Speed and Skill, or Size and Grit?

Jeff Angus
April 18 2013 09:08AM

Photo credit to Jeff Vinnick
Lapierre licking his chops as the playoffs approach (photo credit to Jeff Vinnick).

The Canucks, depending on who they end up facing in round one of the postseason, need to find a way to deploy three lines that are a threat to score. It is simply a requirement against three-line clubs like St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas (hey, Verne Fiddler is channeling his inner Wayne Gretzky right now). Okay, that last one may be a bit of a stretch, but the point remains.

Assuming Chris Higgins is back in time before the postseason, the Canucks should be able to create balance with a few simple lineup tweaks. And obviously how they structure their lines will be dependent on who they face in round one. As we saw on Tuesday evening, a series against the Blues would likely morph into nothing more than a back alley brawl with some goaltending on the side, that style will surely be accounted for in the lineup.

Let’s take a look at what the Canucks could (and should) do against a variety of different matchups come playoff time.

Opting for skill and speed

First thing - call Jordan Schroeder up from the AHL. Schroeder proved during his play in Vancouver that he is a legitimate NHL player. 

He can’t be counted on to produce as a regular top six forward at this point in time (and top nine may be a bit of a stretch), but he can hold his own defensively against much bigger players. His strength and positioning are both NHL-calibre.

Schroeder isn’t great on faceoffs, but he wouldn’t have to take many defensive zone draws with the following lineup:

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows (lots of offensive zone starts, tough minutes)

Higgins-Roy-Hansen (two-way role, very tough minutes)

Raymond-Schroeder-Kesler (cushy zone starts and easier matchups)

Weise-Lapierre-Kassian/Ebbett (defensive role, easy minutes)

Kesler and Hansen are interchangeable in the above formation. If the Canucks end up playing a team with big forwards, I’d imagine Kesler will get a more prominent checking role. But the above combinations free him up to release his deadly wrist shot, which appears to have awoken from a two year hibernation (largely because of hip/shoulder/wrist injuries).

Kesler's wrist in action:

Kesler feasted on weaker opponents during his 40-goal season back in 2010-11, and he could do the same with the above lines. He would take the faceoffs, and as Alain Vigneault explained, the Canucks system isn’t necessarily focused on having the center as the deep forward – it is a first come, first serve basis.

This lineup works for a few reasons. Roy is a very solid two-way center, and Higgins and Hansen are both very good in their own zone. The Canucks would probably opt for a bigger lineup against a bigger opponent, but the speed up front would be tremendous with this lineup (especially on the first three lines).

Going with grit and size

Schroeder may be in tough against a team like Los Angeles or St. Louis (I personally think he could do just fine, but Alain Vigneault isn’t the type to give unproven rookies a chance to prove themselves in playoff games, and I don’t mean that as a criticism).

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows have to stick together. Kassian and Hansen will both see time there, but the Canucks have the best chance at winning games when their top line is playing like a top line.

Raymond-Roy-Kesler would be the line to see the best opportunities to score (easier matchups). Again, a very fast line with a lot of skill.

That would leave the heavy lifting to Higgins-Lapierre-Hansen. Similar to the Torres-Malhotra-Hansen line from the 2010-11 regular season, this line would get buried in the defensive zone against the top opposing players. Lapierre is big and strong, and he’s a good enough skater to keep up with a lot of the top centers in the Western Conference.

And that would free up a fourth line to play a two-way role. Ebbett inbetween two gritty wingers – Sestito, Pinizzotto, Kassian, and/or Weise would all be in the mix here. The Canucks didn’t back down from the Blues on Tuesday night, but it was quite obvious that they can’t match the Blues' size or toughness (and they would be foolish to try).

If the NHL decides to change the rules on the fly again, Mike Gillis and the Canucks will have a long summer ahead of him. But if not, the team would be best situated with a roster built on speed, tenacity, and skill. They didn’t beat Los Angeles last season because they couldn’t score goals (and because the Kings were a much better team).

The same can be said for the Final against Boston. Sure, the Big, Bad Bruins were rough and tough, but none of that gets any media attention if Tim Thomas doesn’t Hasek the Canucks with a ridiculous goaltending performance. Having three lines that can create offense isn’t a necessity to win in the regular season, but it is in the playoffs. It is almost time to get Schroeder back up in Vancouver.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @anguscertified

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 Origamirock
April 18 2013, 09:31AM
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How about a pure speed line of Hansen-Schroeder-Raymond? Play Higgins-Roy-Kesler as the workhorse two way line and Kassian-Lapierre-Weise as fourth would have a fair bit of upside.

