Canucks: Rick Tocchet's tactful message to Dakota Joshua was timely shock therapy

‘He’s an important part of our team. He’s physical and we need that, too, but he’s just got to dial it up here.’ — Brock Boeser on teammate Dakota Joshua.

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Dakota Joshua called Rick Tocchet a breath of fresh air.

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He lauded the Vancouver Canucks bench boss for fairness, frankness and “non negotiable” staples like push and pace and compete that must be evident in everybody’s game.

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And that’s why it wasn’t surprising that Tocchet took issue with Joshua’s lack of presence in camp and pre-season play in Sunday’s lopsided loss at Calgary.

For the Canucks to smartly spring from the gate when they start playing for keeps Oct. 11, they need everybody pulling on the rope. They can’t afford another 0-5-2 stumble to start the regular season and it’s better to send a message now.

It also carries more weight when directed at a player expected to be in the opening-night lineup, not some wannabe trying to beat roster odds.

“Dakota, he’s gotta pick it up,” warned Tocchet. “I’m not gonna get into some other factors, but he’s gotta try to win a job. The job’s not there, they are guys breathing down that want jobs.”

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that those “other factors” could relate to conditioning. It was supposed to be a summer like none other for players to embrace the coach’s edict for elite fitness.

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Canucks winger Dakota Joshua scores one of his two first-period goals against the Sharks on Dec. 7 in San Jose. Photo by Ezra Shaw /Getty Images

Nils Aman and Jack Studnicka, who were Joshua’s occasional partners last season on the fourth line, heeded the call. Aman’s was in the top three of camp testing, while Studnicka has looked stronger and more engaged.

Aman and Studnicka have flanked Teddy Bleuger, while Joshua was on a practice like with Aatu Raty and Arshdeep Bains, who are likely bound for the AHL affiliate in Abbotsford. It’s a quick way to motivate Joshua, because when at his best, he’s effective.

The guy behind the bench had something to do with that.

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“He set that tone last year and that accountability part is something that our team needs — and it’s great when it’s coming from the coach,” winger Brock Boeser said Wednesday following a practice at the University of B.C. “He’s a guy you can go and talk to and he’s all ears and then there’s not a disconnect.

“He’ll let a guy know before he talks to the media and that’s important.”

Tocchet labelled Boeser “interesting” and that there’s another level achievement if he’s willing to take direction, put in the work and focus on fitness. He would say the same about Joshua.

Tocchet needs the winger to be a consistent presence, not just an occasional contributor, because the coach loathes games where his club goes quietly into the night without much bite and plays soft.

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“It’s consistency and pace,” stressed Tocchet. “You can’t get sleepy in games.”

Lighting a competitive fire under Joshua is finding out what makes him really tick. Tocchet and St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube were former teammates and roommates in Philadelphia, and Berube showed Joshua some tough love.

“It’s how you have to be at the highest standard and consistent every night,” Joshua told Postmedia. “Playing for him (Berube) was great to learn how to be a good pro that he could get the most out of.”

Vancouver Canucks' Dakota Joshua, left, is checked by Calgary Flames' Ben Jones during first period NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.
Vancouver Canucks’ Dakota Joshua, left, is checked by Calgary Flames’ Ben Jones during first period NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Jeff McIntosh /The Canadian Press

Joshua, 27, is on the final year of his deal at a US$825,000 salary cap hit and has teased of being more than just a big body.

Before he arrived in Vancouver, Tocchet saw via video how Joshua could impose his will and underrated skill.

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Joshua had two gritty, down-low goals on Dec. 7 in San Jose by establishing position and depositing rebounds. He also dropped the gloves after taking exception to Aman being heavily run into the sideboards by Radim Simik.

The one-sided fight was the topper to just 2:20 of first-period ice time to help fuel a 6-5 overtime victory. He also had a hat trick goal in the second period waved off by a goalie-interference call.

Tocchet also saw how Joshua embraced an opportunity to eventually move up the lineup, and even log first-line time. His average minutes of 11:31 went north of 14 in eight of the final 17 games to establish himself as a roster mainstay.

Will that be the case this season?

“He’s an important part of our team,” stressed Boeser. “He’s physical and we need that, too, but he’s just got to dial it up here.”

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Aside from Joshua hitting career highs in goals (11), assists (12) and points (23) last season, it was the dirty work that impressed. He led team forwards in hits (220), was fifth in take-aways and nine forwards had more giveaways. He also shared the club lead in penalty minutes (60), but on a lot of nights they were good protection penalties.

“This was obviously a big year for me with playing the majority of the games,” Joshua said in his year-end address. “I still feel like there’s a lot more to my ceiling that I haven’t reached yet.

“I’m looking to be more impactful.”

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