With the NHL joining the other sports leagues on hiatus, we thought it would be a great time to take a look at how an international presence has changed the game for the Vancouver Canucks. Well, kind of international, since Americans in the NHL have long been considered Honorary Canadians anyhow. So let’s look at who the Canucks’ best ever American is.
Canucks Best Ever: American
Until quite recently, many of the Americans who have played for Vancouver have been middle-range workers. Guys who played hard, but few of them made it to the top line or top pair. More surprisingly, only 73 have played for the Canucks in their 50-year history.
The first one to play in Vancouver would have been a nominee for the best just a few years ago. Gerry O’Flaherty was claimed from the Toronto Maple Leafs after the 1971-72 season in the intra-league draft. The winger played 435 games with the Canucks, scoring a respectable 98 goals and 193 points during his stay. Respectable, but surely not the Canucks’ best ever American, right?
In recent years, the story of Americans playing for Vancouver has changed. Soon there will be a lot more competition for the top spot.
The 23rd pick from a deep 2003 draft is one of the most divisive figures in Canucks history. He has a plethora of controversies to choose from: the offer sheet signing; inspiring a prospect to demand a trade; inspiring a teammate’s trade request; demanding a trade himself while limiting the team’s choices to the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks…
Conflicts in public and in the dressing room made for a mixed history, though the fans seem to have forgiven him. Of course, being invited onto the ice by the Sedins and launching a Kevin Bieksa-led apology tour certainly helped.
But there is no doubting Ryan Kesler‘s legacy on the ice at Rogers Arena, and he never let events around him change how he played. The same year he was drafted he played 28 NHL games on the fourth line. Unsurprisingly, he scored just five points but showed he could handle the NHL game. The canceled season gave him a full year in the AHL, flashing his scoring touch with 30 goals. His growth as a player led to him taking the second-line centre role by year four and going toe-to-toe against the league’s best. In addition to his defensive role, he regularly scored 20-25 goals and anchoring both special teams. He picked up the Selke trophy in 2010-11, a season where he scored an absurd 41 goals. Never mind being the Canucks’ best ever American – that’s a single-season number only eight others have reached.
In total, 655 regular seasons with Vancouver with 182 goals and 393 points playing hard minutes earned him his place here. His 38 playoff points – 19 in the 2011 Stanley Cup run alone – solidify it.
What do you to replace the best goalie in team history when you don’t have faith in his backup? Going out and signing one of the best goalies America has ever produced isn’t a bad option. Ryan Miller was under no illusions about the situation he was stepping into – Vancouver fans were reaching legendary status for turning on their goaltenders. But the 33-year-old Miller was battle-hardened from years with the Buffalo Sabres. And the city was on the West Coast, which helped with his wife working in Los Angeles. Plus after a mediocre result the previous season with the St. Louis Blues, the Canucks were offering an excellent price.
He joined Vancouver as they were trying to recover from a tumultuous season under John Tortorella. The Canucks had fallen precipitously from the powerhouse of just two and three years previously. Miller helped lead the team back to the 100-point mark, but as the team worsened he was frequently left alone to maintain some respectability. Surprisingly for an often-volatile player, he became a mentor for the young players on the team, keeping an even keel through some brutal games.
In three seasons and 150 games, his .914 SV% and 2.69 goals-against average doesn’t sound like anyone who should be on the “Canucks’ Best Ever American” list, especially considering the numbers he put up in Buffalo. But he was the primary reason the Canucks managed even 30 wins in either of his last two seasons. And that counts for much.
Brock Boeser is one of the few players Vancouver’s history that can be called a pure scorer. He started with a bang, stepping onto the team straight from college and scoring four times in nine games. Not only with the scoring rate, but also with only playing a part of the season, unfortunately.
In his first full season, he sniped 29 goals and finished second in Calder voting, but also missed 20 games. He missed another 13 games the next year and was playing injured for much of this one before it was shut down. His injury history casts a bit of a shadow over his young career, but he’s still young enough to recover. He’s proven worth the risk with 75 goals and 161 points in just 197 games so far. If the Canucks want to get into the top echelon of the league once again, Boeser is going to be part of it.
A second goaltender? And one that played fewer than 100 games? If anything emphasizes how few Americans have stood out for the Canucks, this is it. In another year that will change, but for right now 98 games from a goalie will do. And his numbers certainly merit inclusion as one of the Canucks’ best ever Americans.
It’s worth noting that Cory Schneider played parts of five seasons in Vancouver and three in the AHL. He earned his spot and was an excellent duo with Roberto Luongo, winning the Jennings with him in 2010-11. Over his three main years with the team, Schneider had save percentages of .929, .937, and .927 with nine shutouts. In fact, when they traded him away at the 2013 draft, the Canucks not only failed to win their division for the first time in five years, they also missed the playoffs completely.
Even in his trade, he was great: the return was New Jersey Devils‘ first-round pick, ninth overall. The Canucks turned that into someone who just missed the cut on the Best Canadian list – current captain Bo Horvat.
Want to Mention…
In recent years the scouting for Vancouver has placed a greater emphasis on US college ranks, and it’s been paying off in spades. Two players who have made an impact this year are Quinn Hughes, who you already know, and Adam Gaudette.
Gaudette has contributed excellent value in every way. A fifth-round pick in 2015, he’s scored twelve goals and 33 points in 59 games and helped make the second power-play unit a credible threat, all while averaging just 12:23 of ice time. As for media, he has wildly oversized goal cellys and an unbeatable twitter handle: @hockeygaud. What’s not to love?
Another recent arrival has been the shockingly good Miller. He has easily blown past career highs in goals and points to lead the team in scoring, leads the team in face-off percentage, has nine power-play goals, and a Corsi near 55%. Given that he’s signed to a great deal for another three seasons, if he can come even close to maintaining these numbers he’ll be pushing for top spot real soon.
It’s only a matter of time before ranking the Canucks’ best ever American turns into a three-way race. Even if Miller can’t keep his game up, Boeser’s terrible luck should change as he ages; and Hughes… Well, we know what Hughes can do. It’s not hard to picture them jostling with Kesler for the title. Even Gaudette, should he continue to improve, could force his way into the conversation. With the Canucks a team on the rise, being part of the core now will give a player every opportunity to build their career. And there are a few Americans primed and ready to take advantage.