Nikolay Goldobin has fantastic shoes. That’s just a generally true statement. A quick perusal of his Instagram shows a colourful array of sneakers, dress shoes, and boots. Teal, pink, and red are just a few of the colours adorning Goldobin’s feet.
At any given moment, Goldobin is likely wearing great shoes.
That was certainly true on the first day of Canucks training camp. After the fitness testing, he showed up wearing leather slip-ons with a gold cherubic design protruding from the vamp. They might have been Gucci, it’s hard to say. Whatever they were, they were eye-catching and stylish. I’m not sure any other member of the Canucks could have pulled them off.
A couple other Canucks writers tried to compare my shoes to Goldobin’s. I was wearing colourful Converse All-Stars that I love, but couldn’t hold a candle to Goldobin’s. It wasn’t a fair fight.
Off the ice, Goldobin has great style, but he’s just as stylish on the ice. Few on the team can match his skill with the puck and he’s scored some highlight reel goals in his 50 games with the Canucks.
Whether it’s chipping the puck past his check to himself before a top-corner snipe or embarrassing one of the best defencemen in the league, Drew Doughty, Goldobin clearly has top-tier talent with the puck.
The issue for Goldobin is that he needs a little more substance to go with that style. Goldobin undoubtedly looks great when he has the puck, but Canucks head coach Travis Green emphasized to him last season that the vast majority of the game is played without the puck on your stick.
“He's good with the puck when he has it," said Green before a game in early March. "He's gotta find ways to be good away from it. I met with Goldy today for 15-20 minutes. ‘How long do you have the puck?’ I asked him. He said 2 minutes. Called our analytics guys, he had it for 29 seconds last game.”
Some interpreted that as a slight against Goldobin, that he doesn’t have the puck enough, but that wasn’t the intent. No one player has the puck on their stick for very long during a game. 95% of the game is played without the puck.
That’s the substance that Goldobin needs in order to get into the lineup more regularly and play more minutes. There is a clear top-six opportunity available for Goldobin with the retirement of the Sedins. He could potentially play left wing on the top line with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Alternately, he could end up on the right wing alongside Elias Pettersson, which is where he has skated so far in training camp.
There’s another possibility, of course: with the logjam on the wing, he could get waived and sent down to the AHL.
That makes this training camp and preseason crucial for Goldobin and it could be a make or break moment for his time with the Canucks. He needs to prove that he can play away from the puck and provide enough of a two-way game that his coach can trust him in more situations.
Goldobin said he worked on that aspect of his game over the summer.
“I was working on every detail,” he said. “This summer was very long, so I’ve done a lot and improved myself in that area… You’ve just got to work hard, you know. You’ve got to skate harder.”
Goldobin knows that’s what Green will be looking for: winning puck battles, skating harder to loose pucks, and working harder defensively. That’s particularly true if he winds up on the wing with Pettersson, a rookie who may need some two-way support. He’s not a raw rookie anymore and he knows it.
“I feel more responsibility for this season. I’m not young anymore,” he said. “Time to take a job and be a good leader.”
Goldobin will be turning 23 in October and is entering the final year of his entry-level contract. He acknowledged the pressure of a contract year — “I hope I’ll do well,” he said — but he’s trying not to let it distract him: “I’m trying to put it away and just play my game.”
The hope is that a little more substance will give him more opportunities to impress with his style. Winning puck battles means more time with the puck on your stick. Improved defensive play means more time spent in the offensive zone. Goldobin started to show a stronger all-around game towards the end of last season and the points came along for the ride: 7 points in his final 11 games.
As Canucks training camp in Whistler finished up on Monday, Goldobin looked poised to continue that late-season run, scoring a hat trick in the final scrimmage. As Jake Virtanen jokingly interviewed him afterwards, Goldobin admitted that his goals didn’t come from a commitment to defence. Instead, he was at the blue line “catching fish,” which seems like a Russian phrase similar to “cherry picking.”
Virtanen joked that the other players were calling Goldobin “Cherry Picker” and “Seagull” — ie. a player that floats around looking for a breakaway pass instead of helping out defensively — but it seemed to be all in good fun. It wasn’t exactly serious hockey analysis, but some gentle ribbing from a teammate.
Preseason will be a better indicator of how hard Goldobin has worked on his play away from the puck.