Photo Credit: Β© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Unusual Line Combinations: A Canucks Twitter Thought Experiment

The Vancouver Canucks have a bevy of wingers in their organization and that creates an opportunity to create some bizarre line combinations.

I wanted to get some unconventional ideas, so I went to the place with the most unconventional fans, Canucks Twitter. I was hoping the replies would include some of the players that are currently with the Utica Comets. The idea was to see what fans could come up with for a line combination that has the potential to be fun to watch.

There were some great responses, let’s get into them.

Bo Horvat seems to have found a consistent linemate in Tanner Pearson this season. I wasn’t sold on Pearson early on this year, but golly, have I been proven wrong. The combination of Horvat and Pearson has been tasked with matching up against the best lines on the other team while also being the line that is depended on to deposit the puck into empty nets at the end of games.

Pearson and Horvat have an expected goal share of 51.43%, they are also controlling the shot share with a 50.80 Corsi percentage. They have been outscored at 5-on-5 this season by a count of 19-24.

The duo also has an on ice shooting percentage of 6.79%. This is less than ideal. Horvat is second on the team in shots and Pearson sits at fourth. They are getting a lot of shots on net, but as a line they have not been able to find a third player who can come in and support their offence yet.

Kole Lind could be that guy.

Lind has taken a huge step from rookie season last year in the AHL. He currently has 39 points in 49 games and has been one of the best players on the ice for the Comets for close to a dozen games this season. Lind has taken one of the biggest steps as a player and could be knocking on the door at training camp next season.

As for now, the only way I could see this line is if the Canucks were out of a playoff spot and wanted to give Lind some NHL exposure before he begins to push next season.

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I really do like the idea of Lind playing with Horvat. Last season I was just hoping that Lind was going to be an NHL player. Now that he is putting up these kind of numbers as a 21-year-old, I would expect him to push to be a middle-six forward.

It’s not all about the numbers with Lind, he has been able to get involved emotionally. Lind is now throwing a stinky glove in the faces of opposing players after a whistle and is one of the most vocal guys on the ice for the Comets.

Lind is becoming one of the better playmakers on the Utica Comets. His IQ is through the roof and his confidence has improved to the point that he’s pulling off passes that he wouldn’t try last season. Lind has blossomed with players like Reid Boucher and Justin Bailey this season and is even taking faceoffs with the first powerplay unit.

Here is Lind making a quick pass to Sven Baertschi in the slot.

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And he here is with the nutmeg on a defenceman on this Lukas Jasek goal.

I think Lind could play in the NHL right now. He is still too raw to have a major impact on the game, but if he continues to have success this year in the AHL he should be one of the main stories to come out of training camp in for the 2020-21 season.

Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat will be on this team next season and if Kole Lind can take a jump like he did this past year I would like to see this line get an opportunity to play together next season.

Yes, lately there has been talk about Elias Pettersson needing a player to protect him. What about two players?

Micheal Ferland has been battling post concussion symptoms for a long time and this could have come up from the fight that he had in his last NHL game. Jake Virtanen has looked good with Pettersson this season but I think a lot of that is to do with the duo of JT Miller and Pettersson.

Travis Green likes his pairs and Miller with Pettersson seems to be his favourite.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for someone else to get a look there, though. If Ferland was healthy, he probably would have gotten to play with Pettersson at some point this season. Some would argue he probably would have gotten the opportunity over Virtanen, who has seen some time with Petey and Miller recently.

Ferland seems to put up good offensive numbers when he plays with elite talent. He has thrown some of the biggest hits of the season for this Canucks team and that’s impressive because he has only been in 14 games this season.

The problem that I have with this line is that Pettersson should be with players who will raise his game. In this situation, it’s more likely Pettersson would have to raise Ferland and Virtanen’s games.

Not that he isn’t up to the task. Ferland and Virtanen would be able to play with one of the budding superstars in the NHL and that’s bound to improve any player’s game. As players return from the injured reserve and others are sidelined by injuries, it’s entirely possible we could see this line at some point. The biggest roadblock is that Pettersson would have to go back to being a centre and though he is positionally playing as the centre on his current line, he is not taking many faceoffs with JT Miller alongside him.

