NHL: Canucks Projections – Depth Forwards

RISING FROM THE DEPTHS: Andrew Ebbett and the other Canucks’ depth players should take on more prominent roles as the Canucks look to fill holes in the lineup

BY THOMAS DRANCE

Now that we’ve covered the Sedin twins, the second liners and the third liners, we’ve come to what everyones really been anticipating reading about in this series – the depth forwards. How many goals with Aaron Volpatti manage this year? Can he beat his career high of one? We’ll try and answer those questions, and more, today!

When looking at depth forwards, and trying to account for every single even-strength minutes the Canucks will play this season (based on the rate at which the Canucks take and draw penalties over the past three years, my model forecasts the club will spend two thousand three hundred and five minutes and forty seconds at even-strength this season) I decided to just plug in four guys in “depth roles”: Andrew Ebbett, Dale Weise, Manny Malhotra and Aaron Volpatti. Obviously at some point Guillaume Desbiens will dress for a game, or Steve Pinnozotto if he ever gets healthy and while either cameo would drive any copy-writer to insanity, neither would meaningfully impact my model one way or another. Let’s start with Andrew Ebbett, because his projection is the most interesting for a number of reasons.

ANDREW EBBETT
Heading into training camp it looks like Ryan Kesler’s second-line spot is Andrew Ebbett’s to lose. Ebbett has bounced around the league a fair bit, mostly due to his diminutive stature, but he’s had success everywhere he’s gone. He’s actually a very solid possession player and is surprisingly good on the power-play. While we haven’t slotted him in for any power-play minutes Andrew Ebbett has by far – and I mean by far – the highest power-play goal/60 rate over the past four seasons of any Canucks forward. Unfortunately for Ebbett our model doesn’t foresee him spending much time on the ice when the Canucks have the man-advantage, though the model has plugged Ebbett in for Ryan Kesler’s even-strength minutes for the first ten games of the season. After that , the model assumes that Ebbett will struggle to stay in the lineup (he’s just too small to be an ideal fit on the fourth line) and will probably bounce between Vancouver and Chicago filling a sort of “Johnny on the spot” role for the Canucks. In all our model sees him dressing in 22 contests this season and scoring a modest total:

MANNY MALHOTRA
Let’s move along to Manny Malhotra, the ace face-off man with a year left on his deal and an awful lot to prove this season. Since his freak eye injury at the tail-end of the 2011 season, Malhotra hasn’t been himself. Whether or not it was his lack of conditioning or his limited vision, he went from being a Selke caliber defensive player in 2010-11 to being the rich man’s Ryan Johnson in 2011-12. While Malhotra’s ice-time dropped and his deployment became extreme to the point of being almost cruel, he actually kept up a solid goal scoring late at even-strength last season and our model is relatively high on him. Hopefully he can return to form, play an expanded role and beat our modest projection for his goal totals senseless. Even if he can’t, kindly disregard the articles you read about Malhotra “playing for a job in the NHL” – even if Malhotra is only as good in 2013 as he was in 2011-12, he’s still a valuable piece because of his penalty-killing prowess and dominance of the face-off circle.

AARON VOLPATTI & DALE WEISE
Now we’ll move to Aaron Volpatti and Dale Weise, who we’ll cover as one. Dale Weise got a bit of a rough-ride in Vancouver last season. Yeah he’s basically a replacement level grinder without much bite when he drops the gloves, but he was also a rookie and considering his circumstances (he was buried in the defensive zone for much of the season) he played safe, competent hockey and acquitted himself very well. During the lockout he lit up the Dutch hockey league which is, of course a sign of things to come (though our model isn’t particularly impressed). Aaron Volpatti is the better chucker of the two and was effective early on in the season on the fourth line alongside Maxim Lapierre and Dale Weise. That group had a few nice offensive possessions in the early going if I remember correctly and if Volpatti can stay healthy I expect he’ll be a fourth line fixture this season. Our model, however, accounts for his injury history and only sees him making it in to 27 games. Weise and Volpatti may have found themselves at the very end of every attendance sheet their name has ever been on, but they’re first in our hearts.

Here’s one more David Booth injury related note: when Booth went down I suddenly had a shade less than 200 even-strength minutes and 60 power-play minutes to account for in the model. I spread some of those minutes to Mason Raymond, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins and Andrew Ebbett (I’m assuming the third line plays a bit more in Booth’s absence) and I gave a few extra minutes to the grinders as well (for a similar reason).

Still, I had about nine man-games and about seventy minutes to account for so I decided to include “replacement level forward x” in the model. Think of “replacement level forward x” as basically being a stand in for when the Canucks call up a player like Bill Sweatt for two games, barely play him in a couple of games and send him back to Chicago. Last season guys like Viktor Oreskovich, Bill Sweatt, Mike Duco and Mark Mancari played in 15 games for the Canucks, so while this may seem silly on the surface it does actually make good sense to include.

I won’t include a table for his goal totals, because “replacement level forward x” is an abstract concept and who really cares. But you might be interested to know that the model projects some mystery, replacement level call up (be it Bill Sweatt or Guillame Desbiens or Andrew Gordon) to score a goal at even-strength for the Canucks this season.