For the first time in nearly two decades, the Canucks' power play won’t feature Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The retirement of the Sedins means a significant change to the top power play unit, both in personnel and systems, which will have a ripple effect down to the second unit.
With that in mind, it would be ideal if the Canucks could get a lot of time to practice the power play this preseason, so that they can try different combinations, experiment with systems, and develop some chemistry. Fortunately, the referees in the preseason seem to be on board.
Heading into Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks led the NHL in power play time in the preseason, spending over 48 minutes on the power play through their first four games. They had a whopping 27 power plays in those four games, just short of averaging seven power plays per game.
By point of comparison, the league leaders in power plays last season, the Colorado Avalanche, averaged just 3.6 power plays per game.
The Canucks finished 17th in power play opportunities last season, right around league average. That meant, despite finishing 7th in power play percentage, they were actually tied for 12th in power play goals.
They’re hoping that with the addition of Elias Pettersson, and continued power play excellence from the likes of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Sven Baertschi, they can once again have one of the most efficient power plays in the NHL. For a team that’s likely to struggle to score goals at even-strength, getting some scoring on the power play will be essential.
Because of this, drawing penalties will be key for the Canucks this season. Being able to draw penalties in the preseason seems like a good sign. Let’s take a look at the players that have drawn penalties for the Canucks. Of note, the Canucks drew five more power plays on Monday night against the Kings, but as it was a neutral site game in Salt Lake City without NHL scorekeepers, the player drawing each penalty wasn't recorded. Since no one wants to rewatch that game, let's just look at the first four games:
It’s a great sign that Elias Pettersson is drawing penalties in his first experience with NHL hockey. His shifty stickhandling and quick changes of direction is a recipe for drawing penalties. The same is true for Brendan Leipsic, who is shifty and quick with both his skating and stick.
Brandon Sutter led the Canucks in penalties drawn last season, tied with Bo Horvat. I included the penalty shot he drew this preseason in his totals. Markus Granlund, on the other hand, didn’t draw a ton of penalties last season. It will be interesting to see if he can play a little more in the offensive zone this season and draw a few more.
Tyler Motte and Nikolay Goldobin have both drawn a couple penalties this preseason. Motte has the speed and drive to draw hooking and interference penalties by the handful.
Obviously the Canucks won’t be getting seven power plays every game. But does their preseason prowess at drawing penalties mean they’re more likely to draw penalties in the regular season?
We’re talking about a very small sample size of just 6 or 7 games, with highly variable lineups, including many players that won’t play a single regular season NHL game. We also don’t have great data available for past preseasons.
Looking at just last season, there seems to be a slight relationship between drawing penalties in the preseason and drawing penalties in the regular season, but it looks pretty scattershot and it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusion from it.
For instance, the Colorado Avalanche drew a lot of penalties in the preseason, then led the league in power play opportunities in the regular season. That’s them in the top right portion of the graph.
On the other hand, the St. Louis Blues led the preseason in power plays, then ended up right at league average in the regular season. And the Edmonton Oilers were around average in the preseason at drawing penalties, then were the worst in the NHL during the regular season.
It’s certainly not a bad thing to see the Canucks drawing lots of penalties in the preseason. It gives them a chance to work on their power play and gives fans an opportunity to see someone like Elias Pettersson in his element. It’s also a good sign that the likes of Leipsic, Pettersson, and Goldobin are drawing penalties at a high rate: a big reason the Avalanche led the league in power plays was their young, skilled forwards like Nathan Mackinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen.
The fact the Canucks are drawing penalties now, however, is no guarantee they’ll continue to do so during the regular season. Generally speaking, teams that possess the puck effectively and spend a lot of time in the offensive zone tend to draw more penalties. If the Canucks struggle in puck possession at even-strength, they’ll have a hard time earning power plays this season.