Ferland needs to get healthy before we can start talking about line combinations including him. If he reports to Utica soon we will get a feel for how he is doing. Concussions are like walking on a tightrope, there are so many things that can go wrong, but he is a professional and has professional help around him. The medical staff will keep a close eye on Ferland over the next couple weeks and if he can jump back into the NHL the Canucks can use him up and down the lineup as they please. This could be a huge boost for the team as they continue to push towards the playoffs.

We saw Pettersson-Horvat-Boeser have a few shifts last season, usually with under a minute left in a period. For over a year, there have been whispers throughout Canucks fans about the possibility of Horvat and Pettersson being linemates.

As I mentioned earlier, Pettersson and Miller have become the duo that Travis Green relies upon the most for offence.

Last year this was kind of the “hero” line for the Canucks. They scored 5 goals at 5-on-5 in 41 minutes played together. Including two goals in the seven minutes of 5-on-5 time they have had this season.

This trio could play together. If JT Miller wasn’t with Pettersson we might have seen this line get a run of games this season. Horvat has been used on a line that has a higher level of defensive responsibility. With this line you would hope that Horvat finds another level offensively. He’s got moves and we get to see them from time to time when he decides to drive on a defenceman and make one of his inside-out moves to try and get to the net. Brock Boeser has struggled for a while now and I’m curious to see if we get Boeser together with Horvat in the near future.

For now, there’s no way Miller and Pettersson will be split up. The only way I see this line coming together is if the team begins to struggle to score and the team really needs a shake up. Travis Green may run this line if the team can’t get any offence through two periods in a game, it’s a change of pace line but the main problem is that it completely changes the lineup.

The Horvat-Pearson duo plays such a different role than the Pettersson-Miller duo. It would put the top six into a frenzy. Which some games it needs, so who knows. Maybe we do get to see this line come together for a period or two in the near future.

This has the potential to be an elite fourth line. Antoine Roussel drives play, Brandon Sutter can be the shooter, and Ferland could hopefully bring the physicality while potting some dirty goals.

Sutter can be an effective player for the Canucks but at times, but he doesn’t really have the drive anymore to skate the puck up through the neutral zone. Thankfully, playing him with Roussel would mitigate a lot of those issues. Roussel forces his linemates to skate with him as they transition the neutral zone.

If Ferland and Roussel are the two players who will be the first in on a forecheck, I can get down with that. Sutter can be the third man in as the centre should be.

This combo could be a strong fourth line, but I don’t see it functioning in a larger role, which would present an issue when it comes to finding someone to play with Gaudette. I don’t see it being Jay Beagle, who would likely find himself out of the lineup for this line to be a possibility. I have said for a while that with Sutter and Beagle on this team it’s not the worst idea to have some load management for those two, so it’s not the worst idea.

Beagle could come out of a game for a rest for the playoffs and this fourth line could come together to hopefully drive some of the play. Something the fourth line has really struggled with this season.

Maybe the lineup could look something like this?

Pettersson Miller Boeser
Pearson Horvat Eriksson
Bailey/Schaller/Baertschi Gaudette Virtanen
Roussel Sutter Ferland

It’s a fairly deep lineup, even with Beagle absent. He could rotate with Sutter or they could move Ferland up to LW3 and put Beagle to 4C while Sutter goes to 4RW. If you were to replace Loui Eriksson with Josh Leivo, this lineup would be something I would be down to ride with into the playoffs.

You really miss Leivo when putting lines together, he can round out a line very nicely. Hopefully, his rehab goes smoothly and he can bring something to the team for the playoffs.

So crazy, it just might work

So a couple of these will take some injuries to see. Some of them are possible lines for next season as well. The Canucks have more depth than they have has in the past and it’s fun to see what some of the fans are thinking when it comes to unusual line combinations.

Do you agree with any of these combos or have a strange trio that you think would work together? Sound off in the comments.