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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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

Welcome back to The “2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans” Series

If you missed the first two editions of the series, here’s a brief description of what’s going on here:

“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.”

In our pilot episode, Canucks’ fans voted JT Miller to the top line alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Voting for Bo Horvat’s linemates on the second unit remains open, with Tanner Pearson and Micheal Ferland currently in the lead to occupy those spots. If you haven’t already, vote now!

We have to cover the forward lines one at a time for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get busy with the blue line in the meantime. The Canucks’ top-six defensemen are more or less set in stone at this point—but the configuration of the pairings is anything but.

Starting with the top pairing and working our way down, we’re aiming to determine how the fans would like to see coach Travis Green stack up his newly-revamped defense corps.

 

Left Side of the Top Pairing

With Alex Edler signed to a new team-friendly contract and coming off some of the best seasons of his career, the left side of the Canucks’ blue line is as strong as it’s been at any point in the last several seasons—and that means there will be some serious jockeying for position throughout training camp.

Alex Edler

Pros:

-Edler is a proven minute-muncher who has been holding down a top-pairing role for several seasons.

-He’s coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his career.

-Placing him on the top-pairing alleviates pressure from rookies like Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi.

-He’s strong at both ends of the ice, allowing him to hit the ice with any line.

-Edler has proven his dedication to the Canucks by signing a team-friendly contract.

Cons:

-Injuries are always a concern for Edler, and he turned 33 during the offseason.

-His offensive chemistry with the team’s top offensive players is sometimes called into question.

-At some point, Edler is going to stop being able to eat so many minutes—even if that doesn’t happen this season.

 

Quinn Hughes

Pros:

-Hughes might already be the most talented member of the Canucks’ blue line—and if not, he will be soon.

-He’s also probably the best skater on the blue line already, and has the sort of effortless speed that will allow him to eat big minutes without fatigue.

-When on the ice, Hughes acts as a fourth forward—but is also speedy enough to get back to his defensive assignments when needed.

-He’s used to playing a leading role on defense at lower levels.

-Hughes has already demonstrated chemistry with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser—the two forwards who should play the most in 2019/20.

Cons:

-Hughes is a rookie making a big step up from NCAA hockey.

-Previously, the most games he’s played in a season was 37—meaning top-pairing minutes for an entire 82-game season is an unrealistic expectation.

-Speaking of expectations, Hughes already comes to Vancouver ahead of enormous hype—and there’s really no need to heap on any more by giving him the top job right away.

 

Jordie Benn

Pros:

-Benn already looks to be the most physical member of the Canucks’ blue line.

-He’s coming off the best season of his career to date, with especially impressive 5-on-5 production rates.

-Benn occasionally played top-pairing minutes on an injury-ravaged Montreal blue line in 2019/20—and didn’t look entirely out of place.

Cons:

-Benn seems to be at his best when given a smaller role that is big on defensive responsibility.

-He’s not a true top-pairing talent, and the Canucks don’t have anyone on the right-side capable of carrying him.

-He’s also reportedly better on the right than the left, so if he stays on his natural side it might not be best to further burden him with excessive minutes.

 

Olli Juolevi

Pros:

-Aside from Hughes, Juolevi might be the next most talented blueliner in the organization.

-Coming off an offensively potent, albeit quite short, professional debut with the Utica Comets.

-Was drafted with top-pairing potential in mind—and the sooner he makes the team, the sooner people stop complaining about his draft position.

Cons:

-Juolevi is just now hitting the ice again after an injury and subsequent surgery ended his season early—and so top-pairing minutes at the NHL level would be far too great of a step-up.

-He has the opportunity to play a leading role on the Utica blue line right from the get-go, and that’s probably what’s best for his development at this exact moment.

 

Vote below for your preference on the left side of the Canucks’ top pairing:

 

Right Side of the Top Pairing 

Buoyed by the addition of UFA Tyler Myers, the Canucks’ right side is better off than it was in 2018/19—but it still lacks a definitive top pairing defender. It’s important to note that Jordie Benn has been effective on his off-side in the recent past and could feasibly line up on the right, but for the time being it looks as though he’ll be sticking to his natural side.

