By: Trent Leith / September 23, 2022
It started as an annual tradition that we at StadiumChinatown.ca would predict the forward lines and defensive pairings for the season based on who we think would play well together, and how things have looked at Canucks training camp. But a
curveball knuckle puck was thrown our way this year.
As per Bruce Boudreau, the lines and defensive pairings seen at the start of camp are likely to start the season. While things can change quickly, it looks like coach Boudreau is hoping to build some chemistry early to avoid another slow start to the season.
Instead of predicting defensive pairings, we will analyze the pairings Bruce has put together and note some changes to watch for. I also want to take this moment to mention that, as per the forward lines we saw on Thursday, I got precisely none of them right in my article predicting the four forward lines. In fact, I only got two linemates correct. Jason Dickinson and Curtis Lazar are starting camp on the same line, although not in the positions I had predicted. Not a good look, I know.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Quinn Hughes
The first pairing doesn’t come as much of a surprise if you have been dialled into the team for the past few weeks. For those who haven’t been watching and have instead been enjoying life in the sun – congratulations, what is it like to be a normal person? – you saw that right. Quinn Hughes has said he wants to try playing on the right-hand side. Earlier this month, Jim Rutherford told the media, “Hughes has told us he can try the right side”.
This won’t be the first time he has played the right side, however; in fact, he briefly played the right-hand side late in 2019 under Travis Green.
“We talked to Quinn when he got here about his thoughts of playing on the right side,” Green told the media during Quinn’s rookie year, “I thought if he could play the right, it’s going to give him a chance to play in different spots, with different partners. We tried him with Eddy [Alex Edler] a few times.”
Hughes also spent plenty of time at lower levels on the right-hand side, so it’s not a foreign concept for him.
“I feel just as comfortable on the right as I do on the left,” Hughes said. “There’s positives and negatives to both. If I’m a rightie on the blue line, I can just walk in on my forehand. if I’m a leftie, I have to skate over. I don’t know if I explained that the best, but trust me, there’s positives and negatives to both.”
The nice thing about this combo is that while OEL may not be the player he once was, he is still a very skilled, capable defender and the two will be able to switch sides and rotate on the ice with greater ease than other combinations of defenders may be able to.
Danny DeKeyser – Tyler Myers
While the previous combination certainly came as a surprise to most fans, this is may be the most out-of-the-blue-combo heading into training camp. Myers has played a second pairing role for the majority of his time in Vancouver, so his name should be expected. The surprise here is seeing DeKeyser higher up on the depth chart than names like Jack Rathbone and Travis Dermott.
DeKeyser was signed this summer to a professional try out (PTO) by the Canucks, and while many simply saw this as a depth signing, clearly Patrick Allvin sees potential for much more. DeKeyser was a long-time defender on the Detroit Red Wings, having played there since signing as a free agent in 2013.
The 32-year-old was Moritz Seider’s linemate last year, playing in a top pairing role in Detroit and averaging over 18 minutes of ice time per game. Early in his career, he was a much stronger defender, even receiving Calder votes in his rookie year. Since then, injuries have taken their toll. DeKeyser put up 11 points last season but a deeper look into the journeyman defender’s impact is not pretty. Despite playing with the rookie of the year, he was still only able to put together a 40.3 Corsi percentage and was on the ice for over 13 more expected goals-against than goals-for last season.
While in theory, this is a stylistic fit, pairing a stay-at-home defender with Myers, it remains to be seen if DeKeyser will be able to find some of his previous form in Vancouver. He has a shot to be on the opening night roster if he can hold on to the head start he has been given.
Jack Rathbone – Luke Schenn
I love this pairing, and it only works because Hughes is taking on a role on the right side. Schenn, while a great fit with Hughes, is not a top pairing defender. He can fill the role when he needs to, but he is better utilized as a bottom pairing defender, and that is the role he is poised to play this coming season.
Schenn’s strengths are in his own end. While he may score from time to time, his job is to lock it down defensively and let the offensive talent do their thing. And for that reason, Rathbone will benefit from pairing with Schenn. I have always said that Rathbone is “Hughes Lite” and, in a lot of ways, Schenn is “Tanev Lite”. While Tanev was joked as “Quinn’s dad”, we have joked that Schenn is “Quinn’s stepdad”, filling in for the father that left.
I think this depth role will serve both players exceptionally well. They don’t have the pressure of being asked to play too far up the lineup. They’ll get more favourable matchups and will be asked to play fewer minutes per night playing to their strengths. This is a good pairing.
Travis Dermott – Tucker Poolman
This pairing seems to be the result of DeKeyser getting a look in the top four. It means Travis Dermott has fallen out of the starting six. Dermott was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a third-round pick after the Canucks traded away Travis Hamonic for a third. It was a clear upgrade for a younger, faster defender who can play both the left and the right side.
The new Canucks brass saw untapped value in the defender. “Our pro scouts and our analytic department were excited about him,” Allvin told the media after the trade. So why is Dermott on the outside looking in?
Roster battles. It’s as simple as that. Dermott is a player that can take a roster spot from any defender on the team if he plays well enough. I wouldn’t expect Dermott to be on the outside for too long.
Meanwhile, Tucker Poolman is certainly a question mark. After his inexplicable $10M, four-year contract, it’s a shame to see him fall from favour in the organization by just year two. Poolman has never played more than 57 NHL games in one year, and last year was no exception. He played only 40 games before being sidelined due to injury. Given the Canucks are only a quarter of the way through this deal, they must be hoping he can find a new gear and force his way back into the top-six.
I don’t see Poolman’s path back into the lineup as clearly as Dermott’s. He’ll have to fight through Hughes, Myers and Schenn, and while not impossible, it will be difficult. For Dermott however, I recommend keeping an eye out; he may easily leapfrog Dekeyser, Rathbone or Schenn. I don’t think he’ll be the Canucks seventh defender for long.
It Could Be Worse, But It Could Also Be Better
The Canucks depth doesn’t look as awful as in past years, but there is always room for improvement. It will be worth watching these combinations throughout training camp and into the beginning of the year. Although Boudreau says these pairings are what he wants to see at the start of the season, I wouldn’t count on that. Changes are all but certain at this stage.