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Pairing the Canucks Forward Lines

Trent Leith / August 29, 2021  

A few weeks ago we took a look at the Vancouver Canucks defence and projected the pairings for the season. Seeing as it’s the dog days of August, we are going back to that well and projecting out the offensive group’s lines. 

Some key players will be joining the team for the first time this season, and some… not-so-key players have played their final days with the team. The result is a top-nine better than any the Canucks have iced since the good ol’ days of the Presidents’ Trophy wins. 

JT Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser

The bonafide top line of the team, the cream of the crop, the Lotto Line. When these three are clicking they are among the best lines in hockey, with this top-line looking like a power player as they generate many dangerous options to score. There is no doubt that this will be the first line to start the season. The chemistry is proven and they are effective in both ends of the ice. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Connor Garland got a chance to slot into Boeser’s spot at points during the season, and that would likely be a good fit, but I think the stylistic approach to the game by Miller and Pettersson will have Boeser slotting into the top role for the majority of the season. With the signing of Jason Dickinson, we also no longer have to wonder if the third line will be, or should be led by Miller. The big boys are staying together. 

Nils Höglander – Bo Horvat – Connor Garland

The Jason Dickinson signing may prove the be the most important acquisition this season, and not just for his play, but what the other players are freed up to do. We saw in the bubble almost one year ago what Bo Horvat and his linemates are capable of when they get paired against lower competition. With Dickinson centring the third line it’s safe to say that Horvat, Höglander and now Garland will get a more traditional workload as a second line. Instead of playing shut down, they are going to be able to play offensively with more regularity. 

The new expected workload will help Höglander pop offensively as he will get to play a higher-skilled game, and we all know how high his skill level already is. I believe that is part of the reason Hoglander is staying on this line versus Pearson. I think Höglander’s skill set is a better fit as a responsible offensive player, rather than a shutdown player. His defensive numbers were strong to start his rookie season, but slowly faded as the year went on, and there are a lot of factors for that. But his deployment with offence in mind will elevate him as a player. 

Garland will be a strong addition to this line with very respectable 5-on-5 play and a workhorse mentality, he will be fun to watch with the power forward we all know as captain Bo. 

Tanner Pearson – Jason Dickinson – Vasily Podkolzin

This line may be the most important cog in making the Canucks machine go. If this line can be a true shutdown line, the top two can be offensively minded scoring lines, which the Canucks have not had in years. The top line has always been scoring-oriented, but the second line has some serious finishing talent as well and will be put in a place to utilize it if this line clicks. 

The third line is another one that can and will have some fluctuation to it. If Podkolzin comes into the league and is lighting it on fire, he will likely get a chance to play higher up the lineup. If Höglander isn’t playing up to Travis Green’s hopes, Pearson will likely slot back into the second line. It’s nice that the Canucks finally have true depth. The anchor of that third line though will be Jason Dickinson, and all signs are pointing to him being what we all wanted Brandon Sutter to be, and at a lesser cost. As long as Dickinson can keep up what he was doing in Dallas and stay healthy, the Canucks are in for a treat. The fact that Dickinson has taken 60% or more defensive zone starts in the last 3 years reinforces the line of thought that he will be relied upon to handle the defensive side of the game. 

Vasily Podkolzin will be starting his first season in the NHL this October. While you never know exactly how a player is going to shake out in the big league, he is expected to play a big physical game, with a scoring touch. Podkolzin will make a great middle-six winger in his first year and may startle a lot of hockey fans with his mature game when he starts his career in the NHL.

Tyler Motte – Brandon Sutter – Mathew Highmore

This is the line I have the least confidence projecting out, as is the case with most fourth lines. The fourth line almost acts as a landing pad for players trying to make the jump from the AHL or young players from the press box. If a darkhorse player comes into camp and has a great showing and one of the above three has a weaker camp, that’s likely all it will take to get in the lineup. That said, Motte has become a fan, and coaching staff favourite with his speed, hustle and hard work. In his short time with the Canucks, Highmore started to get a similar reputation of speed and tenacity. Centred by Sutter, a slower but defensively oriented player, this shakes out to be both a fast and exciting, but responsible and reliable line. I would say Sutter is the only lock for this line at this point ahead of camp. 

Brandon Sutter recently resigned with the Canucks for one year at $1.125M, a very nice number for the player. Fans had a problem with Sutter and his play when he was making $4.375M, but the same player making a shade over a million dollars is much more palatable to fans, and is a better allocation of funds. Both Sutter and Dickinson have been signed to the team at a combined cap hit of less than what Sutter was making on his last deal. That is a win, the team got better, filled a role and allowed a player to slot into the lineup where they likely belong, all for less money. Credit to the management staff for that one. 

The Outside Looking In

There are a few other names that you should watch for to get a shot to slot into the lineup. Zack MacEwan, Justin Bailey, Will Lockwood and Jonah Gadjovich are all the most likely names to get a shot at some point, especially should a player go down due to injury. All these players have had time on the team, but will have to make the best of their shots to stay with the team this season, as the Canucks newfound depth is working against their odds of making it. 

The Canucks finally have depth, and half-decent depth to boot. Every single one of these lines may be wrong, and if so, they probably will still look great however they shake out. Travis Green finally has a plethora of talent he can mould and tinker with to find the right combinations for every single night. He has more options for competitive lines than at any point in his tenure.