Troy Stecher

Pros:

-Firmly established himself as a top-four NHL talent in 2018/19.

-Has proven chemistry with Alex Edler, the defenseman most likely to occupy the left side of the top pairing.

-Stecher played this role for much of the 2018/19 after trades and injuries decimated the Canucks blue line—and looked just fine under the extra minutes.

-Has a strong two-way acumen that allow him to hit the ice in any situation and have a positive impact.

-Starting to be considered part of the team’s young core despite his lack of a draft pedigree.

Cons:

-Stecher’s lack of size is a continual concern when it comes to playing heavy minutes against some of the behemoths of the Western Conference.

-Improved greatly in 2018/19, but may be close to his ceiling already as a 25-year-old.

-Can be inconsistent offensively.

 

Tyler Myers

Pros:

-“You can’t teach size” remains a tired old cliché—but the guy does have a 6’8” wingspan and that’s a valuable tool in slowing down opposing forwards.

-Easily the most offensively-potent right-handed defenseman the Canucks have had in any recent season.

-His shot from the point makes for another offensive threat for Elias Pettersson to exploit on a regular basis.

-May be ready for a larger role after spending years on a stacked Winnipeg blue line.

Cons:

-Myers has traditionally struggled with heavy minutes and a large defensive load.

-He’s nowhere near as physical as his stature might suggest.

-Myers will be expected to lead the offense from the blue line—but top-pairing responsibilities at both ends of the ice are likely beyond his purview.

 

Chris Tanev

Pros:

-Tanev is as reliable as they come in the defensive end, even if he’s slowed down in recent years.

-Can be counted on to play minutes against any level of competition and come out at least even.

-He’s played top-pairing minutes before, and his level of play does not seem to deteriorate with a greater role—though his injury rate may increase.

-Giving Tanev a lot of minutes may help juice his value for what seems like an inevitable trade.

Cons:

-The Canucks can probably only count on Tanev playing in 75% of the team’s games—and that’s on a good year.

-His injuries have taken a noticeable cumulative effect on Tanev, and his advanced stats are no longer quite so sparkling.

-Tanev adds little-to-no offense from the blu eline, limiting his teammates’ options when he’s on the ice.

 

Alex Biega

Pros:

-Biega’s effort level can never be questioned—he’s kept himself in the NHL through sheer force of will for the past few seasons.

-He’s surprisingly effective in limited minutes, and serves as a positive example for his younger teammates.

-As the only right-handed depth defender, Biega has a major advantage in terms of actually seeing minutes in 2019/20.

Cons:

-Biega just doesn’t have the skill level to be a regular top-six defender on a playoff-contending team—and at 31, he’s not getting any better from here.

-There’s an upper limit to the amount of responsibility Biega can realistically take on—and top-pairing minutes clearly exceeds that.

 

Vote below for your preference on the right side of the Canucks’ top pairing:

 

Also-Ran Options 

Oscar Fantenberg, LHD

As a newly-signed UFA, Fantenberg has the inside track to make the roster as an extra defenseman—but he’ll have a tough time cracking the actual lineup. He’s a much better fit to sit in the press box than a youngster like Olli Juolevi would be—and when injuries strike, he’s more than capable of serving in the top-six for a portion of the year.

 

Guillaume Brisebois, LHD

Brisebois has been sniffing around a roster spot for a couple seasons, which is why it’s so surprising that he’s just 22 years old. Brisebois retains his waiver exemption this season, so look for him to start the year in Utica—though he’ll inevitably be in line for a call-up at some point during the season.

 

Ashton Sautner, LHD

At 25 years old, Sautner is running out of chances to firmly establish himself as an NHL player—and the Canucks’ offseason acquisitions didn’t help the situation. He’s already a longshot to make the roster as an extra defenseman, so earning a spot in the top-six seems like a bridge too far. In fact, Sautner’s best opportunity to play regular big league minutes this year might come from another team claiming him on waivers.

