Since the beginning of the season, it’s often been mentioned that this Canucks team had three third lines. The Sedins are still first liners, but Nick Bonino didn’t seem like a typical second line centreman, while a promising rookie like Bo Horvat should possess more talent than your average 4th liner.
But has this forecast turned out to be true? Have the Canucks depth forwards all performed like third liners? Continue past the jump as we evaluate the even-strength performance of all Canucks forwards thus far.
The underrated @MimicoHero has developed an awesome tool called HERO Charts (Horizontal Evaluative Ranking Optics) so we can see just how good (or bad) NHL players are. The downside with this tool is that it is based on data for players from 2012-2013 to present which in my opinion heavily weights the representation to how good or bad the players were compared to how they have been playing this season.
This is an important factor since as players get older, especially when they are close to 10 years past the peak of NHL forwards, they are likely to fall off a cliff, and how a given player performed one or two seasons ago may not be the same thing we can expect today. We performed a similar analysis of the defensive corps with this type of approach for the Vancouver Canucks.
With that in mind, we’ll use the same data features to look at all regular Canucks forwards this season.
We included both possession and offensive statistics, all are at 5v5 and come from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/. We used colours to bin the values based on how they perform in that facet. Green is a first liner (top 90), yellow is a second liner (91-180), orange is a third liner (181-270) and red is a fourth liner (271-360). Anyone worse than that is considered “replacement level” talent (meaning performing at the level of a fringe NHLer/AHLer) and is coloured black. Only players with more than 300 minutes at even-strength were included to determine the minimums in each talent tier.
Here are the results:
- TOI/GP – Time on Ice / Game Played – how often they are on the ice playing, this is usually a reflection of a coaches attitude towards a player rather than their true talent level, however it generally reflects talent level in most cases too.
- CF60 – Corsi For per 60 minutes played – Shot attempts directed towards the opponents net while the player was on the ice.
- CA60 – Corsi Against per 60 minutes played – Shot attempts directed towards a player’s own net while he is on the ice.
- Corsi For % – A percentage of CF60 and CA60 showing the percentage relationship between shot attempts for and against while you are on the ice.
- CF% rel TM – Corsi For % relative to Teammates – How you being on the ice drives your common teammates corsi for percentages in a positive or negative way.
- Goals/60 – Goals scored by a player per 60 minutes of ice time.
- Assists/60 – Assists credited to a player per 60 minutes of ice time.
- Points/60 – Goals and assists scored by a player per 60 minutes of ice time.
The Canucks Forwards
- Ronalds Kenins has had an amazing start to his year, though it should not be a huge surprise given he has been producing at a decent clip in senior leagues for the past three seasons. We know from his TOI estimates in Utica he was not being given many large opportunities, but he seems to have earned his stay in Vancouver for the next while. In most ways he is playing at a first line talent level. His shot attempt numbers have regressed recently to second line level but he is greatly improving his teammates and he is scoring. The only downside is his personal shooting percentage of 15% is likely to drop. We shouldn’t expect him to continue performing like a 1st liner.
- Daniel and Henrik Sedin can be grouped together since they are almost
exactly the same (twins – go figure). They are given first line ice
time because they are still the best players on the Canucks, they can
prevent shot attempts against like first liners, and they can set up
goals like first liners. What they are starting to fall in is their
ability to score goals themselves. In fact, Henrik shoots the puck at a worse rate
than a replacement level player, but shooting was never his style of
game so this really isn’t a concern. This is not to say that the Sedins are finished, they can still pull off
some amazing Sedinery, but they are definitely starting to show signs of
age. Some positive regression on Daniel’s ~5% even strength
shooting percentage will help their goal and point rates improve too.
- Radim Vrbata shows he can still shoot and score goals like he is a first liner, but his individual possession and playmaking abilities this season haven’t been at a top-3 level.
- Nick Bonino is a concern defensively, but his goal scoring is that of a first liner. He has a high shooting percentage at 5-on-5, but he has always carried one since he became an NHL regular. Everything else across the board suggests he is a second liner.
- Chris Higgins is often described as a good middle-six forward despite being criticized for being invisible at times. He has continued to be a cost effective 2nd LW, and has seen his Corsi Against/60 numbers suffer since being placed with Linden Vey. When his personal 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 5.71% improves he will likely see goal totals rise back toward his career norms.
- Alex Burrows plays like a second liner across the board. His assists per 60 is that of a third liner, but Burrows has never been a strong playmaker.
- Zack Kassian has been playing like a legitimate second liner of late. His sky high shooting percentage has brought up his own goals per 60 while some formerly poor puck luck (his individual assist percentage – the percentage of on-ice goals Kassian assisted on – is unusually low this year) was likely driving down his Assists/60, while his teammates early in the year did not help him post a strong CorsiFor/60.
- Brad Richardson sees poor defensive results, but generally plays like a third liner. He’s seen an uptick in his assists and points per 60 despite low on-ice shooting percentage. Richardson’s value is almost entirely as an ace penalty killer.
- Jannik Hansen is equal to a third liner but does drive shot attempts with his teammates. Similar to Brad Richardson, he’s seen a rise in assists and points per 60 as his recent linemates have seen some favourable percentages.
- Shawn Matthias is a fourth liner in almost ever statistic except in shooting and goal scoring (which raises his points rate) and is a bit better defensively. He’s a fourth liner power forward, but would probably look a lot better playing on left wing with a strong centre.
- Linden Vey is bad across the board, he does have some upside in his assist rate though he is not known to be a playmaker. He is 22 so hopefully he still has room to develop.
- Derek Dorsett is a fourth line player at possession but he has shown some ability to shoot and set up goals.
- Bo Horvat has been a fourth line player in terms of possession this season, but has been significantly improving since Ronalds Kenins was called up. His high shooting percentage has improved his scoring rates. That is key as he is 19 and will improve. His scoring is already equal to a middle-six forward, showing he has the talent to be an impact player.
- Brandon McMillan is a border line replacement level player. With a 2.22% shooting percentage and an on-ice PDO of 93% he is the worst forward in terms of scoring. His possession numbers indicate someone of fourth line level talent.
It seems that the Canucks aren’t so much a team with three third lines as much as they are simply have a surplus of low-end second line to high-end third line players. Long term this is not a good thing though as many of these players are older, and a lack of bona-fide first-line talent other than the Sedins is a big reason why Vancouver’s possession statistics are down this season.
Management needs an acquisition plan to acquire first line talent that will still be 1st line talent 5 years down the road, which is when they should be aiming at setting up for a serious championship run. The Canucks need top end talent to start pushing the rest of their forwards down the roster, and not just create depth, but create quality depth. Recent acquisitions such as Sven Baertschi and strong drafting will strengthen the middle-6 down the road, but that top end talent is still lacking.
If Canucks wish to become a serious contender for the Stanley Cup again, they need top-end players. The prospect pool has been made larger the last few years, but I do not see any players with a really fantastic shot at being high-end first line players. The Canucks will have to draft exceptionally well if they want to build a core that will be able to take over from the Sedins and compete in the future.