Low-maintenance and low-cost, Dries is a high-drive survivor
Not big or imposing, 29-year-old shows he can get to the net
We're looking back at the 202223 Vancouver Canucks with a focus today on Sheldon Dries. In the coming weeks, we will break down the season and take a look at how player situations project going into 2023-24.
Career stats: GP: 122; G: 16; A: 10;
Contract status: A year remaining on two-year, two-way, US$1.525-million Canucks contract signed June 27, 2022. Carries $762,500 salary cap hit at NHL level.
Expiry Status: Unrestricted free agent
Rick Tocchet is trying to solve a riddle in the middle.
The priority on a wish list for the Vancouver Canucks' head coach is a third-line centre with size, speed, strength, compete level, and an occasional scoring touch. That can be hard to find.
You can overpay in free agency or lose valuable assets via an off-season trade. For the cash-strapped Canucks, neither option is viable unless they create salary-cap space by reducing a glut of wingers. Even that approach comes with the peril of retaining salary or parting with draft picks. So, what's realistic and what's the reality?
“A grittier guy who can settle things down for sure,” said Tocchet. “Whether it's a couple of guys
we have, but can they fill that role? Or do we have to go out and get it? I'd like a guy who can take faceoffs, other than (J.T.) Miller and Petey (Elias Pettersson), and give those guys some juice.”
Rookie centre Nils Aman, 23, had an admirable season in making a seamless transition from the Swedish Hockey League. He played at pace, read the game well, supported the forecheck, and was effective in a penalty-kill pairing with Dakota Joshua.
However, Aman is tall but slight, doesn't possess a physical bite, managed 16 points (4-12) in 68 games, and had a poor 38.2 per cent faceoff efficiency. It adds up to maybe getting a look, but being more of a fourth-line fit with Joshua. Which brings us to the 29-year-old Sheldon Dries.
He's not big. He's not physically imposing. But he plays hard, can get to the net, and never complains.
The hockey survivor is a coach's dream and salary-cap solution. He's a low-maintenance, low-cost and high-energy five-foot-nine, 180-pound bowling ball.
Dries managed four of his 11 goals this season on the second power play unit and had a 49.9 faceoff percentage in a bottom-six role.
He went on a heater with the Abbotsford Canucks in the 2021-22 AHL season with 62 points (35-27) in 54 games, but has always maintained a humble demeanour. No bragging.
“I wasn't sure I was playing hockey after my senior year,” said Dries, who has a degree in criminal justice from Western Michigan and will eventually coach at the U.S. college level.
“I was going to enlist in the police academy. I was a few weeks out from that and Texas came along and offered me an AHL deal. I took it for a year and just ran with it.”
And then he ran to the Colorado Avalanche and the Canucks.
“A lot of people believed I couldn't be here and I want to prove them wrong,” he said.
How 2022-23 went: Patience, perseverance, praise
Dries lived the reassigned and recalled existence the first month of this season before settling into a regular role with the Canucks as a versatile centre.
His patience paid off by hitting NHL career highs for goals (11), assists (six) and points (17), which included a two-point night (1-1) against the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche on Nov. 23 at Denver. He would average 11:32 of ice time, and played as many as 15:04 and as little as 7:33. Along the way, he was praised for his professionalism.
“I really appreciate these kind of guys because I've been through it myself as a player,” said former Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau. “Every time we sent him down, he said: `Don't worry. I'll have a great attitude and I'll work my butt off to be back.' And he has.
“When you put him in any situation, all he's doing is giving it his best. There's no pouting.”
Tocchet had bigger roster worries than Dries and that said something. He wasn't sure what he had in a lot of his bottom-six players, but knew what Dries would bring in the room and on the ice. Call it a vote of confidence for now. How the future looks: Cap challenge helps cause
Can Dries continue to be a shortterm roster placeholder until Aatu Raty, 20, a six-foot-two, 190-pound prime prospect in Abbotsford, matures into an NHL centre? Or will the Canucks go in a different direction in their third-line centre quest and reduce Dries to extra-forward status?
Assuming Miller moves back to the middle, the Canucks have a good one-two punch. Going outside the organization to kick the free-agent tires on winger Ivan Barbashev, 27, who can also play centre ($2.5 million), or J.T. Compher, 28 ($3.5 million), will likely result in off-season sticker shock. Greatest strengths: Gives you everything he's got. Some nights it's good enough, some nights it's not. Greatest weakness: Puck control. Corsi-For of 45.3 per cent was 11th among regular club forwards.
Is he trade bait? Next question. A year left on his contract at league-minimum wage.
The big question: Will Canucks pay big to find a third-line centre or keep the quest in house?