Stop us if you've heard this before: the Canucks are one of the hottest teams in the league thanks to elite goaltending, a lethal powerplay, and a next-man-up mentality throughout the lineup.
Much like their parent club, the Abbotsford Canucks have been on an absolute tear in recent months. And they're not done yet, having qualified for the postseason in their inaugural season.
With an exciting product on the ice, several players being pushed up to the NHL, and a fanbase that continues show up on a nightly basis, the movement of the AHL team to a close-to-home market has been a slam dunk for the entire organization.
"One of the benefits of being right down the highway from Vancouver is our fans being able to see the process right in front of their own eyes," said Abbotsford Canucks General Manager Ryan Johnson. "It's easy to see clips and read articles online but fans can now see what we're doing. We've had some great development stories in many of our players, such as Jack Rathbone and Will Lockwood. We've been impressed with the growth and development of Danila Klimovich and our goaltenders as well. They've come a long way since the beginning of the season."
The baby Canucks have gone 26-9-2 since January 14 and as Johnson mentioned, the team owes a lot of their success to the great goaltending they've been receiving. The tandem of Spencer Martin and Mikey DiPietro has been nothing short of outstanding in the second half of the season. Over his last 16 starts, Martin has a 0.922% save percentage and has won 13 of the possible 16 games. DiPietro has also found his footing after a slow start, posting a 0.930% save percentage over his last nine games.
Head Coach Trent Cull has been pleased with the goaltenders this season and believes deciding who gets the start in the net is the best problem he's had as a coach. Cull and his staff have also been able to mould the Canucks' power play into one of the league's elite. On the back of Sheldon Dries' league-leading 18 power play goals, the Canucks currently rank third in the AHL by power play conversion percentage. The team is scoring on 24% of their attempts.
A 26-9-2 record since mid-January is impressive and becomes even more spectacular when you note that they are currently missing two-thirds of their top-six forward group. Dries, Lockwood, and Nic Petan are all currently with the NHL squad, while Vancouver's standout rookie Vasily Podkolzin is another player who is eligible to join the Canucks for their Calder Cup push.
"I've been impressed with how quickly they came together out there," said Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin. "They faced some adversity here lately with a lot of injuries and the next-man-up mentality. I think they've worked a lot with the younger players. So it's a fine balance between winning and development … It's critical for [young, developing players] to be in a playoff, winning environment. For them to play critical games in tougher environments, it's a big part of the development process."
Reaching the playoffs is an accomplishment on its own but the team is not just looking for a participation ribbon - they're looking to go on a deep run in the Calder Cup playoffs and see how the younger players in the organization adapt to the increased intensity and responsibility.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Canucks are currently two points up on the Bakersfield Condors and hold the fourth spot in the AHL's Pacific Division. Should they stave off the Condors, who they play in their final home game on April 26, they'll host a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs.