Zack Kassian – Wikimedia Commons
The dog days of summer won’t set in for a few more weeks, but the craziness of the past few weeks (heck, since January) has finally started to slow down. We will be rolling out a lot of prospect content in the coming weeks, too. The Canucks have had a pretty bare prospect cupboard since… ever, but thanks to the Cory Schneider trade and a highly-touted prospect falling into their lap, the future looks a bit brighter.
But how about the present? Let’s take a look at some potential line combinations for opening night.
As expected, Mike Gillis was quiet on July 5th. And after seeing the ridiculous money and term given out to a very mediocre free agent class, teams who didn’t dip their toe in the water will be counting their lucky stars over the next seven or eight years. Limited supply and crazy demand equals overpayment. It always has, and it always will.
That isn’t meant to exonerate Gillis for showing shrewdness or patience relative to his peers, though – he simply didn’t have money to spend. Assuming there are no more significant changes on the way for the Canucks, let’s take a look at a potential roster.
Tortorella in Charge
According to Jason Botchford, John Tortorella wants to reunite Kesler and Burrows on the second line. This will work out if Zack Kassian can play like a top six forward for more than eight or nine games in a row. He has a ton of talent and is still young, but the Canucks simply need more consistency from him. Tortorella is a lot more hands-on with his young players than Alain Vigneault is/was, and Glen Gulutzan is known as a great teacher of the game, too.
The Canucks have high expectations for Kassian, and this move would only reinforce that.
Tortorella does employ a zone start strategy, although not as radical as the one the Canucks have used under Vigneault over the past four or five years. Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Vinny Prospal – under Tortorella they all saw offensive zone start rates close to or above 60%.
And at the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko – these players did a lot of the heavy lifting for Tortorella’s Rangers.
Tortorella’s final few seasons in New York featured a team that pretty much collapsed around Henrik Lundqvist and blocked as many shots as possible. Coaches do what they can with what they are given, and Tortorella wasn’t given a team capable of scoring goals compared to the Lightning team he led to the Stanley Cup back in 2004.
Here is a closer look at some of his coaching strategies (he did a brief series of videos with MSG Network – Behind the Bench.
We will have many more months to dissect Vancouver’s potential defensive pairings and forward line combinations. But here are some quick thoughts:
Line 1: Sedin-Sedin-Kassian
Burrows will still very likely see time with the twins, as expecting Kassian to perform at a high level for 82 games (or even close to it) would be foolish. However, this line has played well together in the past, and Kassian can open up a lot of ice for the twins with his physical presence and ability to rag the puck down low.
Line 2: Higgins-Kesler-Burrows
Burrows seamlessly transitioned over to the right wing to play on the top line, but does he move back to the left side with Kesler? Vancouver doesn’t have many right-shooting forwards, and Dale Weise isn’t a top six forward in any league outside of the Netherlands.
The options: Chris Higgins, David Booth, Nicklas Jensen, Mike Santorelli, Jannik Hansen.
Right now, Higgins or Booth make the most sense here. Both have played top-six roles in the past, and both bring an element of speed and tenacity to this line. The Canucks would love Jensen to come into camp and earn a top six spot, and I don’t think it would be a huge reach to see that happen. He’s ready.
However, due to a lack of a proven checking center, Tortorella may want to create a tough two-way line with Burrows and Kesler as the key cogs. Throw Higgins on there and you have a line capable of playing in all situations while chipping in with consistent offense.
Line 3: Booth-Schroeder-Hansen
The all-question line. Line three is a complete unknown right now. On the left wing, Booth and Higgins will battle for ice time on lines two and three. Booth is probably a more talented player, although he has yet to show it in Vancouver (although the numbers still back up the whole ‘bad luck’ thing).
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…
Things are wide open at center. Brad Richardson will get a shot there. I like Richardson’s game – not sure he is strong enough defensively to be a checking center, but I think he has more offensive upside than he has shown as a 13th/14th forward in Los Angeles. Don’t discount Jordan Schroeder – he has beaten the odds at every step along the way, and he showed last season that he can hold his own in this league. His lack of height is always going to be an issue, but Schroeder seems like a nice fit (on paper, at least) with speedy/gritty wingers like Booth and Hansen
Line 4: Richardson-Lain-Weise
The only guarantee in the bottom six – Dale Weise on the right wing of line four. And I guess that isn’t even a guarantee right now, as Weise is still a restricted free agent. Tom Sestito signed a two-year deal and will see some time here, but he isn’t an everyday player. Bill Sweatt has signed to play in Sweden this season. Lain probably has the advantage over Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce for a roster spot. For one, he is older. For two, he is bigger, and for three, he is cheaper.
Richardson’s veratility will come in handy as the Canucks will of course have to battle through injuries throughout the course of the season. He’s probably the favourite for the line three spot, but I’d like to see Schroeder get a look there.
Assuming the depth forwards all sign their qualifying offers (or similar amounts):
Far from perfect, and the Canucks would need a lot of things to turn up aces for this forward group to be as productive and effective as we have seen in recent years. Kesler and Booth need to stay healthy. Kassian needs to show more consistency. One of the young centers needs to emerge as a bona fide NHLer, at the very least. But there is promise.
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