Depleted Second Line No Reason to Sweatt

Thomas Drance
December 07 2011 10:19AM


Bieksa and Henrik help David Booth off the ice following a knee-on-knee collision in last night's game.

Just as he was "heating up," David Booth looks like he'll be out of the lineup for a while following a careless, and scary knee-on-knee hit from Kevin Porter. The power-forward was just starting to enjoy some puck-luck, and was coming off of a three point game against Calgary. Booth will  have an MRI today and be re-evaluated, but the sight of him unable to skate off the ice under his own weight, leads me to suspect that it's a fairly serious injury. 

Booth's injury, means that he'll join Higgins (who is out with a staph/zombie bite infection) in the inifirmary. Higgins will travel with the Canucks to Montreal, and could see some action on the team's upcoming eastcoast roadtrip. Hopefully he does make it back, because the so called "American Express Line" has been releasing the hounds in a big way over the past four weeks, and has transformed itself into the Canucks best at even-strength.

With the injuries to Booth, Volpatti and Higgins over the past week, the Canucks depth at forward is about to be tested. Oreskovich was called up over the weekend, and made his season debut last night. He turned in a mostly invisible Oreskovichian performance with possession stats as red as the devils ass, a negative chance differential and a lost-fight. Joining Oreskovich in "injury relief" will be American born speedster, and the so called "least interesting man in the world" Bill Sweatt.


Bill Sweatt (# 42) poses for a sweet action shot during a preseason game against Calgary.

Bill Sweatt has played reasonably well with the Chicago Wolves this season, though his production rate has regressed in comparison with last season's totals. His percentages haven't cratered, he's just generating shots at a slower clip than he did last season and is averaging less than two shots per game. Sweatt spent the majority of last season playing on a line with KHL top-10 scorer Sergei Shirokov, as well as Cody Hodgson, so perhaps his slight dip in production can be attributed to his having lower quality line-mates this season.

Sweatt wasn't particularly impressive in preseason or at the prospects tournament, but he's got a reputation as a reasonably effective "two-way" player with great wheels. Whereas no one thinks Jordan Schroeder is well suited to an NHL bottom-six, many prospect specialists and scouts (like Corey Pronman) see Sweatt as an NHL third-liner eventually. We profiled Bill Sweatt at length over the summer, and had this to say about his abilities:

So what we have in Bill Sweatt is a speedy forward and a solid forechecker with questionable physical strength and finishing ability. Add in the fact that his shooting percentage falls off a cliff in the postseason, and you've basically got the prototypical Vancouver Canucks winger!

So, expect Sweatt the younger to make his NHL debut on Thursday afternoon (pacific time) in Montreal, but don't expect his debut to be as memorable as the one made by his mysterious older brother Lee last season.

I'll be curious to see whether or not Sweatt is reunited with his Manitoba Moose linemate Cody Hodgson, or whether Vigneault decides to bump Hodgson into the top-six instead. In all likelihood, it will be Mason Raymond's status that determines where Sweatt is deployed on Thursday. If Raymond is ready to skate in the top six, I would suspect we'll see something like: Hansen and Raymond with Ryan Kesler, while Hodgson skates with Malhotra and either Weise or Sweatt. If Hodgson moves into the top-six, I'll expect a Raymond-Malhotra-Weise third line, with Sweatt, Oreskovich and Lapierre soaking up seven sheltered minutes at five-on-five on the fourth line.

(Update: Victor Oreskovich was sent down today... Not sure how that makes sense, or if it was a salary cap maneuver. I suspect it was the latter, because, by my count the Canucks only have 11 healthy forwards counting Bill Sweatt).

The Canucks have enough depth to weather this current rash of forward injuries, especially because Raymond looks "in-form" and because Chris Higgins probably won't be out for long (“The pills are working,” Vigneault told reporters last night, when asked about Higgins' infection). Nonetheless, If David Booth's injury is serious, it obviously represents a significant set-back for the top-six, and for Booth personally. Conventional observers will say "Booth was starting to figure it out" and other such things, but with the exception of a couple of bad games, Booth has been exceptional at driving possession, and generating chances since his arrival in Vancouver. He's become exceedingly valuable to the second line, and while the Canucks should continue to win games in his absence, his loss is a sizable one.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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