Just because the NHL season has been suspended for now as a precaution to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus doesn’t mean that hockey fans shouldn’t have anything to read. It’s my plan to write a series of posts about the history of all the Canadian teams.
I will start with the Vancouver Canucks history. In this post, I will weigh in on who I believe were the three best Canucks defensemen of all time.
First-best Canucks Defenseman: Matthias Ohlund
By far, Matthias Ohlund was the best defenseman the Canucks have ever suited up. Interestingly, he was great from the first game he laced on skates in a Canucks’ uniform. He was an offensive threat, and he would always cover the other team’s best player. Ohlund was the poster player for consistency on the ice. He was a workhorse and his career ice time averaged more than 20 minutes each game.
The Canucks chose Ohlund as the team’s first choice of round one (the 13th overall pick) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. After playing in Sweden for two years but joined the Canucks at the start of the 1997-98 season. He was good enough that he finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie.
In total, Ohlund played 11 seasons with the team. Ohlund played the third-most games for any defenseman in a Canucks’ uniform, logging in at 770 games. He’s also second to only Alex Edler with 93 goals, and second to Edler in total points for defensemen with 325.
Ohlund might have even been a stronger player, but he suffered a serious eye injury early in his NHL career. This was the first of his many injuries, and all these added up to subdue his career totals. Still, for the Canucks, he was a leader who played a strong mentorship role for up-and-coming Canucks’ players. Ironically, current Canucks defenseman Alex Edler benefited from Ohlund’s mentorship and later broke Ohlund’s career marks for defensemen.
Second-best Canucks Defenseman: Ed Jovanovski
When Ed Jovanovski came to the Canucks, many fans were not happy. It wasn’t that he wasn’t wanted, but he was the main player who came back when the team traded Pavel Bure to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 17, 1999. And, getting rid of Bure was a big deal for many Canucks fans.
But Jovanovski brought value to the team. He became a top-two defenseman immediately and stayed that way for his seven seasons with the team. Jovanovski was a physical force at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds and he could impose his will on opponents.
Jovanovski might have been the most skilled defenseman who’s ever played on the Canucks’ blue line. His size, toughness, and skill created a wall other teams had difficulty breaking through. Except for the 51 points Jovanovski scored with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2007-08 season, his best seasons were with the Canucks and he scored just under 50 points (47 points, 48 points, and 46 points) for three seasons in a row from 2000-01 to 2002-03.
Sadly, Jovanovski often played injured during the last seasons with the team. And because he laced them up night-after-night against the opponent’s best forwards, he often made costly mistakes – he wasn’t exactly his risk-high reward, but when he did make a mistake people noticed.
Although he played seven seasons in Vancouver, in total Jovanovski played 19 combined NHL seasons – seven seasons with the Florida Panthers (at the start and end of his career) and five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Third-best Canucks Defenseman: Alex Edler
There’s an odd story that Alex Edler was discovered by former Canucks forward, and later scout, Thomas Gradin found Edler playing in a low-level, semi-pro beer league hockey in northern Sweden when he was 18 years old. Edler was then eventually chosen in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry draft which has since become was one of the best picks in Canucks history.
Current Canucks fans should be coming to realize just how good a defenseman Alex Edler is. Over the past week, he’s set career milestones by scoring his 300th assist and his 400th career point. And, because he has 99 goals to go along with his assist, he’ll soon set another career milestone with 100 goals.
On the ice, he’s simply one of those guys who does his job so smoothly that he sort of disappears during the game. As my father used to put it, Edler “doesn’t take up much space.” (That means doesn’t make life tough for anyone.) He’s calm both on the ice and off.
Until this season, with the team’s great rookie Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev taking over the top pairing, Edler typically played against every other team’s top players. And, as I noted about Jovanovski earlier, that can cause mistakes. However, Edler has remained a solid, top-four defenseman. And the Canucks are fortunate to have him not only as a player but as a member of the Vancouver community.
Now 33 years old, Edler has played 14 seasons with the Canucks. He owns several marks for franchise defensemen. Specifically, he leads Canucks defensemen in games played with 873. He’s also the team’s all-time leader in goals with 99 and first in points with 400.
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