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‘Bring on the pain’: Joshua’s growing game adding to Canuck playoff clout

Forward’s mix of skill and snarl makes him an emerging asset for an emerging team
Rick Tocchet has long believed Dakota Joshua had something special to offer the Vancouver Canucks. Joshua, right, jumps in front of Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros, left, as the puck sails wide of the net during first period in Game 1 NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff action, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Rick Tocchet has long believed Dakota Joshua had something special to offer the Vancouver Canucks.

The coach saw it when he took over the team last January, and he set to work getting the most out of the big winger.

“He’s a coachable kid,” Tocchet said on Monday. “I just think that he needs to be pushed in the right direction and in the right way.”

Joshua has come alive under Tocchet, putting up career high numbers during a campaign that saw Vancouver rise to the top of the league standings before clinching its first division title since 2013.

The hockey world got another glimpse of his talent Sunday as Joshua powered the Canucks to a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

The performance was no surprise to Joshua’s teammates.

“I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s such a big part of this hockey team and I don’t even know if he knows how good he is, man,” J.T. Miller said after Sunday’s game. “He’s so good at a lot of things and I’m just really happy for him to get rewarded tonight. He played great.”

Linemate Conor Garland said he’s often told the 27-year-old Joshua just how skilled he is.

“I see it in practice when there’s no pressure in the plays he makes,” Garland said. “Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out the league. I told him that. It took me forever. And then you have some ups, you have some downs. You’re just trying to find yourself as a player.

“It’s getting to that age where I think he’s just coming into his own. And I think he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”

Hailing from Dearborn, Mich., Joshua was selected by the Toronto in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL entry draft. He never suited up for the Maple Leafs, and Toronto dealt him to St. Louis for future considerations in July 2019.

Joshua bounced between the Blues and their American Hockey League affiliates before signing with Vancouver as a free agent in July 2022 and earning a spot on the Canucks roster out of training camp. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

There is a lot to like about the six-foot-three, 206-pound winger, Tocchet said, from his wall play and physicality to the way he can use his hands.

Coming into training camp last fall, though, the coach expressed concerned about Joshua’s conditioning and placed him with a group who weren’t expected to make the NHL club’s lineup on opening night.

“He took the criticism and he was awesome,” Tocchet said. “He knew whatever the problem we had and he owned it. And look where he is now. He’s done a hell of a job for us.”

Joshua made the opening-night roster and went on to put up career highs in points (32), goals (18) and assists (14) while averaging 14 minutes and 23 second of ice time across 63 games this season.

He missed 18 outings with a hand injury after getting into a fight during Vancouver’s win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Feb. 13, then had five goals and an assist in 10 appearances down the stretch.

Sunday marked Joshua’s second NHL playoff game — he played his first with the Blues in 2022 — and he made an impact with both his physicality and offensive touch.

In addition to his three points, Joshua registered six of Vancouver’s 39 hits, tied with Predators winger Cole Smith for most in the game.

Playoff hockey is what everyone wants to play, whether they’re known for their physicality, skill or something else, Joshua said.

“You want to be in the playoffs and play for the Cup. The emotions are high at the start, everybody wants to get a hit in and get their legs under them,” he said. “But yeah, bring on the pain. You’re going to have to go through some stuff to get that ultimate prize.”

READ ALSO: Joshua nets 2 as Canucks roar back for 4-2 win over Nashville in playoff opener