27

The 2019/20 Canucks, As Voted By The Fans: The Top Line

Introducing The “2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans” Series 

Armchair coaching is a well-established tradition in the world of sports—and that’s especially true for the fanbase of the Vancouver Canucks. While coach Travis Green and his staff will ultimately make the decisions regarding who makes the team and in what configuration they line up, every fan has their own opinion about who should play where—though they rarely get a chance to go “on the record” about it.

We at CanucksArmy are aiming to change that with the 2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans series, starting with this article.

Through a series of polls, we’re asking fans to vote on their preferred forward lines and defense pairings for the 2019/20 Vancouver Canucks, based on the team’s current roster. Each week, we’ll be presenting the various options for each unit and discussing the pros and cons of every possible combination—until we’re left with some sort of a consensus.

This week, we’re starting with the top line.

The Lineup Lynchpins

To make this exercise a little more manageable, we’re going to assume a few lineup constants right from the get-go. They are Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the first line and Bo Horvat on the second line, in a configuration that looks like this:

XXXX-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

XXXX-Bo Horvat-XXXX

While there is always a chance that coach Travis Green splits up the Pettersson/Boeser bromance—or that he employs the nuclear option by bumping Horvat up to their line, as we’ll discuss later in the article—it’s a pretty safe assumption that this configuration will stay consistent for the majority of the games in which all three of these players are healthy, so we’re sticking with it.

It also drastically cuts down on the number of Twitter polls needed for this exercise, so there’s that. But if you feel strongly that some other configuration should be considered, please sound off in the comments below!

 

The Top Line

 

Option 1: JT Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Pros:

-Miller may have been acquired for this express purpose.

-He’s the highest scoring winger on the roster, after Boeser.

-Pettersson and Boeser are both premium shooters, and Miller is an elite playmaker (as highlighted by our own Michael Wagar earlier in the summer.)

-Miller has the physicality and speed to play a puck-retrieval role.

-He has recent experience playing with ultra-talented linemates in Tampa Bay.

Cons:

-Miller on the top line is an “all eggs in one basket” scenario, and might leave Horvat with less-than-optimal wingers.

-He can play all three forward positions, and that versatility might be wasted on the top line.

-Miller is coming off his worst season in three years, and needs to bounce back.

 

Option 2: Micheal Ferland-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Pros:

-As the toughest Canuck, Ferland can provide direct protection and deterrence for his linemates.

-As a premium forechecker, he can dig pucks out for Pettersson and Boeser.

-Ferland has the ability to both set up and finish plays, perfect for a versatile center like Pettersson.

-Ferland can play either wing—though he’s a natural leftie—which might allow for Boeser to occasionally slide over to his powerplay suite while at even-strength.

-This would give Pettersson a skilled shooter on either wing, as highlighted by our own Thomas Williams.

Cons:

-Ferland’s propensity for penalties may end Pettersson and Boeser’s offensive chances prematurely.

-His playstyle is a lot more chaotic than the calm and controlled methods of his linemates.

-Ferland has a history of inconsistency—and of injuries.

 

Option 3: Sven Baertschi-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Pros:

-Baertschi is coming off his best offensive season ever in terms of pace—having scored at a greater-than-30-goal rate.

-He’s meshed well with Boeser in the past.

-Baertschi might be the most purely-talented individual on the roster aside from the Wonder Twins themselves.

-As Bo Horvat’s wingman, Baertschi has demonstrated an ability to both make and finish plays.

-He’ll be extremely motivated after missing the majority of last season.

Cons:

-For Baertschi, it’s all about his health. He’s yet to avoid injury for an entire NHL season.

-His concussion issues have put his entire career in jeopardy, and make it difficult to think of Baertschi as a long-term solution anywhere in the lineup.

-He may struggle to bounce back mentally, and the added pressure of a first line assignment may be too much, too soon.

 

Option 4: Nikolay Goldobin-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser 

Pros:

-This is the only place in the lineup in which Goldobin has proven to be effective.

-Pettersson may have played his best hockey of the year while paired with Goldobin, and they do seem to inspire offensive creativity in one another.

