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Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver’s “Lotto Line” was the NHL’s best through the month of October

The word “lottery” isn’t likely to conjure up many positive memories for Canucks fans. In recent years, the term has been most associated with the process used to determine draft order that has been the cause of much chagrin for the home team every since the leagued increased the number of eligible teams back in 2016. To a fanbase desperate to witness a return to 2011-levels of dominance, the draft lottery was a symbol of hope for a better future and the source of much frustration and sorrow. Fans knew that even the worst of the worst in the NHL had an equal chance to fall outside of the top-3 as they did to claim one of those coveted lottery-picks.

And fall they did. In back-to-back drafts, the team was robbed of the opportunity to select in the top three, ousted by teams that had finished above them in the standings. The changes provoked a lot of anger and frustration among Canucks fans, but ironically they also yielded the team its best draft selection in a generation.

To say Elias Pettersson is skilled would be a gross understatement. At just 20 years old, Pettersson is already a reigning Calder Trophy winner and in the process or cementing himself as not only one of the game’s best young players, but one of its best players, period. In his first 83 NHL games, Pettersson has 84 points. He has the talent of a #1 overall pick but due to under scouting and concerns about his size, the Vancouver Canucks gleefully chose him with the 5th-overall pick in 2017.

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Brock Boeser is a Calder Trophy finalist and one of the game’s best scorers. At just 22, he has established himself as a top-30 goal scorer in the league as he is 27th in goals-per-60-minutes since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Boeser was taken with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2015 draft.

The Vancouver Canucks, in the face of misfortune, have found Pettersson and Boeser outside of the lottery and the duo has combined to form Vancouver’s nominal first line alongside J.T. Miller. Known fittingly as the Lotto Line, its dominance has been more than just a stroke of luck for a team that has been lacking in positive storylines for much of the latter half of the 2010s.

Vancouver’s top line is not just one of the best lines Vancouver fans have seen since the Sedin led era. Through the month of October, it was one of the best lines in the entire NHL. Since the line’s formation, they are among the league leaders in goal share, expected goal share, and shot share.

Brock Boeser – Elias Pettersson – JT Miller NHL Rank
xGoals % 62.7% 3rd
xGoals For/60 2.42 16th
xGoals Against/60 1.44 1st
Corsi For % 63.7% 3rd
Goals For % 75% 4th

(Data courtesy Moneypuck.com)

Their body of work has been exceptional over the last 10-game sample, in which the Canucks have gone 8-1-1. While that’s impressive in its own right, what makes it all the more noteworthy is that there is a good reason to believe that this hot start could be sustainable over the course of a full season. The line has a 13.43 on-ice shooting % which is not unreasonably high considering the elite finishing ability of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. That number is likely to regress, but not by a staggering amount, and should hopefully be counteracted by an increase in their 16th ranked expected-goals-for. What is extremely promising is that their shot share and expected goal share lines up with their actual goal share ranking. Below is a table of 12 of the best lines in the league and sorted by expected-goals-for.

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While the Karlsson line leads in expected goals and the Couturier line leads in shot share, no line in the league other than the Lotto Line is as consistently dominant across the board.

The top line also boasts three of the league’s top individuals in shot share with JT Miller having the best adjusted-corsi out of all forwards.

 

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Although the line leads the league in expected-goals-against, there is the argument that this is not the line to put out when holding on to a one-goal lead late in the game. This idea was explored by my CanucksArmy colleague, Chris Faber, which can be found here. By all accounts from a statistical point of view, the line has fared strongly when leading by one goal. They have controlled shots, been in the black for goals, and are influencing the expected goal share.

 

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While they have been on the ice for a team-leading two goals against when up by a goal, fans should take solace in the fact that, at 20, Elias Pettersson is still developing, and has exhibited a nearly unparalleled desire to be one of the league’s best centres over the course of his brief career. The Canucks have seen Pettersson committed to playing defence first, a rare trait in a young superstar and something that he will only improve upon. October is only the beginning.

They say you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. So far, Vancouver’s Lotto Line has taken care of the first part of that equation. If the second part can hold steady over the season, we could be witnessing the emergence of the Canucks’ best line of the Jim Benning era.