Now that it seems more and more likely that we will be attending a 24-team tournament instead of the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, the Canucks could be specially designed to have some success in their march to their first Stanley Cup. . Without further ado, here is my opinion on what the programming should look like when the modified post-season finally begins.
Frontline – Miller, Pettersson, Boeser
When Brock Boeser returned from an injury to the New York Islanders in the Canucks last game before the break, he was placed with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. However, now that he is completely healthy, he should be ready to resume his duties on the much-touted lotto line. He will join the dynamic duo of J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, who have been dynamite together all season, combining 54 goals and 138 points.
For most of the season, this trio was one of the best hockey lines, dominating possession and accumulating points almost at will. They were also excellent at keeping pressure in the offensive zone and were rarely caught in their own end for long periods of time. If the Canucks are successful in the playoffs, that line will be a huge reason.
Second line – Pearson, Horvat, Toffoli
The Canucks are finally having a second wave of attack that could be as dangerous as the first. Pearson and Horvat have been together all season and have been productive in a buddy role most nights. In pairs, they have 43 goals and 98 points, which is pretty good for a second line. Before Tyler Toffoli was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, they had a revolving door of wingers including Loui Eriksson, Jake Virtanen, Josh Leivo, Antoine Roussel and even Tyler Motte.
Now that Boeser is in good health, Toffoli can finally join this line and, hopefully, continue the role he was on before the break. He seemed to fit in almost immediately after his acquisition, posting ten points in ten games while playing with Pettersson and Miller. If he can do the same with Horvat and Pearson, the Canucks will have a terrific one-two punch that should compete well with most of the first six groups.
Third line – Leivo, Gaudette, Virtanen
Before the COVID-19 pandemic ended, Leivo was excluded from the Canucks for some time during the playoffs. Depending on the start of the post-season, he could be healthy and ready to go, which means that the third row will benefit from an infusion of size and skills to accompany the offensive emergence of Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen. Before injuring himself, he led a career season with seven goals and 19 points in 36 games. He also played on the second line with Horvat and Pearson, so he should be able to maintain that same production on the third line.
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As for Gaudette and Virtanen, these are two of the biggest revelations for the Canucks this season. They both had careers at 23 and, more importantly, they also posed constant attacking threats. For a team that has struggled to generate offense from its past six in the past, this is a welcome development as it could potentially head into its first playoff series in four years.
In the playoffs, where your best offensive stars are sometimes checked to death, a productive third line could be the difference between moving on and booking a date on the links. This line could be the x factor against teams like the Edmonton Oilers who only dig two lines offensively.
Fourth line – Roussel, Sutter, Ferland
We now come to the smorgasbord which is the fourth line. The Canucks have too many attackers and not enough seats, especially when everyone is healthy. Right now, I’m bringing together Roussel, Micheal Ferland and Brandon Sutter, but that could definitely change in a series. Say what you want about Sutter, but he’s still a good two-way player capable of driving offense, which is why I decided to put him on this line instead of Jay Beagle.
As for Ferland, I think he deserves a chance to recover from the concussion problems he has had this season. If he’s 100% healthy with no risk to his health and general well-being, the Canucks could use his physique in the playoffs. However, if hitting or being hit could cause another concussion, then it’s not even worth considering returning to training. If so, I prefer Zack MacEwen to take on this role instead. Ferland is only effective if he’s involved in physical play, so if he can’t do it, then he’s practically useless in a fourth-line role.
Defense Association One – Hughes, Tanev
You could probably trade defense pairs one and two, but I like Quinn Hughes’ visual on unit number one. As expected, Chris Tanev was the perfect partner for him as they have formed one of the most stable couples in the NHL. With less time as a confrontational defender, Tanev was also uninjured, although he was technically injured after the Canucks’ last game in March.
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Hughes, meanwhile, was everything and more for the Canucks this season. Not only was he one of the best defensive minute eaters, but he also scored 53 points to become the backend’s main attacking catalyst. In the end, it was probably one of the main reasons they are in the playoffs. So of course, this pairing stays together before this new season.
