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Photo Credit: © William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

 If you missed the first few edition 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.”

Voting remains open for the team’s top defense pairing, but CanucksArmy readers have already made their selections for the Canucks’ first two lines—resulting in a top-six of:

JT Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Micheal Ferland

 

The last round of voting saw both Tanner Pearson and Micheal Ferland dominate their respective polls, with each of them earning a majority victory en route to Bo Horvat’s wings.

Fans also voted against the idea of using either Brandon Sutter or Adam Gaudette on the right wing to start the season—and frankly, this author was grateful for it. Beyond this point, the potential lineup becomes even more nebulous—but keeping Sutter and Gaudette glued to center for the time being makes this round of polling a bit simpler.

That’s a big help, because picking the members of the Canucks’ third line might be the most complicated decision of this entire endeavor—especially because it involves making a choice about whether this unit will be offense- or defense-oriented.

Again, it’s also important to note that we’re strictly talking about the opening night lineup here, so the injured Antoine Roussel will not be found on any of the polls.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in to the Vancouver Canucks’ remaining options for their third line of forwards—starting with the center ice position.

 

Center on the Third Line

The competition for the Canucks’ third line center position is essentially a two-horse race—though we’ve included Jay Beagle’s name in the polling for the sake of completeness. In reality, this one’s going to come down to a classic battle between wily veteran and wild-eyed youngster.

Option 1: Brandon Sutter

Pros:

-Sutter should be more capable of handling defensive responsibilities and matchups against the monstrous centers of the Western Conference than Adam Gaudette.

-Two-way play is his strength, meaning he can cover for the defensive miscues of his likely linemates.

-Playing Sutter any lower than this in the lineup makes it even more difficult to move his contract.

-Veteran ballsiness.

Cons:

-Sutter has been an offensive blackhole of late, and paced for less than 20 points last season.

-A combination of age and injuries make it less likely that he’ll be able to bounce back to his previous production levels.

-Doesn’t always use his linemates well, which would be a waste of their offensive potential.

-Trading him still looks like the best option moving forward, if possible.

 

Option 2: Adam Gaudette

Pros:

-Despite low production last season, Gaudette showed glimpses of breaking out offensively at times.

-Two dominant seasons at the NCAA level suggest he has a lot more to give in the big leagues.

-By far the more talented option at center, which would allow the third line to serve as a third scoring line.

-Equally adept at scoring and setting up plays, Gaudette has the potential to seriously boost his linemates’ production as his own game evolves.

-Will be 23 by the time the season opens—and thus ready to enter his statistical prime.

Cons:

-Gaudette still hasn’t had much time to develop at the AHL level, and doesn’t have to pass through waivers to do so this season.

-Was wildly inconsistent in his rookie season and struggled at times with increased minutes.

-Very little experience with any level of defensive responsibility, making him a question mark in this column.

 

Option 3: Jay Beagle

Pros:

-If Gaudette is your offensive option and Sutter is the two-way choice, Jay Beagle represents the pure defensive conscience at center.

-He’s a faceoff winning machine.

-Capable of handling minutes against opponents far more talented than he.

Cons:

-For better or for worse, Beagle is the prototypical fourth line center—and that’s almost certainly where he should stay.

-Having him flanked by wingers like Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi, and Josh Leivo would simply be a waste of their talents.

 

Vote below for your preference at center on the Canucks’ third line:

 

Left Wing on the Third Line

If the Canucks do end up attempting to roll an offensively-potent third line instead of the traditional “checking unit,” they’ve got a surprisingly impressive array of left wing talent still available to choose from.

Option 1: Sven Baertschi

Pros:

-Sven Baertschi has been producing at a top-six pace for the last three seasons, so he’s easily the most potent forward available for the third line.

-He scored at a better-than-30-goal pace last season despite struggling through multiple concussion-related maladies.

-Baertschi’s playmaking skills remain strong, which is important on a line that will almost certainly include pure shooter Jake Virtanen on the right wing.

-Has elevated his center’s game before, and could do the same for Adam Gaudette.

Cons:

-This author feels they deserve credit for not copying and pasting this section, as all the concerns relating to Baertschi’s place in the lineup have to do with injuries.

-That being said, Baertschi’s health issues may have precluded him from a top-six spot, but there’s no reason for them to keep him any further down the lineup if he’s healthy entering training camp.

 

Option 2: Josh Leivo

Pros:

-Had a good run with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser last season, proving an ability to thrive on an offense-first line.