-Goldobin has the ability to see a few steps ahead of the play, a talent shared only by Pettersson and Boeser on this roster.

Cons:

-Goldobin’s effort level is notoriously inconsistent.

-He’s also questionable defensively, a trait he shares with Boeser. Two wingers that are suspect in their own zone might be too much for Pettersson to compensate for.

-There are simply options with a better track record available.

So, which of the four configurations would you choose for 2019/20 if you had Travis Green’s job?

Vote below for your preferred option, and tune in next week to see the results.

Also-Ran Options 

Of course, the four options listed above are not the only possibilities for the Canucks’ top line, and we’ve saved a little space for the also-rans below.

Tanner Pearson-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Pearson scored at a greater-than-30-goal pace with the Canucks last season, but he also did so stapled to Bo Horvat’s wing. Taking Pearson away from the only center he’s found success with in the past few seasons seems foolhardy, especially when there are better options on the table. As well, Pearson’s style of play seems like a better complement to Horvat’s hard-driving game than the cerebral antics of Pettersson and Boeser.

 

Josh Leivo-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Upon joining the Canucks, Leivo experienced a brief stint of success alongside Pettersson and Boeser—though inconsistency resulted in him being shuffled elsewhere in the lineup. He represents a tried-and-tested option for the top line, but Leivo doesn’t really have the talent of some of the other wingers on the roster—and he’s thus probably better suited to adding some punch to an offensive third line than riding Pettersson and Boeser’s coattails.

 

Jake Virtanen-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Everybody wants to see Virtanen succeed, and he has played on his off-wing before—but this doesn’t seem like a configuration that would work for Jake or his more talented potential linemates. Virtanen is just starting to find his stride on the right wing, and that’s a position in which the Canucks lack depth anyway—so there’s just no need to move him over at this time.

The Nuclear Option 

Elias Pettersson-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser

It’s been mentioned a few times this offseason that the acquisition of JT Miller—who is a natural center and can play all three forward positions—could allow for the deployment of a “nuclear option” on the Canucks’ top line. With Miller covering second line center duties, Travis Green could move Bo Horvat up a unit—with Pettersson sliding to the left wing and Horvat staying in the middle.

While a similar setup has often been employed on the powerplay—typically with a fourth forward in the mix—it’s yet to be fully tested at even strength. The Canucks have added enough forward talent over the past year that such a move wouldn’t leave the second line entirely threadbare, either—which makes it a slightly more compelling option.

In the end, it’s most likely that Green will stick with a Pettersson-Horvat combo down the middle, as having a strong 1-2 punch at center is a proven necessity for playoff success in the NHL. Still, it’s fun to think about this line coming over the boards with the team down a goal late in the game—even more so if Quinn Hughes also finds his way onto the ice—and fun is what we’re here for with the 2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans series.

  • Start with option 2. The primary reason Ferland was signed was to protect Petey. The best way to do that is on his line. Ferland is the type of player who can modify his play to the style of his linemates. I doubt he plays carelessly and draws dumb penalties being on the first line. Ferlands agreesive net front presence would provide Boeser and Petey more room to snipe goals

  • Miller was signed to play with the top line. He has played with elite players and will compliment EP and BB.
    This idea that having a true top line will hurt the overall scoring is wrong. Bo and Pearson were a good match and finding a winger to compliment the second line should be the priority. Sven would add a playmaker if healthy and Ferland would make the second line one of the toughest to play against.
    Top line stays JT/EP/BB

      • You are correct!
        Pearson and Bo were a small sample so who knows what a full season will prove out! I can imagine a hard charging 2nd line of Ferland/Bo/Pearson battling in the corners, drawing penalties and being successful because the JT/EP/BB line will ultimately draw the other teams top shut down lines and pairings. BUT if Sven is healthy?? He adds a pure offensive element.
        A thirds line of JV18/Center/ Ferland looks tough, except if that centers name is Sutter! Would Gaudette do much more offensively?
        Interesting to see how camp plays out.

