Nikolay Goldobin’s game has flaws, but Canucks shouldn’t give up on him

Pass it to Bulis

One Canuck, more than any other, has been a bone of contention this season. Nikolay Goldobin has been the subject of endless debates on sports talk radio, articles in newspapers and online, and conversations among fans.

On Sunday against the Florida Panthers, that conversation took a turn. Goldobin was responsible for a hooking penalty that typified so many of the criticisms leveled against him: he stopped moving his feet, he didn’t battle for the puck, and looked disinterested defensively. To many, it was a sign that he’s just not getting what head coach Travis Green is trying to teach him.

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The rhetoric that followed, however, was extreme.

Fans and even some members of the media speculated that Goldobin wouldn’t be a Canuck by the end of the season. Some went as far as to say that Goldobin wouldn’t be in the NHL in the near future. Sportsnet 650 colour commentator Corey Hirsch suggested that the Canucks might not even be able to trade him if they wanted to.

 

 

There was even talk on the radio Monday morning that the Canucks would have to put Goldobin on waivers if no one wanted him in a trade.

Let’s slow down for a minute.

Sunday night was a low point for Goldobin. It was his lowest ice time of the season since opening night, as he was benched after his penalty. It was his fifth-straight game without a point and 13th without a goal.

Generally speaking, the worst time to give up on someone is at their lowest point.

Even with that in mind, the talk surrounding Goldobin is going too far. If Goldobin goes on waivers, he’d be claimed in an instant. There are enough teams desperate for skilled wingers that there would absolutely be takers if Goldobin was on the trade block. And the idea that a 23 year old averaging over half a point per game will wash out of the NHL within a year seems pretty absurd.

That’s the thing to keep in mind: despite his scoring slump, Goldobin is still fourth on the Canucks in points. He’s still one of the few skilled and creative playmakers in a lineup full of grinders with limited offensive upside.

When you look at the microstats tracked by Corey Sznajder, Goldobin is among the league’s best at creating offensive chances. His Personal Shot Contributions (PSC) is in the 87th percentile in the NHL, driven both by his individual shots and those created by his passing.

Nikolay Goldobin - all three zones (A3Z) comparison to Elias Pettersson

It’s also important to keep in mind that this is Goldobin’s first full season in the NHL after spending half of last season in the AHL.

That’s the defence of Goldobin: he’s a young, skilled playmaker, who is just tapping into his offensive ability at the NHL level. He has put up points this season and has actually been unlucky not to produce more, with a shooting percentage well below his career average and teammates not finishing the chances he creates.

So where does the truth lie? Is Goldobin a lazy bum that will never “get it” and is about to wash out of the NHL? Or is Goldobin an incredible playmaker that creates scoring chances at an elite level?

As is frequently the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

It’s true that Goldobin has offensive skill and creativity. It’s also true, however, that Goldobin has a tendency to struggle defensively, though his struggles have been exaggerated slightly.

It’s also important to put Goldobin’s offence in context. The vast majority of his points have come while playing with Elias Pettersson. Goldobin has 12 5-on-5 points while on the ice with Pettersson, but just two without him. Likewise, on the power play, Goldobin has six points with Pettersson and just one without him.

Let’s add some more context, however: the same is true of Brock Boeser. Boeser has 14 points at 5-on-5; 12 of them have come while playing with Pettersson. On the power play, 7 of Boeser’s 9 points have come while playing with Pettersson.

Weirdly, no one asks why Boeser can’t produce without Pettersson, but let’s not get too sidetracked.

While some analytics shine a favorable light on Goldobin, like Sznajder’s microstats, others are less glowing. Goldobin’s corsi percentage of 47.73% is 9th among Canucks forwards, which is also where he ranks in scoring chance percentage and shots percentage. In other words, the Canucks have been consistently out-attempted, out-shot, and out-chanced at 5-on-5 with Goldobin on the ice. They’ve also been out-scored, if only just barely.

All that has come while Goldobin has had favourable zone starts, with only Josh Leivo starting a higher percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone.

When you look at the heat maps generated by Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz site, the issue is clear: the Canucks give up a lot of shots from dangerous areas while Goldobin is on the ice.

Nikolay Goldobin heat map



He’s not the only one that struggles in this area — Jake Virtanen’s defensive heat map looks very similar — but it’s still a cause for concern and shouldn’t be ignored.

Jake Virtanen heat map


At the same time, Goldobin’s positive attributes shouldn’t be ignored either. The Canucks can’t afford to toss aside a talented young forward that is struggling at times in his first full season in the NHL. Players with a similar profile to Goldobin have gone on to become legitimate top-six forwards and the Canucks simply don’t have enough players and prospects with that ceiling to give up on Goldobin.

In some ways, this is another development year for Goldobin. Ben Hutton went through a similar experience under Green last season at the age of 24. Sven Baertschi was likewise the target of Green’s tough love last season at 25. The 23-year-old Goldobin has the opportunity to take his experience from this season and use it as fuel for the coming year.


 

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