette said at the time. “And it’s always easier to come back and play center, so getting used to the wing is something I will always have in the future, which is good. It will make me a little more diverse.

Head coach Travis Green also appreciated the added versatility of Gaudette’s move to the wing.

“I love that he’s learning to play on the right and even now I think he could play on the left,” Green said. “When you’re a cross and you feel comfortable on the wall you can suddenly play left or right, and he can do that… That will give us a lot of great options because he has a lot energy and I still think the offensive side of his game is coming.

Gaudette’s high-energy play feels like a fit for the wing, as long as he can improve his strength for battles along the boards. He has the speed to cross the neutral zone and enter the front deck as well as the finish and play to know what to do with the puck in the attacking zone.

Of all the options for playing on the Horvat wing, Gaudette might be the best option.

When you look at all the lines that played at least 30 minutes together last season, Tanner Pearson, Horvat and Gaudette’s line jumps off the page: they had the best expected goal percentage of any Canucks line according to Evolving-Hockey. . In other words, they have outperformed and surpassed their opposition more than any other line in the Canucks.

That comes with a major caveat: They’ve only played just over 31 minutes together, mostly in four games in early November. This is a sample size that is far too small to draw any firm conclusions, but the results were good enough to merit a longer examination.

Here are all the front lines with Horvat who played at least 30 minutes together and their percentage of expected goals. In general, Horvat needed Pearson on his left wing and did well with one of the Loui Eriksson, Leivo or Miller on the right. But he absolutely thrived with Gaudette on the right wing.

Bo Horvat's Linemen 2019-20Bo Horvat’s teammates 2019-20 by percentage of expected goals. Data via Evolving-Hockey.com

There’s really only one problem: the Canucks don’t have a lot of center depth.

It’s easy enough to imagine Gaudette starting the season on the right wing with Horvat and having veterans Sutter and Beagle center the third and fourth row. It’s much harder to imagine Sutter and Beagle staying healthy all season long.

The Canucks have Marc Michaelis in the AHL, a center named by Hobey Baker with a well-rounded game that should be able to play NHL games next season. It would be better: he is already 25 years old.

After Michaelis, however, the Canucks don’t really have any other centers. That, more than anything else, could prevent the Canucks from experimenting with Gaudette on the wing, although that is where he could have the most impact.

Would it be nice for Gaudette to transform into a solid third-line cross? Sure, but what if he could become one of the top six winger scorers instead? He thrived in the positionless role on the power play, showed he was a fit with Horvat in a small sample, and has the speed and shot to fit into an on-wing role. At the very least, it’s worth a try.

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