With the Vancouver Canucks hitting their stride and looking like the forceful team they were supposed to be there are still a few elements that have been surprising. Here are a few early-season notes we didn’t see coming:
1) Keith Ballard being a healthy scratch over Aaron Rome
OK, so Ballard isn’t ever going to win a Norris Trophy, but he has been a serviceable, top-four defenseman who averaged well more than 20:00 of ice time a night over the past three seasons on two Florida teams and one Phoenix team; none of which were very good. But even though he was a big part of those soft-touch teams his plus-minus from the past three years is a combined plus-14. He’s also been good for about 25-35 points. This year, however, Ballard’s ice time is down to 13:46 per game without a single point and a minus-3 rating to his name. Meanwhile, Michael Grabner has four points in 10 games with the Islanders after being waived by Florida, Steve Bernier has four points through 12 games as a Panther and 25th overall pick and power forward Quinton Howden has 20 points in 17 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors: Which package would you rather have?
2) Ryan Kesler a minus player
Like you, I’d be shocked if it remains this way after 82 games. Kesler hasn’t finished as a minus player since he was minus-2 in 28 games with Vancouver and minus-4 in 33 games with AHL Manitoba in 2003-04 – his first pro season and the only minus season on his resume. Still, you never want to see your Selke contender sitting in the red. Kesler has eight points through 13 games and averages the most ice time among forwards on the Canucks, but has managed only three even strength points. The fact five of his points have come with the man advantage does nothing for his plus-minus rating and in the seven games where he has scored at least one point, he’s a combined minus-1.
3) Jannik Hansen stepping to the fore
The NHL draft is now only seven rounds long so if the same rules were in place back in 2004, ninth-rounder Hansen wouldn’t have even been selected at all. Four players were picked later than the Dane that draft, but current NHLers Mark Streit, Daniel Winnik and Kyle Wilson went a little earlier in the round. Hansen is establishing himself as a more prominent penalty-killer – though Alexandre Burrows’ return will take away some ice time there – and is flashing the body a lot more. He’s currently second behind Andrew Alberts on the team in hits with 33 in 13 games, way up from the grand total of 48 he threw in 47 contests last year. Hansen will likely never be mistaken as a scoring ace, but Vancouver has enough of those. The team spent the summer upgrading the third line, where they needed help most, so it’s refreshing to see a homegrown talent taking leaps and bounds towards becoming reliable in that role.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.