If you’re an avid reader of Canucks Army, you’re all too aware that we’re generally fans of hockey players named “Chris”. From Tanev all the way to the subject of today’s player preview, Chris Higgins.
It’s not hard to understand why today’s Chris – he of the Higgins variety – is the subject of much praise and adulation this side of town. Since joining the Canucks at the 2010-11 trade deadline, Higgins has provided a level of versatility and cost-effective play from the middle-six that most teams dream of.
When discussing Higgins, this gets brought up considerably more often than not. Put him on the second-line and watch him roll; like he did in the 2011 Playoff run. On the third, he’s even more dangerous. It’s safe to say there aren’t many players as malleable as Higgins; who seemingly works well with just about anyone.
A trend that I’ll look at in-depth, on the other side of the jump.
The individual success stories to emerge from the 2013-14 Canucks season are few and far between. A lot of this had to with terrible luck. If we’re being entirely honest though, even more of it had to do with John Tortorella and the meatwagon brand hockey he wanted this team to play.
Yet, somehow, Chris Higgins managed to avoid the damaging effects of both, for the most part. He did this while facing the stiffest competition of his career, no less. A 50.6% Corsi is quality for a middle-6 forward, especially one that started a mere 42.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. It seems safe to assume that removing the greatest competition of all, that which he faced from behind the bench, will result in another productive season for the toolsy winger.
If there is one mitigating factor in all this, it’s surely the fact that Higgins was playing primarily in a top-six role with more offensively potent linemates. Most of his time last season was spent riding shotgun to either Ryan Kesler or Mike Santorelli.
That should only reason to caution expectations going forward, though, as Higgins will likely take a diminished role on this year’s lineup, as Radim Vrbata slides into Vancouver’s top-3, bumping Alex Burrows down to Higgins’ old spot at LW2. On the whole, after finishing 4th on the Canucks in scoring, last season should be seen as encouraging for Higgins, despite him being on the wrong side of 30.
Unlike a large chunk of the subjects in this series, Higgins’ 2014-15 season doesn’t have to be a bounce back campaign for us to look upon it as successful. 16 goals and 19 assists is fine production for a middle-6 winger, especially one making $2.5 million per year. It seems reasonable that one of the maybe two or three players that didn’t see their numbers fall off a cliff last season should have less to prove going forward.
This is great because realistically there just isn’t much room left for offensive growth with players that are Higgins’ age who will be plying his trade on the third-line. All things being equal, it’s a role he’s best suited to. His defensive acumen makes for great ability as a shutdown forward, with a bit of offensive upside. Playing Higgins on their third line allows for the Canucks to control match ups favorably and tap into his ability as a two-way forward.
That said, there is still a series of unknown quantities that will play a large impact on Higgins’ role this season. Will Alex Burrows move to RW1, vacating a spot on the second line? Will Linden Vey at 3C turn that group into more of a scoring unit that has to be sheltered? If Bo Horvat makes the team, will Higgins need to carry him? Only time will tell.
On the bright side, Higgins should play well regardless of his pivot. The bigger question is what role will be imparted on Higgins, based on his line’s centerpiece.