The Canucks are getting closer and closer to a fully healthy roster. With the expected return of Sven Baertschi and Troy Stecher to the lineup in Calgary on Saturday night, the lone player left on the Canucks’ injured reserve is Brandon Sutter, who is travelling with the team on their current road trip and could return soon.
In order to get down to the 23-man roster limit, the Canucks sent down rookie centre Adam Gaudette to the Utica Comets. It was the easiest and most obvious move to make; it was also the right one.
Gaudette’s minutes have been limited of late. After flirting with third-line minutes earlier in the season, Gaudette played under ten minutes in four of his last five games and was just over ten minutes in the fifth. If those are the type of minutes he’s going to get in the NHL, it would be far better for him to spend some time in the AHL, playing big minutes in all situations and regaining some confidence in his offensive skill set.
While Gaudette has shown flashes of the player he could become, it’s been hard for him to establish himself while playing the equivalent of fourth-line minutes, and he has just two goals and six points in 31 games.
Gaudette’s underlying numbers, which were strong to start the season, have tapered off. While he’s still sixth among Canucks forwards in corsi percentage, that’s in some soft minutes in comparison to his compatriots. He’s simply not creating enough offensively to earn more minutes, which is immediately apparent in the heat map of shots taken when he’s on the ice.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the world for Gaudette, who is, after all, a rookie. Not every rookie is going to dominate the league like Elias Pettersson. While Gaudette is already 22 and should be a lot closer to hitting his prime, there’s still plenty of time for him to develop his game more and become a significant contributor at the NHL level. He's already proven that he can hold his own.
Ultimately, a stint in Utica should be good for both him and the Comets. Gaudette could use some more growth in his game and the Comets could use more skilled centres. Gaunce has shifted back to centre, which has helped, but Gaudette should provide a significant boost.
Gaudette could provide some playmaking for the Canucks’ prospect wingers like Jonathan Dahlen, Lukas Jasek, Zack MacEwen, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich, assuming he doesn’t get called back up right away due to another rash of injuries.
Meanwhile, Baertschi and Stecher return to a Canucks team that is on a roll, with wins in seven of their last ten games. Their absence has still been noted, however. Adding a skilled forward like Baertschi gives the Canucks something much closer to a top-nine rather than a top-six/bottom-six split in their forward group.
Line rushes at the Canucks’ morning skate saw Baertschi on the third line with Markus Granlund and Josh Leivo, a combination that could provide some depth scoring behind the Horvat and Pettersson lines.
Morning skate line rushes for the #Canucks in Calgary:— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) December 29, 2018
(Extras: Gaudette, Schaller, Sutter)
Del Zotto-Biega pic.twitter.com/o7pcyp0lmo
As for Stecher, he’s expected to skate with Ben Hutton on the second pairing. That gives Hutton a more mobile partner than Erik Gudbranson, albeit smaller. Hutton and Stecher enjoy playing together and are good friends off the ice. While that's no guarantee of success, the two deserve a chance to develop some on-ice chemistry.
While Hutton and Erik Gudbranson looked decent to start the season, they’ve struggled more recently. They have a 42.73% corsi when paired together at 5-on-5 this season and have been out-scored 30-17 in that time. Their issues as a pairing were magnified in some of the games leading up to Christmas, which may have been the trigger to making this change with Stecher’s return.
It was a similar injury that felled Baertschi and Stecher, as each received hits to the head from the blind side that gave them concussions. Neither perpetrator received a suspension — in Baertschi’s case, Tomas Hyka didn’t even get a penalty — causing some frustration with George Parros and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Baertschi missed 30 games with his concussion, while Stecher only missed three; the two players that hit them in the heads didn’t miss any games at all.