Defenceman Jason Garrison has quickly embraced playing in a hockey-crazy city and understands the pressures placed on him and the Canucks to perform. After a slow start, the reliable White Rock native 'rarely' has a bad shift or game, according to coaches.
Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images
DALLAS - Dan Hamhuis recalls asking general manager Mike Gillis last summer about the new guy.
“I didn’t know that much about Jason,” Hamhuis says. “The goals were the glaring thing about him, but (Mike) talked more about the defensive side of his game — being a big, strong guy, good in front of the net and in the corners. He said if we got the goals, it’s a bonus.”
Given the longtime-listener-first-time-caller hysteria when Jason Garrison managed just one goal and two points in his first 15 games, the Canucks’ fan base seemed to have different expectations.
For $27.6 million over six years, Garrison should be the next Al MacInnis or, at least, the next Adrian Aucoin. The 28-year-old from White Rock scored 16 times from the blue-line for the Florida Panthers last season, and for the kind of dough the Canucks paid for the free agent, people in B.C. weren’t going to accept one goal less. Well, they might, but only because this National Hockey League season was shortened to 48 games.
“People are looking for one thing and one thing only and they’re missing the 10 other things he does so well,” associate coach Rick Bowness says. “That’s wrong. Jason is a great guy to coach because you know what you’re going to get from him every night. He’s so reliable, such a competitive guy. For anyone to sit there and just look at his points, they’re missing a lot from what he brings to the table.
“He’s reliable every shift, plays on the power play, kills penalties, plays against the other team’s best players. He very rarely has a bad night, very rarely has a bad shift.”
And now Garrison is starting to score, too.
The six-foot-two, 220-pound defenceman has two goals, four assists and a plus-seven rating in the last seven games. Through 43 games, Garrison’s personal boxscore prorates to 13 goals, 26 points and a plus-32 rating over a full season.
The Garrison-Hamhuis partnership on defence, formed 25 games ago when Kevin Bieksa first left the lineup because of a groin injury, has become the Canucks’ best and most trusted.
In the 2-1 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, when several Canucks looked small but Garrison did not, Hamhuis logged a season-high 28:33 of ice time and Garrison played 25:09.
The workload was due partly to Monday’s “lower body” injury to Bieksa, which has left the Canucks without any right-shot defencemen. Did we mention that Garrison, a lefty, has built his fine season while playing out of position?
“You have certain expectations but you don’t know how it’s going to pan out or how it will affect you until you’re in that situation,” Garrison says of his many adjustments, especially to the fanatical hockey market. “So, living it, it was what I expected. It’s a different market, more expectations. It’s a pressure-filled market. But guys on this team, they love that and everyone wants to play here.
“I’m definitely happy (with my season). There’s always room for improvement and I’m not complacent about the numbers I have now. I want more. I want to contribute more offensively.”
Garrison was removed from the power play for a while because he was hesitant to shoot and when he did fire missiles from the point, they rarely hit the net.
He admits it wasn’t because of a lack of confidence in his shot, but a lack of confidence about his standing on a new team. He would receive the puck on the power play and see former NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin awaiting passes.
“You’re just trying to fit in,” Garrison says. “And obviously with Danny and Hank, you want to put the puck in their hands as much as possible. That was kind of what was going on. But I was told by players and coaches to shoot the puck as much as I could, so that’s maybe more my mentality now.”
In the last seven games, he has registered 17 shots — nearly 2½ per night. In the first 15 games, that average was 1½ shots.
Both Garrison and first-unit power-play pointman Alex Edler are getting their shots away quicker.
The power play, stunningly ineffective in the middle of the season when it scored twice in 20 games, is 6-for-22 the last seven games.
There has never been an issue, at least to the Canucks, about Garrison’s even-strength play.
“He’s a smart player and he’s not high risk, even though he puts up a lot of big numbers,” Hamhuis says.
“It’s a little tougher for him being on that right side because it’s a double adjustment for him.
“We sit beside each other on the plane, and this was since before we were D-partners. I was talking to him (early in the season) about how things were going because it’s a tough start when you’re not getting the numbers and trying to learn a new system in the defensive zone. I’m sure that stuff was bothering him, but he didn’t let it get the best of him. He is a calm, smart guy. Look where it has got him now.”
BIEKSA SENT HOME: After travelling to Dallas, where the Canucks end their five-game road trip Thursday, Bieksa was sent home Wednesday to Vancouver to be fully evaluated by medical staff. The Canucks expect that Bieksa won’t be out long ... With extra blue-liners Andrew Alberts and Cam Barker playing because of the Bieksa and Chris Tanev (ankle) injuries, the Canucks called up from the AHL journeyman Derek Joslin. “Because of the lockout, he never had the chance to have a training camp with us,” assistant general manager Lorne Henning said of the 26-year-old. “But he’s a good skater with NHL experience in San Jose and Carolina and a good depth defenceman.”
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