A (Very Early) Look at the 2013-14 Canucks Lineup: The Forwards

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.

The Roster

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.

Previous Posts from Jeff (@AngusCertified)

  • Mantastic

    @NMOO

    Uh…Bob…draft rankings? I completely agree our farm is weak. I noted that. I said they have a few blue chip prospects and after that it gets thin down on the farm. I think that is a pretty obvious consensus.

    @Mantastic

    I guess we’ll wait and see on the Sedins. I say, if we re-sign them, it’ll be 4-5 million/year. I can’t see them getting a raise when their abilities are declining.

  • Mantastic

    You guys were talking about Torts earlier, and I just have to say, I don’t know if he’s going to be successful or not, but I’m positive I’m going to be completely and utterly entertained by him all year long, which makes me indescribeably happy.

    • Mantastic

      Me too. More than you’ll ever know.

      @NM00

      Maple boner? Too funny, never heard that one before. Care to tell me how many Canadians in comparison to other countries were on the respective rosters of the past 3 Cup Champions? Also, tell me where the Olympic Gold presently resides?

      Strawman? I suppose if I was wrong it would be, but I’m not. You are the one propping yourself up with speculative arguments, based on hindsight on the easy side of the fence. Barstool at best.

      A middle class team, perhaps…but then middle class teams have won Championships haven’t they? So I’d say we have as good a chance as any with our team going into this year.

      Try being realistic? Try playing competitive Hockey, then I’ll take what you have to say as being realistic and treat it as such…because then you’ll have perspective. Otherwise, you’re pointing fingers at something you don’t fully understand. That’s about as real as it get from me.

      Look out….the sky is falling.

        • Mantastic

          Sure guy. Just as I suspected, obvious from your writing actually. Everything is easy from where you sit. Not much else to say, you’ve got me figured. You know all.

          @Lemming

          Hard to argue with success, but you seem to be doing so. Not cherry picking, just stating the obvious. Funny, but here the stats seem to back me up don’t they? Wonder why…

          • JCDavies

            You obviously didn’t understand what I wrote. Go back and read it again.

            The reason why you can point to such success for Canadians in the NHL is because so many of them play in the NHL (over 50%…of course you’re going to have more successful Canadians than say, Slovakians!!). I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty sure that until recently the majority of captains have been Canadian or American, and that might even be true now. Most coaches are going to be Canadian. I can’t believe I need to say this all over again.

            The odds are that Canadians will stand out because it’s a league dominated by Canadians. It’s like only being aware of the Swedish league and declaring all Swedes better than everyone else because they tend to win everything. Of course they do!! It’s a league dominated by Swedes!

          • JCDavies

            Canada needs to spend more money on anything but hockey for a damn change. Hockey hockey hockey, after a while, it’s boring as hell, just like any other big league sports. Yeah, the country is good at hockey, cause the country spends so much damn money on it. Try spending money on other sports for a change, not everyone here lives by hockey. I seen enough hockey plays and goals to last me 3 life times.It’s like the Americans calling their football the world championship…world? No one plays football (nfl) but north americans. LOL You cant be the world champ at something no one does but you. LOL

          • Mantastic

            Just out of curiosity…if I may appeal to your authority as a former competitive hockey player.

            What are your thoughts on teams having European captains?

      • Mantastic

        The sheer number of Canadians produced as well as the fact that a majority of players in the NHL are Canadian, not to mention the fact that the majority of GMs, coaches, and captains are Canadian, and this whole “Canadians are awesome” narrative falls apart.

        It really is a case of who cares about the passport. All people who care about the passport do is cherry pick failures of non-Canadians and successes of Canadians to build a false narrative.

        • Mantastic

          “All people who care about the passport do is cherry pick failures of non-Canadians and successes of Canadians to build a false narrative.”

          Such as bring up an international hockey tournament in a discussion about multimillion dollar sports franchises…

          • JCDavies

            Sorry, I guess my question was a little vague.

            What I meant was that the draft rankings are only estimates of where a player might be selected. A player that was ranked #15 and gets selected at #16 hasn’t really fallen but a player, like Brandon Saad, that is selected about 20 picks lower than his ranking would be considered to have fallen.

            How do you decide that a player has fallen? Do you have a set number of picks he would need to miss by? Or maybe some other criteria?

  • JCDavies

    @Lemming

    Sorry I may have read it in the wrong frame of mind. I read terms like “cherry picking” and “false narrative” to mean you were implying that was my intention, which it was not. You kind of made my point in your last post. It’s a North American league, dominated by money. That attracts the elite.

