Graovac shows he can make a difference
Centre takes advantage of opportunities to prove he can be a player to count on
Tyler Graovac recorded a Travis Green Hat-Trick on Saturday.
Anyone who excels in a demanding bottom-six NHL role by not being scored upon, staying out of the penalty box and scoring a goal, is going to collect kudos from the Vancouver Canucks coach.
Graovac also drew a timely penalty and was deployed in the final three minutes with Thatcher Demko pulled for the extra attacker.
So, with five fine functions, Graovac would also qualify for a Travis Green High Five. There was a lot to applaud in the towering centre's performance in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Graovac broke up plays in the defensive zone by stripping Connor McDavid of the puck and getting a stick on one of his laser-like, crossice passes in the opening period. The unrestricted free agent then snapped a 32-foot slot shot past Mike Smith in the second period to draw the Canucks even at 3-3.
And early in the third period, his hustle forced Adam Larsson to take a defensive-zone interference minor as the Canucks tried to press for the equalizer.
“He has played well, especially the last two games,” said Green. “When you have injuries and guys come out of the lineup, it's a big opportunity and he has been waiting and working hard.
“We were trying to get him out a little more at the end of the game. He was controlling the puck well and making good plays.”
Graovac had three shots and three hits in 9:59 of measured ice time in a tight game. The 6-foot-5, 212 pound Brampton, Ont. native was noticeable for his battle level and strength on pucks and good chemistry with Jayce Hawryluk and Marc Michaelis.
“That line was good and there were a lot of guys in the bottom end of our lineup that played extremely hard and have been for a bit here,” noted Green as fourth-line centre Travis Boyd also scored Saturday.
Graovac, 28, has 13 points (11-2) in 77 career NHL games with Minnesota, Washington and Vancouver. The 191st selection by the Wild in the 2011 draft has yet to gain traction in The Show and has never scored more than seven goals in any season. His 203 games in the AHL speak to timing, injuries and indifferent play.
However, the Canucks could go through a bottom-six shuffle next season and Graovac might work as a roster regular or depth player.
Brandon Sutter, 32, is a sidelined UFA with a history of injuries and it's the same with Jay Beagle. At 35, he has a year left on his deal at a US$3 million hit — $2.2 in total salary — in the flat-cap reality of shrinking revenues amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Graovac is on an expiring oneyear, two-way deal that pays US$700,000 in the NHL and $175,000 in the minors.
What resonates with the Canucks is that Graovac is grateful for everything he has. He doesn't dwell on a career in which he has been waived and traded, suffered a broken foot and concussion, loaned to the Manitoba Moose, laboured through a COVID -19 outbreak and practising but not playing as a taxi-squad member here.
He lives in the now, but it's not always easy.
“It's been a long journey and tested my patience and my personality,” admitted Graovac, who has two goals in seven games with the Canucks this season. “But I couldn't be more proud of where I am today to push through. I put too much stress on my family — I tell them that every day.
“They've been my anchor and my outlet and I'm pretty lucky to have them. When you're sitting in the press box and watching other players kind of accomplish what you've worked your whole life for, it eats you alive. It eats you up inside. And, as much as you want to be a great teammate, it's been a bit of a struggle mentally.
“It's unbelievable how strong a human can be. I've had to change my personality just to be a better player and be positive every day. Every second of ice is so important and I feel like I've had to grind for every second. At times, I kind of took it for granted earlier in my career.
“Even at times where I didn't believe in myself, you still have to bet on yourself. Just play and it has worked out and I want more. I just have to keep my confidence and not get too far ahead. I'm big but a bit slower than other guys and having guys like Hawryluk and (Matthew) Highmore on my wings has helped.
“I need to protect the middle of the ice, protect it and feed them.”
It's unbelievable how strong a human can be. I've had to change my personality just to be a better player.
Recalled winger Jonah Gadjovich, 22, has finished a seven-day quarantine in Winnipeg and is available for a two-game set with the Winnipeg Jets on Monday and Tuesday. He has exploded for 15 goals in 19 AHL games with the Utica Comets. Winger Will Lockwood, 22, was recalled Sunday from them Comets and was en route to Vancouver on Sunday to start his quarantine period. He has 11 points (4-7) in 24 games this season.