  • Judging by Green previous track record, we will see various wingers in and out of that spot. Weather its due to injury, trying to kick start a player or due to situational preferences. Green seems to like setting up pairs on lines and filling in with the 3rd player. Not sure if this was due to lack of depth, or preference. Guess we will see if he allows a 3 man line enough time to gel and develop some chemistry

  • I think it’s pretty clear you’d want to test the wingers in exactly the order given; JT Miller first, Ferland second, Baer third, and Goldobin last.

    Bearing in mind that the later two have already had some opportunities on the top line. The great thing is, compared to prior years, the coach has many good alternative options should the linemates not mesh well.

    • Im really up in the air about the first regarding ferland or miller, but I think as long as he is good and healthy, Baer needs top 6, and his creativity could really be used on bo’s line, that, plus they have longstanding chemistry by being our top line for so long too.

  • Miller is a guy that can improve possession and distributes the puck well. Pettersson and Boeser are elite shooters. Not good, elite. It makes sense to try that out

    Horvat drives the play and has a north south game. He isn’t a playmaking center. It makes sense to pair him up with wingers that also drive the play and possession. I sniper with Horvat is going to be wide open tapping his stick far too often. Horvat is also not a sniper. he doesn’t need a great set up man. He will compliment players like Pearson, Ferland, Baertschi, J.V. or even Eriksson (prime not current). Horvat, Ferland, Pearson. Pearson needs to deliver or he will slide down quickly imo

    Sutter needs to be shipped out. He is redundant with Beagle and his injury history places way too much uncertainty. It’s impossible to manage your cap if you don’t know if 4.35 Million in cap space will play 75 or 25 games year after year. Package him with someone and take back a consistent 3rd line center on short term contract. Gaudette could use at least 20 games in utica to find his scoring at the pro level

  • Miller — Petey — Boeser … J.T. brings skill, speed, size and maybe a little stability to this line and allows it to develop some chemistry and further success.

    Pearson — Bo — Ferland … speed, size, skill and the possibility of some interesting dynamics. This could become a line with some pushback and threaten to score each time it’s out there.

    Baer — Gaud — Jake … if Baer can stay healthy and Jake learns patience and some puck distribution, Baer could do some feeding on opportunities created. H could provide some leadership for this line and help Gaud and Jake develop.

    Leivo — Beagle — Motte/Sutter

    Tough line to forecast … who is healthy, who is motivated and who is still around when the season starts? It might even be Loui, Beagle and Sutter if they’re healthy and ready to play. Leivo would be the 13th forward with Motte visiting Utica for a while.

      • Unless Baer doesn’t work out due to his concussion issues. But unless Benning can move some dead weight and Goldobin shows up and really commits, and outplays everyone else, there really is no room for Goldy. He can’t keep waiting for other players to falter and then show up in a flash and disappear just as quickly.

        Goldy is one of my fave players but I want the team to succeed whatever that takes.

  • Passittobulis had an interesting article on JT Miller showing he scored every goal last season from the right side of the rink. Might be something else to consider. If we take it for granted Boeser plays there with EP, maybe he could play the right with Bo.

  • I would enjoy the #2 scenario if it works. This would free up floating top six forwards to mesh with Miller and Horvat. They could also work with Sutter on line 3. Sutter and Tanev are excellent assets. I really do not get the need to trade them.

  • Because of the incredible amount of uncalled for injuries that the Canucks seem to have ever year before time itself began there will come a time when guys like Goldy will have to be slotted in. In short, they’ll need him just like they’ll need Loui, Motte and anyone else perceived to be on the fringes concerning forward depth. Gaudette is still waiver exempt and will probably start in Utica but he’ll no doubt see a lot of action at some point. Nice to have choices this year. Still think J.T. should play with Petey and Brock and have Ferland play with Bo and Leivo. Regardless you’re gonna see a lot of typical coach Green shuffling as usual.

  • Option 3. When he played with the two young bucks last season Baertschi really showed a calming leadership influence on Brock and Petey. If Baertschi went down i would like to see Virtanen given a shot next in line. The bruisers should be on the second line Ferland-Horvat-Miller(Miller can set up those two as well as play the same style without altering his game).