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Movin' on up

by Thomas Drance / Vancouver Canucks
Jannik Hansen is playing like he belongs in the top six.

The veteran, Danish-born forward has spent his entire NHL career in the Canucks organization. A reliable two-way winger who built his reputation on the forecheck, Hansen has played on every forward line during his Canucks tenure – from the first line to the fourth – and he’s been a mainstay on the penalty kill.

Generally Hansen has been popularly regarded as a third-line player, his occasional spells in the top six drawing criticism from some vocal segments of the fanbase and in the media. That criticism has been silenced in the early going this year, as Hansen has performed ably in a top-line role for the Canucks.

Of late he’s even been entrusted with a serious helping of power-play time.

“It’s always an opportunity you welcome,” Hansen said last weekend in Toronto of getting a shot on the power play. “Get a chance to contribute, to help your team, I’ll try to run with it.”

Hansen hasn’t received regular power-play time since junior, and doubts that – at the age of 30 – he’ll become a mainstay.

“There’s lots of rotation,” Hansen said of the Canucks’ first unit, noting that only Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Edler are mainstays on the top unit. That diagnosis proved prophetic as Hansen’s opportunity on Vancouver’s top power-play unit lasted only one shift in last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So maybe it’s asking a bit much of Hansen to carve out a new niche on the power play, but that top-line spot with the Sedin twins, that seems like it’s going to last.

“I’ve changed lines for the past eight years here, so it’s no different for me,” Hansen said of getting an extended look on Vancouver’s top line. “You get the opportunity and you run with it, then you help the team, and if not there are plenty of guys who can do it.”

In Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows, two players who have been productive with the twins in the past, the Canucks have a variety of options for first-line right wing. Of late though, Hansen has been glued to that top line, and for good reason.

With Hansen on the ice alongside Henrik in 5-on-5 situations this season, the Canucks have outscored their opponents nearly two-to-one while controlling 53 percent of on-ice shot attempts, according to data found at hockeyanalysis.com. The veteran winger has been far and away the most effective forward riding shotgun with the twins this season, and we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised.

Here’s how regular Henrik Sedin line-mates - Daniel excluded, have to have logged at least 400 5-on-5 minutes with Henrik since 2012 - have fared by goal scoring rate on the Canucks’ first line over the past four years (table 1).

And it’s not just that Hansen scores goals at the highest rate of any regular Sedin triggerman, the Canucks also manufacture goals at a higher rate with Hansen and the twins than they do when Daniel and Henrik play with any other regular linemate (table 2).

Buoyed in part by his partnership with the Sedins at even-strength, Hansen is on pace for a career year. In addition to being second among all Canucks players in 5-on-5 goal-scoring rate, behind only Jared McCann, if Hansen can keep up his pace, he could hit more than 20 goals for the first time in his career. And if he can keep up his shot rate, he should eclipse his career-best shots on goal mark handily.

Though he’s been arguably Vancouver’s most consistent forward through roughly the first quarter of the campaign, we can probably expect some of Hansen’s hot offensive start to prove fleeting. He’s currently carrying the highest on-ice shooting percentage of any Canucks forward and his personal shooting clip is nearly 3 percent above his career norm.

Still, Hansen has been a crucial part of a Canucks offense that is fifth in the NHL in total goals scored and just outside the top-10 in goals per game.

Even as the Canucks had a tough seven-game road trip over the past two weeks, Hansen’s game and his productive partnership with the twins has served as a bright spot.

“You know what they’re going to do,” Hansen said of playing off of the Sedin twins’ signature cycle game. “It’s no secret, but they seem to do it anyways.”

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