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#2 Origamirock
April 18 2013, 09:42AM
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@Origamirock

I just realized you suggested exactly that when you said "Kesler and Hansen are interchangeable in the above formation". Ignore my comment.

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#3 BradB
April 18 2013, 10:11AM
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It looks like don't see much of a role for Kassian in the playoffs. Too poor defensively, or is his production the problem?

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#4 Matt
April 18 2013, 10:24AM
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@BradB

Just better players ahead of him on the depth chart, I think.

Fingers crossed for the return of David Booth. A Booth / Roy / Kesler line would absolutely crush it possession-wise, and if you were to take Burrows off the top line, a Sedin/Sedin/Kassin, Booth/Kesler/Burrows, Raymond/Roy/Hansen, Weiss/Lapierre/Higgins forward group would be among the deepest and most balanced in the league, with one pure-offense line and then three effective two-way trios.

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#5 GRR
April 18 2013, 10:55AM
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I don't know...I'm not 100 percent comfortable with Schroeder has the third line centre...

I would much prefer, when healthy:

Sedin-Sedin-Kassian

Kassquatch's best production came with the sedins. And even if he's not scoring, his big body creates room for the twins cycle game. Also ideal for net crashing.

Raymond-Kesler-Burrows

The Feast line...Kes and Burr have always had chemistry.

Higgins-Roy-Hansen two-way line, capable of handling defensive starts or any game situation. Until Higgins returns, put Schroeder ion left-wing.

Pinizotto-Lapierre-Weise The main defensive line, soaking up mostd-zone starts.

Kes with the Twins worked well on the powerplay last year...second unit will be better having Roy to anchor it with a rotation of guys like Raymond, Burrows, Higgins and Hansen.

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#6 CanuckleHead
April 18 2013, 11:48AM
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We would get throttled if Schroeder was relied on. Why do you think he should be on a scoring line if he doesn't really score/produce. I'll give you the defensive aspect. He's fine. But he can't even produce at the AHL level. How's he going to in the NHL PLAYOFFS! !!

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#7 BrudnySeaby
April 18 2013, 11:50AM
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I mostly hope AV has a plan going into the play-offs for possible line combinations and how and when to play them depending on opposition. The team seemed un(der)prepared against LA last year; maybe more like taken by surprise.

As to specific combos; I think the most interesting will be to see how Kesler and Roy are deployed.

I would hope to see Kesler on a line with Higgins and Hansen doing the heavy lifting and shutting down the opposing top line.

Roy can then centre a line to provide the secondary scoring (with Kesler's line providing the tertiary scoring, or like he did against the Toews line in 2011, play them to a draw!). I think Kesler is a better defensive player than Roy so he should do the heavy lifting.

Putting Roy and Kesler of the same line leaves the Canucks to thin down the middle (unless Schroeder can play some more sheltered minuted) but the also got crushed possession-wise by the Blues on Tuesday. So that is not to hopeful a sign for the future.

Oh, one final thing. @ Jeff, do you honestly expect a) AV to play Kesler, or b) Kesler to accept playing, on Schroeder's wing!?

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#8 Fred-65
April 18 2013, 11:52AM
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We know how the play-offs are going to be called. It just took a while for management to adjust. The problem is not bringing in grit but the fact other teams skill player are also their grit players ie Backes, Brown, Bolland Toews etc. Our skill player ( not to knock them ) are skill through and through the Sedins, Roy. Yeah we have Burrows and kesler but I'm afraid in the eyes of the NHL officials they're not gritty just annoying and we all know what officials do to annoying players...go to your room for 2-5-10 mins :-)

Vcr has failed for what ever reason to sign a Doan or a Clowe and a lot of that is related to carrying Luongo and his salary. You look at the Vcr roster mix and deep down most of us realize the right mix is not there. Kassian assuming success is around the corner has not figured out his role, Weise doesn't have the skill, Sestito is a liability as is Alberta and Pinizzotto has not grasped the ring in his opportunities the team gave him. Our grit is not the right grit. IMO so we'll end up going the skill route and pray some official will protect us....and that ain't likely folks

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#10 CC
April 18 2013, 01:43PM
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The Big, Bad Bruins were also a lot healthier than the Canucks by the time the finals rolled around, I think that negatively impacted the quality of our scoring chances. That said, Thomas was really good that whole year...too bad he's crazy

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#11 JI123
April 18 2013, 02:27PM
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CanuckleHead wrote:

We would get throttled if Schroeder was relied on. Why do you think he should be on a scoring line if he doesn't really score/produce. I'll give you the defensive aspect. He's fine. But he can't even produce at the AHL level. How's he going to in the NHL PLAYOFFS! !!

