Are Vancouver's Wingers Set for Next Season?

Thomas Drance
July 05 2013 11:15AM

 
Image via wikimedia commons.

Looking at Vancouver's forward depth, Vancouver Province beat-writer Jason Botchford (not to be confused with his evil, fake alter-ego Fake Jason Botchford) believes the Canucks' lines are set - at least along the wings:

That's pretty interesting, and in some ways - Kassian on the top-line, a worker bee second group, and David Booth on the third line - fits in with Tortorella's pledge to bring the team more "bite." Let's get into it a bit more after the jump.

Kassian with the Twins

After an electric start to the year playing alongside the twins, and doing so while the twins were still in their early season slumber, Zack Kassian had a disappointing finish to his sophmore season. Generally speaking he showed improvement in terms of his fitness and defensive awareness, but concerns about his inconsistency still linger. The real issue for Kassian, as I see it, is that for all of the big wingers high-end skill, it seems like he doesn't impact games if he's not putting pucks in the net...

Generally speaking you'd think that offense won't be an issue if Kassian is skating regularly with the twins. When Zack Kassian has been on the ice with the twins over the past couple of seasons (roughly 170 minutes), the Canucks controlled 58.3% of all shot attempts and outscored opponents two to one. That's a small sample of excellent synergy, but it's not too far beyond what Henrik Sedin does regularly regardless of who he's playing with...

Here's the issue though: while the small sample data suggests that Henrik Sedin and Zack Kassian have some synergy, we know for sure that Alex Burrows and the twins can dominate play and put pucks in the net regularly. Over the past six seasons, skating together for well north of three thousand minutes, Henrik and Burrows have controlled 57.9% of all shot attempts and outscored opponents two-to-one. 

The concept here is one of opportunity cost. The idea of a big body like Kassian creating havoc in the slot while the twins cycle the puck is tantalizing, but the twins with Burrows have been one of the best lines in the NHL over the past five seasons. There's a certainty there. The early returns from a partnership between Kassian and the twins have been auspicious, but there's still a potential cost associated with separating the twins from their most reliable trigger man...

Kesler and Burrows

So here's something interesting. Over the past six seasons Ryan Kesler has spent at least 500 even-strength minutes with seven different wingers including: Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Pavol Demitra, David Booth, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, and of course Alex Burrows. Of those seven wingers who have skated regularly with Ryan Kesler, the Canucks have only been outscored by opponents when one duo is on the ice. That duo? Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

There's a lot going on here that isn't captured by the simple "WOWY numbers," like matchups, zone-starts and the underlying percentages. Indeed, in general when Kesler and Burrows have been united, they've played a defensively oriented role. Also we're talking about a relatively small sample (roughly 1000 even-strength minutes). Still, for all of their observable chemistry on and off the ice, the Burrows and Kesler partnership hasn't exactly paid dividends for the Canucks in the recent past...

A checking unit featuring Burrows, Kesler, Higgins would be an intriguing high energy group, and a staple John Tortorella trio. Despite the struggles of Burrows and Kesler when they've played together in the recent past, I'd be pretty interested to what this group could do in tough minutes...

Booth on the Third Line

While looking over large sample even-strength scoring rates the other day, I noticed that David Booth fell comfortably in the top-100 among all NHL forwards over the past six seasons. Essentailly, even though Booth has had four consecutive disappointing and injury plauged seasons, his scoring clip would still suggest that he's a fringe first liner in this league...

If the Canucks can find a quality centreman to plug in between Jannik Hansen and Booth on the third-line, they'll have themselves a rough and speedy third group. And a third group with some offensive pop too. Of course the big question will remain - as it has since the summer of 2011 - "who is that centreman?"

If the Canucks can't get a guy like Stephen Weiss or Mikail Grabovski or Matt Cullen on the cheap in free-agency, and don't hold your breathe, then they'll go into next season with Jordan Schroeder as the front runner in this slot. I'm not sure that's good enough for a club with Stanley Cup aspirations (and for the record: I think Jordan Schroeder is a legitimate NHL player at this point in his career).

Stats in this piece compiled from behindthenet.ca, NHL.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

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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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#1 NM00
July 05 2013, 11:29AM
Trash it!
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While Kassian likely has the lead in the race for the final top 6 wing spot, I expect Jensen will at least battle him in training camp for the job.

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#2 van
July 05 2013, 11:54AM
Trash it!
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If Schroeder is 3rd line C next season, why put Booth on that line? If he really is a sh% outlier, why give him sheltered mins? More sensible to give Kesler and Burrows a great possession guy in what will probably be very tough mins.

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#3 Curtis
July 05 2013, 01:05PM
Trash it!
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I think the appeal with this winger group is versatility, could easily see Burrows back with twins, and Kassian and Booth flanking Schroeder. Or the Booth-Kesler-Higgins trio reunited.

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