Elias Pettersson leads the Canucks in a lot of categories. He’s first in goals, points, power play goals and points, game-winning goals, and plus/minus. If you prefer your stats a little fancier, Pettersson leads the Canucks in Wins Above Replacement, aka. WAR, and is in fact one of the best in the league by that metric.
When you look at some other statistics, however, Pettersson comes in second place. Pettersson is second among Canucks forwards in corsi percentage, fenwick percentage, shots percentage, and goals percentage. He is second in all of those statistics to one player: Josh Leivo.
In other words, with Leivo on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks out-attempt, out-shoot, and out-score the opposition to a greater degree than when any other player is on the ice.
That may come as a surprise, since Leivo is on a scoring drought with no goals in his last nine games and just one assist in that time. Leivo scored on his first shot in his first game with the Canucks and had four goals and five points in his first nine games after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade, but hasn’t scored since.
Although he hasn’t been putting up points, Leivo is still contributing in other ways, leading to his excellent underlying statistics. He has a 55.1% corsi, while no other Canucks forward is above 50%, and the Canucks have outscored their opponents 15-6 with him on the ice at 5-on-5.
It’s tempting to associate those numbers with playing so much alongside Elias Pettersson, but he’s done well in his time away from Petterson too. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 10-5 with both of them on the ice at 5-on-5; they’ve still outscored their opponents 5-1 when Leivo doesn’t have Pettersson with him.
A lot of good things are happening while Leivo is on the ice, but he’s not picking up a lot of points.
We can look at one game in particular to see how Leivo helps the Canucks offensively even when he doesn’t pick up points. On December 9th, the Canucks faced the St Louis Blues and walked away with a convincing 6-1 victory on the back of a Brock Boeser hat trick and a five-point night from Elias Pettersson.
Leivo was on a line with Pettersson and Boeser in that game and was on the ice for four Canucks goals at 5-on-5, but somehow didn’t record a single point.
On the first goal of the game, Leivo pressured Jay Bouwmeester behind the Blues net, lifting his stick as he attempted to ring the puck around the boards. As a result, he didn’t get much on the puck and it was picked off by Pettersson, who centred to Boeser for the goal.
The second goal came off the stick of Pettersson. On the zone entry, Leivo criss-crossed in front of Pettersson and opened up for the one-timer. That forced the defencemen to switch checks, which gave Pettersson a little more room, and forced goaltender Jake Allen to consider the possibility of a pass, leaving more space on the glove side for Pettersson’s shot.
While Leivo didn’t have much of an impact on the third goal, he was a key contributor to the 6-1 goal that completed Boeser’s hat trick and gave Pettersson his fifth point.
Leivo is the one who initially gained the offensive zone, then went to the front of the net, where he battled with two Blues defencemen, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson. Not only did his engagement with both Blues mean that another Canuck was open, the puck deflected into the net off Edmundson’s leg in front. Without Leivo causing a ruckus in front, that puck doesn’t go in.
In those three plays, we see three different ways that Leivo contributed without recording a point. On the first, his pressure on the forecheck led to a turnover. On the second, the smart path he takes into the zone opens up possibilities for Pettersson. And on the third, his willingness to get to the front of the net and battle led to more space for his teammates and a tougher save for the goaltender.
That illustrates some of the ways Leivo helps the Canucks, but the way the Canucks have used Leivo also helps him. He’s getting significantlymore favourable usage in Vancouver than he ever received in Toronto.
You can see that in his most common linemates. With the Leafs this season, he played primarily with fourth-liners Tyler Ennis and Frederik Gauthier; with the Canucks, he’s played primarily with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. His change in usage goes beyond just his linemates, however.
Leivo is also playing more for the Canucks, averaging 10:51 in 5-on-5 ice time per game, compared to 8:45 per game with the Leafs. With more ice time and better teammates, Leivo is also facing stiffer competition, though is still seeing opponents’ top lines less than the league average, as illustrated by HockeyViz.
In other words, Travis Green has used his checking lines to shelter Leivo and his linemates from top lines. The sheltering goes beyond that, however: with the Leafs this season, Leivo rarely started his shifts in the offensive zone. With the Canucks, he almost never starts a shift in the defensive zone.
Only one player on the Leafs started a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than Leivo — Par Lindholm — while no player on the Canucks starts more shifts in the offensive zone. In fact, no NHL player starts a higher percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone than Leivo.
That tilted usage helps explain his 55.1% corsi, although Leivo also had a solid 50.0% corsi with the Leafs. Leivo is perfectly capable of playing in more of a defensive role, which makes his usage in Vancouver intriguing. Is it just because Green isn’t familiar with Leivo that he hasn’t put him in more defensive situations? Is that usage likely to change as Leivo learns the system more and earns more of Green’s trust?
Let’s take a look at a variety of statistics and how they’ve changed since his trade to the Canucks:
With more offensive usage, Leivo is putting up points at a higher rate and putting up better underlying numbers.
What’s most intriguing is his shot rate. Leivo is averaging more shots per 60 minutes than any other Canuck, having surpassed Jake Virtanen in that category. His 10.43 shots per 60 minutes with the Canucks would rank 17th in the NHL.
At some point, the puck should start going in the net again for Leivo; in the meantime, he’s still contributing offensively.