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How will the Vancouver Canucks align their defence once Carson Soucy returns?

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Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
5 months ago
On Tuesday morning, Rick Tocchet was blunt about how he and the Canucks’ coaching staff might decide who comes out of the lineup when Carson Soucy eventually returns.
“We’re going to be full-strength here, and I’ve got to be honest, tonight’s game could decide who comes out of the lineup,” Tocchet said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “That’s just the world we live in.”
In the game that followed that quote, Tocchet’s Canucks put on a clinic in stomping on a lesser team when they jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first period against the Ottawa Senators.
And although the team as a whole took their foot off the gas a bit in the final 40 minutes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a defenceman who didn’t hold their own in that game. So if last night’s game didn’t expose a player as the obvious choice to come out of the lineup, who should come out when Soucy returns? Soucy may return as soon as Thursday night in St. Louis, as he’s been “close” for about a week now.
During his on-ice sessions since returning to the team, Soucy has spent some time at practice playing on the right side, which could give us an early indication that the “obvious choice” to be the odd man out might be Noah Juulsen.
But even then, do you break up a pairing that was one of the Canucks’ best in the club’s 6-3 win over the Senators? Do you take out a player in Juulsen, who the head coach has praised multiple times for how he’s turned his season around?
It’s not as simple of an answer as you may think, and while names like Ian Cole, Nikita Zadorov, and even Tyler Myers haven’t done anything egregious to warrant losing their spot in the lineup, we’d argue that Juulsen also deserves to be in that same category.

Who should come out?

The simple answer, to no fault of his own, is Noah Juulsen.
Carson Soucy has played in just 13 games this season, and has spent the overwhelming majority of his minutes playing alongside Tyler Myers.
Since Soucy’s injury, the club has gone out and acquired Nikita Zadorov, who has been a fixture as Myers’ partner since. The underlying numbers in terms of the number of chances and goals Soucy and Zadorov give up when paired with Myers are similar.
First, Myers’ numbers when paired up with Soucy, through 119:19 of 5v5 ice time with one another:
And now Myers when paired with Zadorov (174:21 of ice time together):
While this data certainly serves as a good tool, the eye test seems to suggest that Myers has played some of his best hockey this season while paired up with Zadorov, not Soucy. The Zadorov-Myers pairing has also played some tougher matchups than Soucy and Myers did while paired up together, which is also an important bit of context when it comes to these numbers.
“They’re good in the corners,” Rick Tocchet said of the larger-than-life pairing last month. “Net front, they can box out. We still want them to join the rush. But that’s two big guys. That a big reach. That’s a pain in the ass to play against and that’s what we want those guys to be.”
Would the coaching staff really want Soucy to take Zadorov’s place and split up a pairing that’s been working for them in Zadorov-Myers? Would Zadorov then slide down to play with Ian Cole, with Cole playing the right side?
Or would Soucy slot right in on the right side with Cole, and make it a simple one-for-one swap with Juulsen? Given that the Canucks haven’t been too unhappy with their defence pairings lately, coupled with the fact Soucy has been taking reps on the right side, Juulsen may be the odd man out simply because taking him out is the route that likely leads to the least amount of change in the rest of the defence pairings.
If we had to guess, here is how we’d anticipate the Canucks align their defence pairings once Soucy returns.
Hughes-Hronek
Zadorov-Myers
Cole-Soucy
Juulsen
That being said, if one of those players in the bottom four has a rough game, the Canucks now have options to replace them in a hurry (as Tocchet alluded to on Tuesday), something they haven’t had on the back end for a few years.
Similar to what we’ve seen with the forwards this year, there should be a whole heck of a lot more competition for playing time among the Canucks’ defence corps when Soucy eventually returns.

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