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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

19 options for the Vancouver Canucks to fill that hole at 3C next season

Whatever one’s opinion of the Vancouver Canucks and their performance in the 2021 season is, there’s no escaping that this is a roster akin to Tim Blake Nelson’s filmography: Holes of great significance.

The gaps in the Canucks’ organizational depth chart are certainly not as numerous as they were before the arrival of the current core, but in a way that has only served to outline and highlight those areas of lack.

Tackling the utter lack of effectiveness on the right side of the blueline — the scarcest position in the NHL — is an onerous task that will prove immensely difficult to overcome. Filling in the hole at third-line center should be comparatively simple.

And yet, here the Canucks still stand, 3C-less and not loving it.

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While Brandon Sutter has done acceptable work covering that job thus far in 2021, he’s clearly not a long-term solution. But a long-term solution is exactly what the Canucks need if they want to free up their top-two centers to realize their offensive potential — and for the roster as a whole to move one step closer to contender status.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of options the Canucks will have heading into the 2021/22 season if they’re dead-set on finding that classic, checking line pivot.

And dead-set is exactly what they should be, regardless of who is helming the team at that point.

All contract details are for the 2021/22 season and forward, and are courtesy of PuckPedia.

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All stats are for even-strength minutes, and courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.

In-House Options

The fewer assets the Canucks have to give up to acquire a third-line center, the better. These folks don’t cost anything, except new contracts in a couple of cases.

JT Miller, 27

Two years @ $5.25 million

Pros: Miller at center gives the Canucks at least three centers to evenly spread out their defensive deployments, with Miller himself capable of handling a good chunk. He would be the 3C in name only, and could swap matchup assignments with Bo Horvat based on the opponent. One of the few 3C options that can actually elevate their linemates.

Cons: Miller in the middle shores up the depth chart, but it also leaves the Canucks with one less top-six forward. Even if Vasily Podkolzin proves an instant success, they just can’t afford to give up their second-best winger for the long-term.

Brandon Sutter, 32

UFA

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Pros: Sutter is enjoying a fine season with the Canucks in the 3C role, and certainly finding better success there than he has in recent years. He’s an established leader and a popular teammate who is already familiar with the organization, and he’s probably willing to take a pay-cut. On a one-year deal, he’s a reasonable stopgap.

Cons: If Sutter were really that good of a fit at 3C, we probably wouldn’t be writing this article. He’s not capable of those tough matchup minutes right now, and he’s not getting any better from the age of 33 onward. Someone is going to give Sutter term this summer, and someone is going to regret it. Let’s hope it’s not the Canucks.

Adam Gaudette, 24

RFA

Pros: Both the individualized expected goals and the eye-test say that Gaudette is a player perpetually on verge of breaking out. Though Travis Green hasn’t entrusted him with many defensive responsibilities of yet, Gaudette has expressed a desire to develop a Patrice Bergeron-esque reputation. Now that he’s able to put on weight, his matchup play might improve.

Cons: Chalk this one up as “believe it when we see it.” Gaudette’s most likely future still looks to be in a scoring role, probably on the wing, and he’s questionable enough in his own end to be usurped by Sutter at 3C. Again, if Gaudette had looked like a fit here already, you probably wouldn’t be reading these words.

Marc Michaelis, 25

RFA

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Pros: Michaelis hasn’t played enough to earn a contract much above league minimum, so he’ll be as cheap as they come. He’s got an all-around skill set that makes him versatile, and thus at least a passable option in a checking role.

Cons: We’ve yet to see anything from Michaelis that indicates he’s going to be a long-term NHL player, much less at center. Perhaps if he could have got some games in with the Utica Comets this year, the Canucks would have a better idea of what he could do, but right now he’s a total mystery box, and not even a nicely-wrapped one.

Kole Lind, 22

RFA

Pros: Lind is crushing it at the center position for the Comets this season, tied for the team lead in scoring. He’s skating regularly on both special teams, and seems to be developing a prickly two-way game that can be transferred up to the big league.

Cons: Lind is in line for an NHL job next year, but expecting him to step right into the 3C spot in his second season as a professional center is a bit overzealous. Ideally, he’s bumping Jay Beagle out of the line more often than not in 2021/22 before moving on up in years to come — that’s if Seattle doesn’t snag him in the Expansion Draft, of course.

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Carson Focht, 21

Two years @ $822K

Pros: Focht’s pro debut with the Comets has been fairly successful through a short sample size, and he’s managed to stay at center for some of it. He’s already earning a reputation as a dangerous forechecker and relentless hustler.

Cons: Focht is at least a few years away from any serious look at NHL minutes. He’s not a legitimate candidate here yet.

