After 14 games, we are just over one-sixth of the way through the 2011-2012 NHL regular season for the Vancouver Canucks. Is it too early for a report card? Perhaps, but every point is important, so in that sense, it’s never too early to analyze the players and find out who has stood out and who is lagging behind.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Canucks are off to a mediocre start, because they’ve done the same thing in each of the last five seasons. They've looked great in some games, but they've been terrible in others. Only time will tell if head coach Alain Vigneault’s boys will turn things around this season like they’ve done many times before. For now, let’s grade every player on the Canucks after their 6-7-1 start to the season.
Note: Only the players that are currently on the team and have played in at least four regular-season games have received grades.
Much like the overall performance of the Canucks, the centers on this team have ranged from All-Star-calibre to awful through the first 14 games.
Thankfully, within this group of five centers (Hodgson is a center for the sake of this report card), there has been more positives than negatives. Henrik Sedin is leading by example once again when it comes to point production and Maxim Lapierre has not only been a wonderful pest, but he’s also gone above and beyond the call of duty by chipping in three goals and five points.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Manny doesn’t seem to be Manny early on this season. He is a minus-10 so far and has been nearly invisible on the ice, aside from the fact he’s been on it for many of the opposition’s goals. The one positive for Malhotra is that he’s still winning faceoffs at a 60 percent success rate, which is one of his best assets.
Henrik Sedin : A-
Henrik is averaging a point per game so far this season. The only thing keeping him from receiving an A is that he’s been even better than that over the last two seasons.
Ryan Kesler: B-
Kesler missed the first five games of the season after having offseason hip surgery, so you’d think he’d be slow out of the gate before rounding back into form. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Kesler played with a ton of energy in his first few games, but since then he hasn’t looked quite the same, as he’s struggled to gel with the influx of new linemates.
Manny Malhotra: D
As long as they’re still on the team and haven’t been waived or scratched multiple times, I’m not giving anyone a failing grade. However, Manny Malhotra is close. He has been thoroughly outplayed by Maxim Lapierre and has looked nothing like the player we saw last season before his eye injury.
Cody Hodgson: B
Hodgson has been solid so far in his rookie season with the Canucks. He hasn’t looked out of place in any position that Alain Vigneault has put him in and he has generated plenty of chances offensively. A few more points would be nice (he has five so far), but aside from that, the Canucks' first-round pick in 2008 has looked good.
Maxim Lapierre: A-
Saving the most pleasant surprise of the season for last, Mad Max has been wonderful. As I stated earlier, he’s been great in his checking and agitating role while chipping in more than his share of points at the same time. His two-goal performance against the Washington Capitals last weekend highlighted what a great start to the season he’s having.
The wingers have been consistently average for the most part this season. Aside from Daniel Sedin’s usual strong offensive numbers, no one has really stood out in an exceptionally good or bad way.
With that being said, some wingers have still been much better than others. Alex Burrows has been one of the better players to date and if the injury he suffered in St. Louis is the least bit serious, the Canucks might be in trouble if Jannik Hansen is the one who takes his place.
Daniel Sedin: A-
He hasn’t scored any highlight reel goals yet, but Daniel Sedin just keeps racking up the points with his brother. Hopefully those points will translate into a few more Canuck victories and points in the standings sooner rather than later.
Alex Burrows: B
Burrows leads the Canucks in shots and has four goals early on. He’s been solid but not spectacular and could use a few more points in order to reach the next level.
David Booth: C+
The energy, the speed and the scoring chances have been there, but the results have not for David Booth. He still hasn’t registered a goal since coming to Vancouver in a trade from the Florida Panthers and that will need to change in order for Canucks nation to be content with his $4.25 annual cap hit. His free-flowing hair looks great while he flies around the ice, though!
Chris Higgins: A-
The surprise leading goal scorer for the Canucks, Higgins has looked more like a top-line player than the third-liner they thought they were signing back in the summer. He’s brought a ton of energy and has been one of the few Canucks who has showed up to play on every game day.
Jannik Hansen: C
The 2010-2011 unsung hero for the Canucks hasn’t brought the same work ethic to the table so far this season. Hansen needs to pick it up and re-discover some of his magic from last season in order to not be just another grinder in the NHL.
