Canucks’ unsung hero award should go to Conor Garland

The Canucks will hand out their team awards Thursday night and Conor Garland, along with Thatcher Demko, Quinn Hughes and JT Miller, should be recognized for his season.

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Vancouver Canucks’ Conor Garland started the 2021-22 season on fire.

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He recorded eight points in his first six games, showing why his new coach, Travis Green, was very excited to have added him to the roster last summer.

Garland is finishing his season, under a new coach, in a similar vein. He has four goals and 10 assists in April alone.

This high-flying streak, coming as the Canucks chased a playoff spot, came after he went goalless in March, bringing up concerns about the sustainability of his playing style.

Given what he’s given his team in recent weeks, consider those doubts dismissed.



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“I told him before the game I said, ‘The last 15 games you’ve been the guy that’s brought the energy to our team every night,’ ” Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau said after last Saturday’s game in Calgary. “And I thought he was the catalyst again tonight. Going forward, shows you how valuable he’s going to be next year.”

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Did you realize that Garland has hit 50 points on the season?

So much of the focus this season has been on the team’s remarkable turnaround under Boudreau, having a playoff shot after they were on course for one of the worst seasons in club history. Focus has also been trained on the efforts of the team’s stars, like JT Miller’s pursuit of 100 points, Elias Pettersson’s resurgence since the all-star break and the goal-scoring exploits of captain Bo Horvat.

Yes, March was a bad month for Garland. So was January. But when you zoom out and look at his season of him as a whole, you see how impactful he’s been.

After Tuesday’s action, Garland was tied for 32nd in the NHL in 5-on-5 points this season with 45. Only one Canuck has picked up more even-strength points than Garland: Miller, who has tallied 46 points at 5-on- 5.

Garland’s drawn 31 penalties this season, tied for 10th-most in the league with Matthew Tkachuk. He’s also taken just 13 penalties on the season, giving him a penalty differential of plus 18, comparable with Nathan MacKinnon’s plus 19 and Pettersson’s plus 21. (Connor McDavid has the NHL’s best drawn/taken split at plus 29, with Kirill Kaprizov second at plus 26.)

And, because of all this, when the team awards are announced at the Canucks’ final home game Thursday at Rogers Arena, he should be handed the Fred J. Hume Award as the team’s Unsung Hero.

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The rest of the awards should be no-brainers. Here are the rest of my picks for the season:

Cyclone Taylor Trophy (MVP): Thatcher Demko

More than once this season Boudreau has highlighted Demko as the Canucks’ best player.

He won his first seven starts under Boudreau, including a shutout in the new coach’s debut game and then made more than 30 saves in five of the next six starts. He posted a .955 save percentage over those sevens starts and was named the NHL’s third star of December. The first week with Boudreau in charge, he was also named the NHL’s first star of the week.

He’s played 64 times this season, including 61 starts, the most appearances in a season for a Canucks’ goalie since Roberto Luongo made 68 appearances in 2009-10.

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From Boudreau’s first game in charge on Dec. 6 through the end of March, Demko posted a .921 save percentage, tied for seventh-best in the league among goalies who played at least 15 games over that time. (I have played 35 times.)

Without the stellar play of Demko, the scoring exploits of Miller, Pettersson and Horvat would have hardly mattered.

Walter (Babe) Pratt Trophy (best D-man): Quinn Hughes

The Canucks’ star defenseman set a record this season for most points by a Vancouver blueliner in a season, beating out a decades-old record set by Doug Lidster during the goal-happy 1980s.

But just as important has been Hughes’ improvement without the puck. The 22-year-old vowed before the season that he wanted to be better defensively.

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And I have been. He and Luke Schenn have been a solid duo, and Hughes has also been added to the penalty kill.

He’s said he jokes at times that he’s actually had more fun penalty-killing this season than on the power play.

Given the two-way success he’s had, and the scoring record, this is the best season ever by a Canucks’ defenseman.

Pavel Bure Award (most exciting player): JT Miller

This is a tricky one, given the recently thrilling play of Pettersson and the big moments Horvat has had as well, but how do you not hand the most-exciting-player trophy to the team’s leading scorer?

Miller has amassed 97 points so far this season, a career high. If he hits 100, he’ll be just the sixth Canuck to do so, after the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, Alex Mogilny and Bure.

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That’s an illustrious club.

And in racking up the points this year, Miller has had plenty of thrilling moments. He’s scored end-to-end goals. And he’s thrown the second-most hits on the team, averaging over two per game.

When Pettersson wasn’t firing, he carried the offence. And he was a big help to Horvat in the leadership department, wearing his heart on his sleeve — which the fans saw night-in-and-night-out.

OVERTIME: Canucks prospect defenseman Jack Rathbone was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team Wednesday. The second-year pro scored 10 goals and added 30 assists in 40 games for the Abbotsford Canucks, helping to lead the farm team to the playoffs.

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