-That time in the top-six saw Josh Leivo score at a 20-goal pace, and his underlying numbers indicate it’s a rate he may be able to maintain.

-Plays better on the left wing despite his handedness.

-Somewhat feisty at times.

 

Cons:

-A line of Leivo, Jake Virtanen, and either of Adam Gaudette or Brandon Sutter would consist entirely of right-handed shots.

-Having a right-handed Leivo regularly setting up the right-shooting Virtanen from his off-wing may not be the most effective strategy.

-A history of inconsistency, even when given a regular spot in the lineup last season.

 

Option 3: Nikolay Goldobin

Pros:

-It’s a dead heat between Nikolay Goldobin and Sven Baertschi as to which remaining winger has the most pure talent.

-Still just 23 years old, and coming off a career season despite spending much of it in the coach’s doghouse.

-Excellent offensive vision and playmaking skills could result in plenty of set-ups for Jake Virtanen from the left side.

-Has reportedly had an excellent summer of training as he enters his offensive prime.
Cons:

-There are still major holes in Goldobin’s defensive game, and that becomes a larger issue the further down the lineup a player is.

-He’s yet to show much chemistry with anyone aside from Elias Pettersson.

-Goldobin will have to regain Travis Green’s trust before he even secures a spot in the lineup, never mind the third line.

 

Option 4: Tyler Motte

Pros:

-Motte is a stereotypical “energy” player that can boost his linemates through sheer effort.

-Essentially forced his way onto the roster last season by being the true “little things” expert.

-Greatly improved his physical play as the season wore on, which could result in the formation of a strong forechecking tandem with Jake Virtanen.

-Still younger than most would assume at 24—which means there could still be some untapped offensive potential in there.

Cons:

-Motte hasn’t put up significant offensive numbers since leaving college.

-His level of skill is significantly behind the other three options in this poll, and force of will can only get one so far.

-Having one chaotic player on this line in Virtanen is probably enough.

 

Vote below for your preference at left wing on the Canucks’ third line:

 

Right Wing on the Third Line 

This one promises to be the clearest-cut decision of this round of polling—with Jake Virtanen the obvious favourite. However, if coach Travis Green wants a classic defensively-responsible third line, he could feasibly go in a different direction.

Option 1: Jake Virtanen

Pros:

-Virtanen is coming off a breakout season that was still wildly inconsistent, and appears on the verge of greater things.

-Already scoring just below a 20-goal pace with plenty of room for immediate improvement.

-Virtanen’s physical game is also starting to round out.

-At a critical stage in his development, Virtanen could really benefit from placement on a scoring unit this season.

-Would join Brock Boeser and Micheal Ferland as snipers on the team’s right side.

Cons:

-As previously mentioned, Virtanen’s performance is still plagued with inconsistency.

-His game still needs refining, and could stand to be less chaotic.

-Still struggles on the defensive end of things.

 

Option 2: Josh Leivo

Pros:

-As mentioned in our previous edition, Leivo has a greater opportunity on the right side than he does on the left.

-He’s traditionally played left wing, but does shoot right.

-Leivo’s overall production lagged behind Virtanen’s, but his scoring rate with Vancouver was actually superior.

-Presents a more well-rounded offensive threat for the third line.

Cons:

-In addition to that history of inconsistency mentioned above, add in the fact that Leivo is less comfortable on the right wing than he is on the left—which could make it even harder for him to develop constancy.

 

Option 3: Loui Eriksson

Pros:

-Eriksson does have the strongest defensive game out of any of the remaining wingers on the roster.
-Falls under the “so crazy it just might work” category.

-Eriksson could catch fire with Adam Gaudette and go on enough of a streak to convince another team to trade for him—but the “could” is carrying a lot of weight in this sentence.

Cons:

-Eriksson has not demonstrated any ability to elevate his linemates in Vancouver—much the opposite.

-His scoring pace last season was his slowest since his rookie season—and there’s zero indication that he’s going to bounce back.

-Sending Eriksson to Utica is still the best option for the franchise as a whole, and gifting him this spot in the lineup would send the worst kind of message.

 

Option 4: Zack MacEwen

Pros:

-MacEwen has scored more points at the AHL level than Josh Leivo ever did—and he’s three years younger.

-He also has the potential to be the team’s toughest player, and would provide some level of protection for linemates like Adam Gaudette and Sven Baertschi.

-His career has the kind of upward trajectory that really makes it difficult to place a ceiling on his potential.

