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Examining the Vancouver Canucks defense

by Bill Meltzer

Complete Canucks Analysis:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards
Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

The Big Four

The Canucks’ blue line doesn’t get as much league-wide hype as some other clubs’. But it’s a very solid unit that usually takes care of business in front of Roberto Luongo while also contributing significantly to the club’s offensive attack. It’s fair to say that the Canucks boast one of the most reliable starting six – not just top four – in the NHL.</p>
<p>It’s hard to believe that erstwhile wunderkind Mattias Ohlund is now a 31-year-old veteran of 10 NHL season with the Canucks. While he’s never become quite the prolific offensive player he was once predicted to be (in part because of a serious eye injury that left him with permanent partial vision loss), he has been a rock steady two-way player.

Ohlund is capable of playing against the opposition’s top players, while contributing a more-than-respectable number of points. Last season, he tallied 11 goals (six on the power play) and 31 points in the regular season while leading all Canucks defenseman in average ice time (24:47).

While Ohlund remains the veteran leader of the defense, 26-year-old Kevin Bieksa became a cornerstone player for the Canucks last season. At his best, Bieksa offers the Canucks a multi-dimensional game. Offensively, he possesses a heavy right-handed shot from the point and is coming off a season in which he notched 12 goals and 42 regular-season points. He usually played with veteran Willie Mitchell and even strength. Defensively, he led all Canucks defensemen with 29 takeaways and 109 hits. The aggressive-minded blueliner also compiled 134 penalty minutes.

If you look around the NHL, strong shooting right-handed defensemen are a tough commodity to find. The Canucks actually boast two. Finnish defenseman Sami Salo may have one of the best point shots in the League. The perennially underrated Salo is coming off a 14-goal, 47 point season in which he also recorded a team-best plus-21 defensive rating despite being limited to 67 games.  He logged heavy ice time in the playoffs, including a staggering 49:02 in the Canucks marathon four-overtime win over the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs.

The aforementioned three defensemen are supplemented by veteran defensive defensemen Willie Mitchell and Aaron Miller. Mitchell led all Canucks defensemen with 129 blocked shots despite missing 20 games due to injury. The 36-year-old Miller, signed as a free agent this summer, has been a defensive mainstay in the NHL for over a decade and owns a pair of Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Colorado Avalanche.

Get the point

During the regular season last year, Canucks’ defensemen Canucks contributed 49 goals  and 168 points to a team that finished in the bottom third of the league in goals scored (22nd overall). Moreover, on a team that was shorthanded 436 times (fifth most in the NHL), the Canucks’ team defense rose to the occasion. Vancouver killed penalties at a excellent 87 percent clip and allowed just 20 power-play goals against at home for the season.

In the Wings

Luc Bourdon -- The 10th overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft started the 2006-07 season with the Canucks, playing in nine games. ... Canucks sent him back to junior hockey, where he was traded midseason from the Moncton Wildcats to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles ... Recorded 19 points in 16 games during the QMJHL playoffs. … Also played in his second World Junior Championships for gold-medal winning Team Canada. … Joined the Manitoba Moose for five AHL playoff games.

Alexander Edler  -- Big, 6-foot-3, 235 pounder was a pleasant surprise at both the AHL and NHL levels in 2006-07. ... In 49 rookie games with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, he scored five goals, 26 points and a plus-nine rating. .. He also started eight Calder Cup playoff games. .. At the NHL level, he played in 22 regular-season games over the course of several call-ups…. He acquitted himself well, scoring a goal and three points while posting a plus-three rating.

Daniel Rahimi -- The Canucks’ third-round pick (82nd overall) in 2006,  Rahimi plays with a nasty, hard-hitting edge to his game …. In 2006-07, the 6-foot-3, 215 pounder played at both the Allsvenskan (top Swedish minor league) level for IF Björklöven and the 2007 World Junior Championships for Team Sweden. … Had 104 penalty minutes in 33 games for Björklöven. … Also played one regular-season AHL game for the Manitoba Moose and four playoff games.

X Factor

Luc Bourdon -- Big things are expected from the 20-year-old in the near future. The Canucks’ short-term plan seems to be for Bourdon to start the year at the AHL level. He struggled in his brief NHL stint early last season.

A fine skater who loves to throw his weight around, Bourdon’s main challenge has always been to be more selective about when to play aggressively and when not to risk taking himself out of position. An ankle injury last year slowed him down last year, but he reportedly feels fine and ready to compete at full strength.

The Canucks have pledged patience with Bourdon, but there will be pressure to call him up if the club suffers injuries on the blue line, or if he gets off to a fast start.

Kevin Bieksa
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa to the Vancouver Globe and Mail (Sept. 8, 2007):

"We had a lot of new guys last year, a new coach, new system. It took time to jell, for our game to come around. We knew we were capable of better. Now we're comfortable winning those 3-2, 2-1 games.”

1. The Canucks’ team record for fewest goals against in a season was 194, set in the pre-lockout 2003-04 season. Last year, excluding the five empty net goals the Canucks allowed, the team gave up just 196 goals.

2. Mattias Ohlund has been named the Canucks’ best defenseman (now called the Babe Pratt Trophy) four times in his career, tying him with Harold Snepsts and Doug Lidster for the most honors in franchise history.

3. Sammy Salo scored his 100th career NHL point last season on Nov. 11 against Calgary.'s 2007-08 Canucks Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster
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