The Canucks are a team with two dynamic duos at forward, lacking a third

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
7 days ago
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These days, the NHL is a lot like the DC Comics Universe, powered by the strength of dynamic duos.
In the past, the sport of hockey was all about lines. The Production Line, The Punch Line, The Legion of Doom. The list goes on.
But there has been a definite shift over the past decade or two toward forward units being primarily constructed around duos that stick together as third linemates rotate through in order to keep things fresh.
Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
Speaking of points, the point is that lines are out, and duos are in when it comes to the NHL, and the Vancouver Canucks are certainly no exception to the trend.
Head coach Rick Tocchet recently spoke with Canucks Insider about the reunion of Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland, a duo that have had unprecedented success together in 2023/24.
In Tocchet’s own words, “I’d be crazy to ever split those guys up.”
The Joshua/Garland connection is actually a perfect illustration of the trend we’re talking about. Earlier in the year, they flanked centre Teddy Blueger in what was, for a time, the Canucks’ most effective forward line. But through injury and circumstance, the line was broken up. Since then, the two have been tried with a number of different centres, including JT Miller, Elias Lindholm, and, of course, Blueger again.
Throughout it, their own mutual chemistry has never waivered. It really does seem to be the Joshua/Garland dynamic that matters most here, with the third component of their line acting as an almost optional supplement.
As Garland told Canucks Insider, “We played really well with Teddy, he’s a hard worker and brings an element of being below the goal line and defensively he helped us a lot. Millsy is a world-class player, that’s a different element and then Lindy, same thing, he’s a mixture of both where he makes a lot of offensive plays, but he’s just so sound defensively.”
Though Tocchet didn’t mention it in the article, it should be obvious to most by now that when we talk dynamic duos on the 2023/24 Canucks forward corps, we’re not referring exclusively to just Joshua and Garland. The duo of Miller and Brock Boeser absolutely qualifies, too.
This year, Miller got 48 of his 61 even-strength points alongside Boeser. The ratio was even stronger on Boeser’s side of the equation, with 42 of his 48 EV points accompanying Miller.
And while we’re on that topic, we’ll note that 26 of Joshua’s 31 EV points came alongside Garland, but only 23 of Garland’s 41 EV points came alongside Joshua – no doubt a result of Joshua’s lengthy absence due to injury.
But as we look at the dynamic duos present in the Canucks’ forward corps at this very moment, we can’t help but feel as though they’re one short.
Because Elias Pettersson doesn’t have a dedicated sidekick, and that does seem to be hindering the Canucks’ ability to ice a semi-consistent top-nine setup.
Pettersson’s own linemate point-spread is significantly more scattered than any mentioned above. Who was Pettersson’s most productive linemate in 2023/24? If you guessed Ilya Mikheyev, then congratulations, you win a prize – but no one guessed Mikheyev, did they?
Of Pettersson’s 56 even-strength points, 19 came alongside Mikheyev, 16 with Boeser, and then 15 each with Miller, Nils Höglander, and the departed Andrei Kuzmenko.
It was, ostensibly, Kuzmenko who was meant to fill the role of being Pettersson’s primary partner at the outset of the season. But that didn’t work out, and no permanent replacement has been found.
There have been, and remain, plenty of candidates.
Höglander and Pettersson have clear-cut chemistry together. But one has to wonder if Höglander is yet ready to be Pettersson’s constant companion out there on the ice. Thus far, Höglander has proven to be more effective in limited minutes.
Many hoped that Lindholm would slide into this role after his acquisition, but an early injury and an inability to really get going with the Canucks scuppered those hopes. Now that Lindholm is back in the lineup, we have to imagine this combination will be tried again. If it can click, the Canucks are suddenly looking at a much more workable top-nine structure.
We’re not entirely ready to give up on the Mikeyev/Pettersson connection, either. As we mentioned above, Mikheyev was Pettersson’s most productive linemate this year, and as others have pointed out before, Mikheyev is still well within the expected recovery period from offseason surgery. The best may still be yet to come from Mikheyev, and that best may very well come alongside Pettersson. In an ideal world, however, Mikheyev works better as the third piece that most frequently joins Pettersson and his go-to co-pilot.
There’s also always the option of reuniting Pettersson and Boeser, something that has gone somewhat well when tried in 2023/24. Breaking up the duo of Boeser and Miller, however, isn’t all that desirable. The Canucks could always put the Lotto Line back together again, and no doubt will when the situation calls for it in the playoffs. But then that takes away from the overall goal of building the top-nine around three rock-solid duos.
As we think further outside the box, we see Vasily Podkolzin as someone with the potential to build chemistry with Pettersson, but perhaps not quickly enough to earn many shifts on his wing this season. Going even more long-term, maybe Jonathan Lekkerimäki is a solution, but that won’t be for a while yet.
Using NaturalStatTrick’s line tool, we can at least get some sense of who Pettersson has played better with this season:
LinematePettersson GF% WithPettersson GF% WithoutPettersson xGF% WithPettersson xGF% Without
Höglander 61.54%57.14%57.99%50.16%
From NaturalStatTrick for even-strength minutes
That chart would seem to strongly suggest that Höglander is the answer to the question we’re seeking. Petterson’s numbers tick up noticeably when he’s out there with Höglander, and that this hasn’t been true of any other linemate, really, in 2023/24.
But then we’re back to that question of whether or not Höglander is really ready to skate the kind of minutes that Pettersson is expected to this postseason.
The chemistry between the two off-ice friends is undeniable by this point. If Höglander can elevate himself and stay consistent enough to form the team’s third dynamic forward duo, and if he can do it in the present moment, then the Canucks’ forward corps look significantly stronger and more solid heading into Round One.
And with Nashville now the confirmed opponent, we can’t help ourselves but to close out here with a statement that almost has to be dropped in an article about dynamic duos:
“Holy catfish, Batman!”
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