Cons:

-Fresh off a breakout season with Utica, asking MacEwen to immediately start producing at the NHL level is probably a bridge too far.

-At this point, there are simply better options—and MacEwen is almost certain to start on the fourth line if he makes the team at all.

 

Vote below for your preference at right wing on the Canucks’ third line:

 

Anyone Else? 

There aren’t that many candidates to supplant any of the above players’ places in the top-nine of the lineup. Tim Schaller will remain in the mix throughout training camp due to his contract, but he’s been labelled as Utica-bound by most. Reid Boucher is still kicking around, but he’s a real longshot to crack the roster at this point—as is the recently acquired Francis Perron.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for participating in the 2019/20 Canucks As Voted By The Fans series. Both your votes and your discussion in the comment section is greatly appreciated.

Tune in early next week to see who was voted to the top pairing of the Canucks’ blueline and vote on the second pair, and then we’ll be back next weekend to reveal the results of these polls and complete Vancouver’s forward lineup with a vote on the fourth line.

  • Baertschi, Sutter, Virtanen until Gaudette (hopefully) makes it impossible to keep him in Utica. At that time, Sutter is traded or moved to 4th line winger. At that point, Canucks begin transition into an offensive top-9.

    • One thing about Baertschi is that among the remaining forwards, he really can move up the ladder and help out. Is it possible that there would be zero injuries? So…he’s the most talented of the third liners and able to move up most easlily when someone goes down (unless it’s him of course).

    • He needs to outplay Pearson, Ferland or Roussel. Or maybe he gets traded in a package for a defenseman. Canucks are a long way from being out of the woods in that department.

  • Sutter initially when acquired was one of the very few guys with reliable veteran pedigree in the waning days of the iconic twins on this club. Still I don’t see anyone taking Sutter’s 3C assignment either. The guy gets a bad rap probably because of injury trouble but as a fan I’d trust him out there more than the as yet unproven Adam Gaudette at this point. He’s alright when he’s healthy and believe Shotgun Jake play on his right side. But watch for coach Green’s line shuffling to find the right 3rd line chemistry.

  • Here’s where it becomes apparent that putting JT Miller on the top line isn’t the best option. There’s some pretty decent talent on the wings even this far down the roster, but no reasonable option to put in between them. Gaudette is just a pipe dream at this point, he’s shown no indication he’s capable of handling a full season of 3C duties and he’s probably starting in Utica.

    We all know that if Miller is on 1LW, it’s going to end up being Sutter at 3C, and that’s not a good way to use guys like Baertschi or Leivo or Virtanen or Goldobin or ultimately Roussel, or whoever you like.

    Miller and Horvat should effectively be 2aC and 2bC in whatever order makes sense on the day. 19+ mins for Pettersson, 17+ each for Miller and Horvat, 7 or less for the 4th line.

          • Miller-Pettersson-Boeser
            Pearson-Horvat-Ferland
            Baertschi-Sutter-Virtanen
            Leivo-Beagle-Motte

            Goldobin doesn’t give enough, consistently, to warrant top line centre. He’s out. Miller is here as a winger to give the top two lines more offensive punch (he’s perhaps a centre early in the season if Horvat gets injured and they’ve determined Gaudette isn’t ready). True, Sutter doesn’t give them creativity, but maybe (just maybe) Baertschi creates the offense, Virtanen brings speed and puck retrieval and Sutter is more of a defensive role. Gaudette transitions in in time.

            Alternatively, 3rd line post Xmas has created a strong two-way identity with some punch (Roussel, Sutter and Virtanen).

      • Ferland – Pettersson – Boeser
        Pearson – Horvat – Virtanen (Roussel)
        Baertschi – Miller – Leivo
        Sutter – Beagle – Motte (Virtanen)

        Brackets are without / with Roussel in the lineup.

        I mean, you can move the wingers around if you need to as things go. Baertschi or Leivo could get a shot at 1LW. But Ferland has traditionally produced above his value only when playing with high-end players like that. He’s Alex Burrows v2 in that regard.

    • Really? To a former 20 goal scorer who is an effective penalty killer, face-off person and 3rd line shutdown player (when healthy)? Until someone takes away 3LC, he’s the best we’ve got at what he does.

      • The Captain has been drinking the much of the pushed CA KoolAid.
        Sutter was a shut down centre on an AHL/NHL roster and played exactly how the coach wanted him too. What he accomplished is recognized and appreciated by those who know the game, ridiculed by those who don’t.