Arvid Costmar, 19

Unsigned, rights retained until 2023

Pros: Everyone watched Costmar agitate, entangle, and frustrate the world’s best juniors, including Podkolzin, at the 2021 WJC. He’s shaping up to be a sandpapery Swedish shutdown center in the mould of Sami Pahlsson.

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Cons: Costmar is still a teenager. He probably won’t come over to North America for a year or two yet, and then from there, it’ll probably be a while until he’s NHL-ready. In the meantime, he’ll need to bulk up considerably.

Linus Karlsson, 21

Unsigned, rights retained until 2022

Pros: Everyone sort of forgot about Karlsson after all the hubbub of the Jonathan Dahlen trade wore down, but he’s currently enjoying a breakout season in the Allsvenskan. Previous to this, Karlsson’s reputation was as a two-way player with a defensive conscience, but the extra offence makes it all the more likely he’ll be able to translate his game to North America.

Cons: The Canucks might not sign Karlsson this offseason, as they own his rights until June 1, 2022. If he can’t make some noise at the SHL level between now and then, they might not sign him at all. He’s the longest of long-term options, and if not the longest of shots, then darn close.

Options on the UFA Market

You don’t need to give up assets to land an unrestricted free agent, but that doesn’t mean they’re free, as Canucks fans know all too well. Unlike the in-house options, the Canucks will be competing with the rest of the league for these players’ services.

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Phillip Danault, 28

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 71 13 34 47 59.59% 60.30% 59.94% 60.10%
2020/21 23 0 10 10 58.90% 60.83% 58.04% 62.07%

Pros: A truly dominant possession player with one of the best advanced stat lines in the game. Danault is a two-way force capable of putting up 40+ points on a regular basis while playing extremely tough minutes. Regularly kills penalties. Able to elevate the game of his wingers.

Cons: Danault is going to get paid this offseason. Despite going goalless thus far in 2021, he’s in line to potentially double his current $3 million-ish salary. As far as versatile centers go, he’s going to pace the market this offseason, and there’s just no way the Canucks will be able to afford him.

Casey Cizikas, 30

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 48 10 4 14 46.41% 54.63% 50.45% 56.07%
2020/21 25 4 6 10 45.89% 48.20% 48.67% 50.56%

Pros:  A classic checking line center who is a master of chance-suppression. Physical, tenacious, and a real pain in the butt to play against. Cizikas has flashed offence in the past, but those days might be done now. A capable penalty killer, if not a first choice.

Cons: Cizikas may ultimately be best suited as a fourth-liner. To wit, the Islanders sought out JG Pageau for a trade and contract extension to come in and boot Cizikas out of the 3C position, and since then Cizikas’ defensive responsibilities have shrunk considerably. He’ll be looking for a new contract with term, and surely the Canucks would never want to sign a fourth-line center on the wrong side of 30 to a long-term UFA deal. Right? That would be silly.

Barclay Goodrow, 28

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 70 8 18 26 51.26% 52.11% 48.77% 47.33%
2020/21 23 5 4 9 52.49% 64.46% 50% 61.54%

Pros: With Anthony Cirelli up on Brayden Point’s wing, Goodrow has slid right into the 3C role for the best team in the world, and the results thus far are promising. Goodrow is a premium penalty killer who clearly knows how to win, and brings more than a little grit to the table. Versatile enough to play every forward position.

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Cons: Goodrow’s experience as a checking center is limited, and he’s obviously in about as good a position to succeed right now as a 3C could be. Someone is going to pay big for Goodrow’s Stanley Cup ring, and it’ll probably result in a salary that outweighs his contributions on the ice. Overpaying for a bottom-sixer with a recent Cup? Couldn’t be the Canucks…

Adam Lowry, 27

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 49 4 6 10 45.92% 42.25% 44% 34.98%
2020/21 24 4 8 12 48.68% 48.28% 48.56% 43.88%

Pros: Ginormous, and tough enough to throw hands with Ryan Reaves. Plays a lot of the tough matchups for Winnipeg, but not all of them. A veteran penalty killer. On pace for the best offensive season of his career, and young enough to still have some prime years left.

Cons: As a UFA, Lowry is definitely going to want to cash in on a contract well over and above his current salary, which is just south of $3 million. Underlying stats are questionable, as is his top speed. He’s benefitted from playing under a two-way center in Mark Scheifele and alongside some stellar defensive wingers. Coming off a dreadful season.

Alexander Wennberg, 26

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 57 5 17 22 49.14% 48.25% 48.26% 48.93%
2020/21 24 5 5 10 52.14% 47.83% 50.75% 43.56%

Pros: Scoring is trending up again after three straight years of regression. Wennberg is young for a UFA and didn’t draw a ton of interest last offseason, so he could be a signing that’s low on cost and big on value. Florida’s top choice on the penalty kill this year. Traditionally strong on analytics.

