Thursday night, he scored two goals and added an assist, while his sound defensive play allowed him to finish the game with a stellar a plus-3 rating. It was the first time the Swedish defender notched three points in his young NHL career, and the first time he finished a game better than plus-2.
Although Vancouver would eventually lose 5-4 to the Wild in a shootout, it was only because of Edler that they made it that far and picked up a crucial point to inch closer to a playoff spot.
“I’m just trying to shoot and hit the net, and two of them went in,” said Edler after the game. “So it’s good I can help the team.”
The 21-year-old factored into 75% of the Canucks’ offense Thursday night, and demonstrated a calm composure that’s unusual for such a young defenseman.
All of his three points came in the third period as he helped his team rebound the 2-1 deficit they had entering that period. His first point and probably the most impressive of the night came just as a Wild penalty was expiring two minutes into the final full frame.
Edler was holding the line for his power play unit, and didn’t have much time before a pair of Wild players would converge on him. It was a play where most defenders would simply dump it into the corner and hope their team could regain possession. But Edler, who has great vision and is a smart passer, sent a crisp saucer pass to an open Ryan Shannon in the corner. Shannon promptly passed off to Kesler in the slot, who scored to tie the game at 2-2.
16 seconds later, Edler notched his first goal of the night by firing a missile from just inside the blue line. If Niklas Backstrom didn’t see it, it wasn’t because there was a screen. It was because the puck was just moving that fast. The Wild goalie was able to get in front of the shot, but with all its momentum it trickled over the line and the Canucks took a 3-2 lead.
Finally, with less than three minutes left and his team down by 4-3, Edler scored again in a play that illustrated his smart hockey sense. On a scrambled draw in the Wild zone, Edler skated up to the dot, collected the puck just behind Henrik Sedin
, and sent a wrist shot past Backstrom. No one expected it, including Backstrom, and that’s why it got past him. “It was great to get back and tie the game,” Edler said of his second goal of the night.
While Edler was a big presence on the scoresheet, he was also impressive in his own end. In fact, his defensive play has allowed the Canucks coaching staff to put their trust in him, which is important as they deal with a depleted defense corps.
Edler was part of the core four defenders against the Wild, putting up 28:33 of ice time, just slightly behind Mattias Ohlund (29:26) and Sami Salo
(29:26). Willie Mitchell, who just returned from a back injury, rounded out the top four with 26:09.
The game against the Wild gives Edler the team lead in plus/minus with 14. He had spent much of the year at the top of that category, but had fallen off in the last month going minus-7 since January 19. That’s likely because with the injuries to primary Canuck defenders, he was called upon to play more minutes and to match up against top players.
That may be one of the reasons Edler was happy to see Mitchell return Thursday night, because a bit of pressure is taken off of him. “He’s a great guy to play with,” Edler said of his Mitchell. “He’s someone that can help you a lot out there, and it’s great to have him back.”
Some of the defenders might say the same about Edler, who has denied his young age by displaying a maturity and composure equaled by few players of his limited experience.