Over the past few seasons, the Canucks’ lack of forward depth left the team with few options when it came to line juggling. The club needed to deploy players on certain lines to avoid matchup problems, and the top six were often left cleaning up the mess left by the third and fourth units.
Fortunately, Travis Green now has countless options at his disposal due to the team’s recent roster overhaul. The Canucks are now able to keep the Lotto Line intact without sacrificing secondary scoring while also having the ability to mix things up and still ice a competitive team.
With that said, the coaching staff will likely rely heavily on one specific lineup that looks the most dangerous on paper, and many fans have already started pencilling this in for opening night:
The expected lineup
With a lethal top-six and reliable depth, it’s easy to see why this lineup is the one that has gained the most traction heading into the season. The Lotto Line can be reunited and rekindle the chemistry that made them one of the best lines in the entire league and J.T. Miller is able to shift back to his natural position on the wing as well.
More importantly, this combination fills the two biggest holes that have plagued the Canucks for years: a reliable winger for Bo Horvat and a third-line centre that can play a matchup role. It also puts the team’s two biggest offseason acquisitions (Conor Garland and Jason Dickinson) in those exact spots. With Höglander and Garland on his flanks, the days of Horvat carrying depth wingers are finally over, and the addition of Dickinson also means that he won’t be tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best players either.
The only questions surrounding this lineup are Vasily Podkolzin and Zack MacEwen since the former is an unproven rookie while the latter often found himself in Green’s doghouse last year. Thankfully, Podkolzin’s KHL experience and two-way game indicate that he’s NHL-ready and MacEwen can be replaced by players such as Matthew Highmore if he continues to struggle.
At the end of the day, this is likely the best lineup the Canucks can ice, hence why it’s the expected one, but there are certainly more options to mix things up if the above lineup goes through a rough patch.
The overqualified centres lineup
Seeing Miller back at 3C might be a surprise, but it’s important to remember that the Dickinson trade wasn’t solely done to have him centre the third line. While that was the main logic behind the deal, the addition of another reliable pivot also means that, unlike last season, the Canucks could play Miller down the middle without gutting the depth on other lines.
The added flexibility is something that I fully expect Green to use since having players of Miller and Dickinson’s calibre in the bottom six is a luxury that isn’t shared by most teams. That top nine is full of grit while still retaining plenty of skill, and it’ll be intriguing to see how a swiss army knife player like Höglander performs alongside two of the team’s best offensive weapons.
Of course, the main goal of this lineup is allowing Miller to feast on weaker competition, and the work rates of Podkolzin and Motte will wear down the opposing team. Dickinson is also overqualified to be on the fourth line and might have an easier time generating offence when facing depth players.
The pick your poison lineup
The top 9 here all have different skillsets and playstyles, which would make it difficult for teams to gameplan against. Having Höglander and Garland beside Pettersson forms a trio that can play a cycle game without giving up possession, and their hockey IQ can result in scoring chances from small mistakes by the opposition.
Slotting Boeser on the third line also gives the bottom six a scoring punch that is hard to match. The 24-year-old struggled in 2019-20 when he was bumped down the lineup, but his improved play-driving ability along with the addition of Dickinson are encouraging signs that such a combination could work.
That being said, the second line is definitely the most intriguing one here. Having three power forwards could make this one of the toughest lines in the league to play against, assuming Podkolzin is ready to face top-six competition. This trio can play both a puck possession and a forecheck-heavy style, and Podkolzin’s playmaking ability could fit in well with Miller’s versatility and Horvat’s score-first mentality.
The all-chaos lineup
This lineup is more of a break glass in case of emergency option, but it’ll be fascinating to see how these unique combinations perform. Moving Pettersson to the wing diminishes some of his playmaking threat from the middle, but it also frees him from some defensive responsibilities and makes him more of a scoring threat. Horvat will also be the primary faceoff man — similar to what Miller does on the Lotto Line — and Podkolzin’s passing can open up more scoring opportunities for his two linemates.
The second unit is similar to the team’s top line for much of last season after Pettersson was injured, and Miller and Boeser were still able to produce even without the young Swede. Meanwhile, the third line provides a scoring punch on the wings while still being defensively responsible, and it’ll be interesting to see if Dickinson can breakout offensively when playing alongside skilled wingers.
No matter what types of lineups are used, the Canucks seem poised to be one of the more dangerous teams due to the versatility of their forward group. For the first time in what seems like a decade, the club will finally have both the firepower and depth needed to be a top offensive team in the league. Of course, the lineups I listed are only a few options that Green has at his disposal, so comment below what quirky combinations you’d like to see!