Cons: Wennberg is more of a two-way threat than a true shutdown center. He’s at his best when he’s the defensive conscience to a couple of offence-first wingers, which is his current situation. Combine that with a history of inconsistency, and Wennberg is a real gamble at 3C.

Scott Laughton, 26

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 49 13 14 27 46.64% 46.64% 44.91% 47.83%
2020/21 19 6 7 13 44.55% 48.98% 46.27% 51.61%

Pros: Three straight seasons of offensive progression has Laughton finally living up to his draft status. A solid penalty killer and a known agitator, aggressive and feisty. Laughton usually plays against better-than-average competition, even if he’s not his team’s number one shutdown option.

Cons: Laughton benefits greatly from playing under one of the best defensive centers in the entire NHL. What would his game look like without Sean Couturier mopping up? Given Laughton’s middling advanced stats with Couturier, the answer may not be to the Canucks’ liking.

Options on the Trade Market

The best options of all are, as usual, only available through trade. Still, each of these players is, at the very least, on the market, and that might make them acquirable at a relatively reasonable price.

Radek Faksa, 27

Four years @ $3.25 million

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 66 11 9 20 47% 51.64% 47.82% 50.00%
2020/21 20 3 3 6 47.01% 45.28% 47.25% 53.16%

Pros: Faksa just played the exact sort of role the Canucks lack for a team that won the Western Conference, so what more can you ask for? A fine penalty killer and a consistent physical presence. In the midst of a tough 2021, Faksa has a limited NTC that kicks in on July 1 and lasts for four years thereafter. If Dallas is looking to move on, now is the time, and that could have him on the market.

Cons: Those same contract details that might make the Stars want to reconsider on Faksa make him risky for any team to acquire. That recent Cup Finals appearance will jack up the trade price, and his reasonable salary ensures there will be plenty of suitors. Expect Faksa to cost a lot.

Colton Sissons, 27

Five years @ $2.86 million

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 57 9 6 15 45.66% 52.23% 44.19% 40.24%
2020/21 25 4 0 4 45.28% 41.93% 45.26% 43.75%

Pros: Sissons is definitely a classic checking center, and he’s been used in that role by the Predators for several years now. He’s an expert penalty killer and signed to a reasonably-priced contract for a long, long time. Everyone’s supposedly on the block in Nashville, and that includes Sissons.

Cons: Sissons is signed for another half-decade, a contract that will take him to the age of 34, and his game is already showing signs of deterioration. It’s the sort of deal that should give Vancouverites palpitations. His underlying numbers suggest a player that is just surviving his tough deployment, and not thriving in it.

Sam Bennett, 24

RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 52 8 4 12 50.04% 54.99% 52.49% 52.58%
2020/21 23 3 1 4 49.21% 47.35% 50.39% 45.63%

Pros: Bennett is a physical dynamo who always finds a way to make an impact on the ice. He’s the rare player that actually increases their scoring significantly in the postseason. Bennett’s advanced stats are usually sparkling.

Cons: At this point, no one knows if Bennett can hold down a job as an NHL center, never mind one with significant defensive responsibilities. His future might ultimately lie on the wing. Contrary to those possession numbers, Bennett does not come with a sterling reputation in his own end, and he’s yet to be entrusted with killing penalties on a regular basis. That’s not encouraging.

Cody Eakin, 29

One year @ $2.25 million

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 49 5 10 15 48.00% 40.91% 45.28% 38.33%
2020/21 23 1 2 3 43.94% 38.03% 37.19% 38.20%

Pros: Eakin, like almost everyone in Buffalo, is available. And he probably won’t cost all that much. Only two seasons removed from 41 points in 78 games. He has played the checking line role before with some success, and he’s still playing it for the Sabres…with less success.

Cons: Eakin is currently a less-than-replacement-level player, and after two straight seasons of sharp regression, he doesn’t seem like a strong candidate for a bounceback at the age of 30. He’d be a stopgap at best, and not a very good one.

Logan Brown, 23

RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Corsi Exp. Goals Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2019/20 23 1 7 8 49.29% 50.23% 54.81% 57.32%
2020/21 0 0 0 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A

Pros: The relationship between Ottawa and Brown has reportedly reached its tipping point, and he’ll soon be on the way out of town if local media-types are to be believed. He wouldn’t cost all that much, and his statline is intriguing, especially given that it was accrued with the Senators.

Cons: Brown is still very much a question mark, especially at the center position. As a low-risk, low-reward sort of acquisition, he’s fine, but no one should be expecting him to come in and solve the hole in the Canucks’ depth chart.

Which of these centers would you like to see at 3C next season? Let us know in the comments below!