 

Brogan Rafferty, RHD

Rafferty has leapfrogged a lot of other young defenders in the organization just by the virtue of being right-handed. That ensures he’ll receive a call-up or two throughout the season, but other than that he’ll be plying his trade in Utica for his rookie pro campaign—where he’s got a legitimate shot at the Comets’ top pairing. 

 

Keep an eye on this page or this author’s Twitter feed throughout the week to check the polls. We’ll be back this coming weekend to continue the 2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans series with voting for the Canucks’ third forward line, and then in a week’s time we’ll be tackling the second pairing of the defense. Stay tuned!

  • I think the Canucks should not necessarily have a top pairing but match playing styles to be effective.
    Edler/Meyers, Hughes/Tanev, Benn/Stetcher

    These pairing have offense mixed with responsible defense and an Edler/Meyers pairing would at least visually be hulking pairing. I know Edler/ Tanev will probably get a look because of history, but I’m not crazy about pairing Hughes with Meyers or Stetcher because each RD likes to push the play as well.

    • I think you’re probably right, but that kind of ruins the fun of my speculative endeavor!

      Think of them as:
      Pairing That Will Receive The Most Minutes
      Pairing That Will Receive The Second-Most Minutes
      Pairing That Will Receive The Third-Most Minutes

  • Good article, though wish the voting could have been part of this article instead of being sent to twitter. Hope Juolevi plays in the NHL sooner than later.

    • I think I would prefer Edler/Stecher, Myers/Tanev, and Hughes/Benn. Stecher and Edler have been a proven fit, Myers will make up for Tanev’s offensive shortcomings and Tanev will provide Myers with someone more gifted defensively to bail him out when he goes on offense, and Benn will give Hughes more freedom as well as protection

      • I agree Stephan, Edler-Stecher, “Hughes-Myers”, Benn-Tanev. For this team right now, I think this is a nice setup. This is potentially a better than decent D-corps. Especially considering the clown-show from last year. Wow, what a difference.

        • One more thing: Keeping Tanev on the 3rd pairing keeps his minutes reasonable and hopefully keeps him healthy for a trade at the deadline. No one seems to see a scenario where he signs, especially for a reasonable cap hit, so bringing in one of the depth guys (Rafferty, Fantenberg, Brisebois) after Tanev is moved seems like a natural progression for the corps. Plus, Biega!

  • The more uninjured and the more successful teams are the more likely set D pairs stay together. Beer Can’s blueline pairs are the same ones I’ve “penciled in” so to speak and Juolevi and Biega will still get their ice time over an 82 game season. The personnel back there looks good at the moment.

  • I would agree you need to try them out to see where there’s some chemistry. That being said I would like to see a Edler, Tanev Hughes, Myers Benn, Stecher lineup.

  • The Canucks need to mange down Edler and Tanev minutes below traditional 1st pairing minutes. I like Edler Myers 5 v 5 especially for home games where the Canucks get the forward match-ups they want. Myers provides offensive support to the top 6 and Edler focuses on playing a little safer than he has. Edler should get very little PP time and Benn should get a lot of the PK minutes. The PP minutes go to Myers and Hughes.

    Hughes Tanev and Benn Stecher have good balance and both pairing should be good enough to keep minutes more balanced between the 3 pairings.

    Daniel Wagner at pass it to bulis published some analytics on the Edler Tanev pairing last season. The stats weren’t flattering. That pairing just isn’t going to work any more. Both need to be paired with more mobile Dmen.

  • I think a hughes-myers pairing would either be a complete disaster or a home run. If deployed with the boeser Petey line… They wouldn’t really need to play defense cuase they always would be on the offense. Hughes has 3 major cannon/snipe dish option, so would Miller. Petey has now 2 other major passing threats. Anyways, it could be a offensively potent combo that would get heavy o starts.