Defense Pair Two – Edler, Myers
Alex Edler and Tyler Myers have had their ups and downs throughout the season, but they remain a good option as a pair. Myers didn’t put out the points I expected from him at the start of the season, but he’s still better than Erik Gudbranson, Derick Pouliot or Michael Del Zotto, for sure. He spent an average of more than 20 minutes a night in a confrontational role with Edler while scoring a respectable 6 goals and 21 points. He may have had bad games like all defensemen, but overall his first season with the Canucks has been pretty good.
Edler quietly started another solid season with the Canucks, finishing with 30 or more points for the third consecutive time. Despite the difficulties the Canucks have had in defense, he has probably been one of the most consistent defensemen this season. If they hope to do anything in the playoffs, that pairing must be a defensive rock, as they will most likely receive the call to be the match pair. If they fight, I would not be surprised to see Troy Stecher resume his role as Edler’s partner in crime, as he did most of last season and as recently as March of this season.
Defense Pair Three – Fantenberg, Stecher
As Chris Faber of Canuck Army noted in a recent article, Stecher and Oscar Fantenberg have not been marked as a match. Admittedly, they only played 36 games and 79 minutes together, so that may not be a good indicator of defensive success. The alternative, however, is Jordie Benn, who struggled after starting the season as the sixth defenseman. It didn’t take Fantenberg long to take his place in the lineup, which was surprising given that Benn was supposed to represent an upgrade to the Canucks defense core.
Fantenberg has proven to be a good puck mover and a relatively calm defender in his own area. His underlying numbers don’t look very good, with a Corsi-For percentage of 43.7, but he posted a better overall game than Benn. He was physical with 67 hits and was not afraid to block the shots as well. Overall, this pairing is best with him patrolling the left side.
Extra Attackers – Beagle, Motte, MacEwen, Eriksson
You could probably add Sven Baertschi, Reid Boucher and Justin Bailey to this list when the NHL expands the lists, but for now, Beagle, Motte and MacEwen are the extras. If Ferland is not ready to leave, MacEwen or Motte will be raised to the fourth line. Both are physical, fast and designed for a playoff series.
Beagle could easily take Sutter’s place on the fourth row, but like I said earlier, he’s not the fastest. In a series against a team with skill and speed, Sutter is the best option. However, there is a large room available, especially if the situation becomes difficult. He has 85 playoff experience games and a Stanley Cup after all. Finally, Eriksson is still around, I just hope Travis Green is smart enough to use other options for him.
Additional Defenders – Benn, Rafferty
As we all know, injuries happen quite frequently in the grainy playoff atmosphere. It is very likely that the Canucks will have to use their defense level at some point. So why not have the dynamic Brogan Rafferty on hold? After the season he had with the Comets where he scored 7 goals and 45 points, he could be a great depth player to prepare if, God forbid, a player like Hughes gets injured. I’m not saying he’s as good as he is, but he could resume his role if that happened.
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As mentioned earlier, Benn has not had a great season, but he is still an NHL caliber defender who is capable of intervening when needed. It can kill penalties, block shots and provide a physical presence, so it could be useful when injuries inevitably occur.
Goalkeeper – Markstrom, Demko
The silver medal in this stop is that starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom will be healthy when the Canucks start playing again. In eight games without him, they have won only three times and have dropped 30 goals against. This streak has just confirmed to everyone that he is definitely the Canucks’ MVP this season. Without him, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs, it’s just the truth.
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Markstrom’s numbers may not be worthy of the Vezina Trophy, but its overall value to the Canucks certainly is. Just look back at the many times he made more than 40 saves and stole victories where his team had no interest in participating in the game. His replacement Thatcher Demko also had a good season, but he was not Markstrom. If the Canucks arrive anywhere in the playoffs, it will be on the back of the man they call “Marky.”
Canucks could be surprise candidate in 2020
Opponents say the Canucks could surprise everyone in the playoffs. We don’t know exactly how the format will play out, but that composition could be the one that thrives in the playoffs. With everyone in good health, the depth they have at the NHL and AHL levels is quite exceptional with a good mix of veterans and prospects all ready to go if needed. They even have a fairly capable third goalkeeper in Mike DiPietro if one of Markstrom or Demko falls with an injury.
These times may be unprecedented, but the Canucks are probably one of the teams that have benefited greatly from the NHL season break. They just have to take advantage of it, and maybe just bring the Stanley Cup back to Canadian soil.