Dakota Joshua’s Absence Puts Question Mark on How Canucks Handle Adversity

By: Brayden Fengler / February 28, 2024  

One thing that the Canucks have been lacking over recent seasons is depth from their forwards. Through the last few seasons, the Canucks have had the fortune of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser. But beyond the top six, the club struggled to find a reliable third centre to relieve former captain Bo Horvat of his matchup role back when he was on the team.

The lack of offensive firepower on the back end shone a more glaring light on the team’s struggling defense at the time, because if the puck isn’t on your stick, it’s on your opponent’s.

Enter this season’s middle six headliners: Garland, Blueger, and Joshua, and now this Canucks team is playing much better than in previous years. A big reason is the depth scoring that has come from some unexpected players, chief among them is Dakota Joshua.

This is why it has been all the more painful in recent weeks as Joshua has been out with an upper-body injury and the Canucks have been faced with their first real loss of a key player.

Now is a good time to look back on the impact Joshua has had this season, and see how the Canucks have managed without him and how they will look to bring him back into the fold.

Joshua’s Season So Far

Before Joshua’s injury, he had played a total of 53 games, earning 26 points with an even 13 goals and 13 assists. Joshua has been the poster child for balancing individual skill and group chemistry with his linemates, which allowed him to be as lethal passing the puck as shooting it.

Joshua’s shooting percentage this season has been at a career-high of 18.8%. This not only tops his charts but it puts him up there with the other team leaders such as J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser.

In considering total shots as well, Joshua already has had more shot attempts on net in his 53 games this season than he earned in 79 games played all of last season. This no doubt has a lot to do with Joshua’s higher TOI, with Joshua seeing deployment on average more than three minutes a night than he saw during last season’s campaign.

Joshua’s stats are indicative of how well his line as a whole and his linemates have been doing this season. Joshua has spent more than 50% of his ice time this year playing with Conor Garland and Teddy Blueger. Looking at Garland and Joshua’s combined ice time together, Joshua has shared the ice with Garland nearly 70% of the time that he has been out there this season.

There is a reason that Joshua, Garland, and Blueger have been joined at the hip this year, their line has been working, honestly, too well. Their third line has often been just as or more productive than the Canucks top six players on any given night.

The Canucks’ “no-name” line as Garland would prefer it, has accounted for 21 goals for this season which is just under 10% of the Canucks overall goals production on the year. This is no small achievement for a third line especially when it’s on a team that is leading the league in goals for.

To put this into perspective, the Canucks’ PP1 line before and after the Kuzmenko/Lindholm trade has accounted for roughly 14% of Vancouver’s overall goals for. Yes, the powerplay does not see deployment regularly as an even-strength line would, but Vancouver’s PP% is 11th in the league, so while not the greatest, they are often converting on their opportunities when deployed.

When the mid to bottom-six talent that hasn’t played together in a matter of weeks is still rivaling the season-long production of a team’s best powerplay line on the best team in the NHL, that is saying something.

“I’m Lost Without You” – The Canucks to Joshua (Probably)

Dakota Joshua has not suited up for the Canucks since the Feb 13th contest where he appeared to suffer a hand injury after his fight with MacKenzie Entwistle of the Blackhawks. Since then, the Canucks have gone on a 2-4-0 record. Does this mean that Joshua was the linchpin holding this entire Canucks team together and they are destined to fail without him? Yes, thank you for reading my article, you may now leave.

Okay, it’s not that serious, but what his absence does point to is the first time this season that the Canuks have had to deal with a major personnel change.

Since Joshua’s absence Garland and Blueger have largely stayed together, being played with Illya Mikheyev, Canucks recent call-up from Abbotsford Arsheep Bains, and Pius Suter. Only during the Canucks contest with Boston last Saturday did Joshua and Blueger get split up for the first time since Joshua has been out.

Looking at a snapshot of Garland’s performance specifically since Joshua has been gone, Garland had been a +1 with three points in the six games before Joshua’s injury. In the six games immediately following, Garland has earned just one point and sits at a -4 plus/minus.

Garland also had six shots in both games leading up to Joshua’s absence. It then took Garland four games after Joshua left the team to put six more shots on net.

When Joshua Returns

If the Canucks had continued their dominance without so much as a speed bump since Joshua left the club, how Joshua could factor back in may have been more up in the air. With Joshua still out week to week as far as we know, there is time for things to change.

However, based on the Canucks having their first four-game losing streak of the season since Joshua was injured, it’s a fair assumption that upon return Joshua should slide right back in with Garland and Blueger.

What this will mean for Arshdeep Bains, who has been playing well for himself since being called up to the Canucks, remains to be seen. Although it is hard to imagine Bains staying back up with the club given his restricted status and ability to move down to Abbotsford without consequences/waivers makes him the clear choice to leave the Canucks once Joshua is healthy.

Hopefully, Joshua returns soon, and when he does the Canucks will likely want things to revert back to the way they were. But Joshua’s time away does put into question this team’s ability to perform when thrown a curve ball and their regular line-up is thrown off-axis even slightly.