Schroeder has 31 points in 40 games, an average of 0.775 points per game, on a team fighting for a playoff spot. Just look at his passes to Weise and Raymond (against the Blues and Kings respectively). Those are two crucial goals against difficult playoff teams and two wins that wouldn't have happened without Schroeder's vision and passing.

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#12 van
April 18 2013, 04:29PM
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If we manage to stay healthy by the 2nd round: Sedin-Sedin-Burrows Booth-Kesler-Kassian Raymond-Schroeder-Roy Higgins-Lapierre-Hansen

Kassian's best hockey will come if he gets the chance to play with Booth again (if we make it that far).

What about having our three best centres all playing in the middle? S-S-B Ray-Kes-Kas Hig-Roy-Han Pin-Lap-Wie

Kassian should be able to handle bottom 6 matchups.

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#13 Great analysis
April 18 2013, 05:09PM
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Great analysis as usual.

Schroeder has done extremely well in 2 games against the Blues this yr. Him and Raymond were arguabley the best (or 2nd best) line in each game. Not sure why Av didn't call him up for that game - or like you said, why he's not here now. It makes ZERO sense.

I'd really like to see AV get the Sedins and Kesler lines easier mins in the playoffs. Higgins-Roy-Hansen can handle the toughest mins (if Keslers line can handle heavy d-zone starts).

I don't ever forsee Lappy centering the 3rd line again. I'd love to see it, but AV hasn't gone there short of 1 or 2 games. They were without centres for most this season - and never used Lappy there. I can't imagine he'd go there in the playoffs. I don't get why.

When Booth comes back beginning of 2nd round, watch out:

Dank-Hank-Burr Booth-Kes-Raymond Higgy-Roy-Hansen Kassian-Lappy-Weise

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#14 Fred-65
April 19 2013, 02:22PM
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@Jeff Angus

Vcr recognized the need for power forwards and their answer was Booth. Well we know how that worked out.

Think of

Kane, Kunitz, Stall, Lupul, Clarkson, Simmonds, Callahan, Hartnell, Backes, Benn, Ryan, Neal, Dubinsky, Morrow, Heck even Knuble. or Steve Ott...That's just my list I'm thinking I've missed a few.

The problem is the 'Nucks have pussy footed around, they won't trade and stick to the current players and they couldn't divest themselves of Luongo ( that's going to be a mess remember all the quotes MG made ) I think every one understand what they need, they either can't or other teams won't make a deal.

Weise, Pinizzoto, Sestito, Ebbett and Booth just don't cut it. Ballard is a disaster. I understand they're all 4th liners but come on do we really need Raymond for a run to the Cup. And will calling up Schroeder make the difference.

They could never know either Tanev or Corrado would turn out the way they have..it was luck. What we need is good management. Have you looked recently at Hodgsons stats.

I'm at that age that if they don't do it now I ain't going to see it, some thing like Jim Robson and Tommy Larschied :-) so maybe I'm looking at it differently, but a re build IMO is just around the corner. Can you imagine the Sedins resigning, they're in the same sort of boat.

I know it sounds like Chicken Little the sky is falling and heck maybe it is LOL

Keep in mind Antoine Laganiere and Schultz

I'll say one thing the Canucks need new Pro Scouts...badly

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#15 ^ Scouts
April 20 2013, 04:50AM
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i think it's safe to say everyone outside of the Canucks org agree they need new scouts. Or at least some changes within the scouting dept.

CAMAN Gillis. Mallet was Canucks 2nd round pick last yr. He's an over age player who spend the majority of this season playing in the ECHL. I could name the list, but it's all been bad for them most part. Gillis can't list anymore excuses, they have horrible drafting.

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