Aaron Volpatti: B-
Volpatti is a solid fourth-liner. He might not have any points, but he’s brought physicality and energy to the Canucks and is part of a fourth line that has looked great so far.
Dale Weise: B
The only difference between Weise and Volpatti is that Weise has a goal and two assists.
The Canucks' defence has looked very shaky as a unit so far in 2011-2012. They’ve hung both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider out to dry on a number of occasions.
One of the few bright spots is Alex Edler’s 13 points and Sami Salo's steady play.
Dan Hamhuis: B-
At times, Hamhuis has looked as though he’s still playing catch-up from his offseason injury that caused him to miss a summer of training. However, he’s still a very reliable defenseman and has done a decent job with his new defence partner, Alex Edler.
Alex Edler: A
Speaking of Edler, he’s been outstanding. He is second in scoring among NHL defensemen and looks to be on his way to a great season. Then again, Edler has a habit of going through hot and cold streaks, so hopefully his blazing start to the season isn’t evened out by a freezing cold streak later in the season.
Kevin Bieksa: D
Bieksa has been as brutal as Malhotra has so far in 2011-2012. He is minus-eight and has routinely looked out of place in his own zone. As good as he was last year, Bieksa’s career has been very inconsistent and his two best seasons have both come when his respective contracts were ending. This is likely just a coincidence, but it’s worth mentioning after such a poor start to the first season of his new deal. I’ll let you interpret that however you want to.
Sami Salo: A-
Salo has eight points and has used his thunderous slap shot to maximum effectiveness. However, his most important stat is his plus/minus rating of plus-six, which is particularly impressive when you consider the majority of his teammates are in the red in that category. The only downside to Salo so far this season is the same downside we talk about every year—injuries. Salo has missed the last two games with a groin problem and his status is uncertain going forward.
Keith Ballard: C+
Ballard has actually looked better than he did for most of last season. He’s generated several scoring chances while jumping up in the rush and he’s thrown several of his signature hip checks. However, you can’t ignore the stats and Ballard’s minus-nine is an ugly blemish on his start to 2011-2012.
Alexander Sulzer: B-
Sulzer has looked decent so far in just four games as a Canuck. He already appears to have moved ahead of Andrew Alberts on the depth chart and it will be interesting to see where he stands once Aaron Rome is back to full health.
Andrew Alberts: C
He hasn’t been terrible, but he also hasn’t been good. For the most part, you know what you’re getting with Alberts and he’ll likely be the Canucks' No. 8 D-man once Aaron Rome returns to the lineup.
Where do I begin with the Canucks' goaltending?
To make a long story short, Roberto Luongo has not looked good, but he never looks particularly good in October and many of the goals he’s allowed have not been his fault.
On the other hand, Cory Schneider has looked very good. The fact that he already has five starts means that Alain Vigneault appears to be committed to giving his goaltenders a much more balanced playing schedule.
Roberto Luongo: C+
As I stated, many of Luongo's goals against have been the result of defensive breakdowns as opposed to his poor play, but you still can’t ignore his subpar stats. Luongo's save percentage is below .900 and his goals-against average is above 3.00. He has also given up fewer than three goals just twice in his nine starts. Hopefully he’ll turn it around like he always does as we move forward through November and we’ll all forget about this by the time the playoffs roll around.
Cory Schneider: B+
Schneider has picked up where he left off last season and continues to look like a future star in the NHL. His stats have been very good and his performance on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild was the best goaltending display I’ve ever seen by someone who allowed five goals. The only reason he doesn’t receive a higher grade is because of his win/loss record. No goaltender with a record below .500 qualifies for the highest grade, no matter how well they’re playing.
Combine the inconsistency with their subpar record and you can’t give the Canucks a very good overall grade. However, there have been a few bright spots along with a few games where they’ve looked like the dominant Western Conference champions from last season.
It’s too bad those efforts have been few and far between over the course of the first 14 games.
FINAL GRADE: C+
This team report card is part of the Replace The KB blog competition for The Province Sports. If you like what you've read, please click here and give it a thumbs-up rating. Thank you.