    The point I was trying to make is the style of the league, particularly come playoff time, caters to this style of play. Which differs from other leagues worldwide. So I feel it’s a good thing to have these type of players. Especially ones that are young and hungry. I can’t explain it, but it seems to add something to the drive and chemistry.

    @NM00

    A leader is a leader no matter where they come from, it just happens within the room. I’ll go even further and say different leaders emerge at different points of the season, not all wear letters.

    I’m more against making a Goalie the Captain, and I’m a Goalie, and have Coached too. Giving Lu the “C” was just plain ridiculous.

    • JCDavies

      For sure. Some Swedes, Russians, etc can play that way though, whereas some Canadians and Americans do much better in the larger rinks with more structure and less speed and physicality.

      The point is that passport shouldn’t play a role in evaluating whether a player can play that way or not.

      It’s why I get annoyed when people call for more and more BC boys. It’s stupid in my mind. I don’t care if you’re from South Africa if you can play.

      • JCDavies

        Nobody should. I think we’ve got our quotient of BC boys. But to me, there’s nothing wrong with cheering for the home team. I’d cheer for Sweden if I lived there. It’s just as wrong to label a person with having a Canadian Boner for wanting to see some local boys or Canadians that have earned their way in our lineup. Nobody gets a free pass. Let’s face it, everybody has a different view as to who fits where and why. It’s part of being a fan. Nobody in their right mind would refuse the next Peter Forsberg or Nick Lidstrom on their team regardless of it’s location.

        Let me ask you this. You have two players of the same ilk. I mean identical right down to the tee. One is developing in Germany, one in Canada. Nobody knows about the kid in Germany but everybody knows the kid in Canada. Both are available later in the draft but there’s a risk you lose one or another in the next round. Who do you take and why?

  • JCDavies

    Not sure what so many see in Kassian with the Sedins. They did well together at the start of the season against teams that were out of game shape and showing pre-season timing problems following the lockout. After that, he showed very few glimpses of promise and no real chemistry with the twins. The problem is his ‘game sense’ is too slow. Watch the shifts in the playoffs — in the cycle, Kassian persistently holds on to the puck too long coming up the side boards before dumping the puck back — allowing defenders to anticipate and casually step in to intercept. The other issue when they have the puck, Kassian periodically stops playing to watch his pass or what the Sedins are doing instead of getting into position. When he is on the ice without the puck, coing back through the neutral zone, he’s always pointing to some opposing player that he hopes someone else will cover instead of aggressively moving into position himself! Finally, I’ve never seen anyone slower in coasting off the ice with his hand in the air.

    Now, I think Tortorella will not tolerate that nonsense, so if he can get Kassian’s head (and feet) into the game and keep it there, we could start to see Kassian to produce. If Kassian is to immature and sensitive, he’ll be lower down the line-up or in the AHL.

    …just my thoughts. I truly hope Torts can show him how to be a top 6 player, but I couldn’t plan for it to start the season just yet.

  • JCDavies

    I hope Higgins is not in the top 6, then the Canucks have problems. Kassian is not a top 6 player, only good enough for spot duty so I wouldnt force it. I would give a player like Jensen a chance to shine and gain confidence with Daniel and Henrik. If Bo Horvat makes this team, I would play him on the 2nd line with Burrows and Kesler, and have him alternate center/wing with Kesler depending on situation. Bo has the skill to be top 6, he would be given a chance to flurish right away and gain confidnece with those 2 players. If the Canucks want to see if Horvat could be a Toews, Bergeron, O’Rielly, give him that chance to produce and show it. The 3rd line should be big and defensive with the ability to chip in offensively, if Gaunce impresses and makes the team, play him at center with Higgins and Hansen. The 4th line could be Booth, Schroeder, and Kassian, all with the abilty to move up and down in lineup if neccessary. Sestito and Richardson could be the 13,14 forwards since Weise is not re-signed.

    Potential Lines 2013-2014
    Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Niklas Jensen
    Bo Horvat Ryan Kesler Alex Burrows
    Chris Higgins Brendan Gaunce Jannik Hansen
    David Booth Jordan Schroeder Zack Kassian
    Tim Sestito Brad Richardson

    • JCDavies

      Hi Jon. If they’re ready and it is not rushing them (set up for failure), then youth definitely would be served with your plan– one prospect on each line. The mgmt. and coaches would need to be patient during the first couple of months, though, and I think there is some urgency to win right away. The interesting thing is that you could roll those lines 5-on-5, as there isn’t really a meathead line. Interesting.