One more top-six winger would give the Canucks the most balanced forward corps in the NHL

Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
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To say that the pieces are starting to fall into place for the 2023/24 Vancouver Canucks sounds mighty strange. In many ways, the pieces feel like they’ve been in place since at least October, and there hasn’t been much jumbling in the interim.
But just because things are already going great doesn’t mean they can’t get even better, and that seems a likely outcome of the three-and-a-half weeks between now and the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.
GM Patrik Allvin and Co. already made a sizeable addition to their lineup with the acquisition of Elias Lindholm. And while Lindholm will almost certainly prove a great fit for the roster given enough time, there are still some lingering questions about where exactly he fits best – and about whether or not his arrival marks the “final piece” of the Canucks’ forward corps or not.
From where we’re sitting, the answer is “hopefully not.” It sure seems as though the Vancouver top-six is short one member. And when we say that, what we really mean is that the Vancouver lineup is one top-six addition away from having perhaps the most balanced forward corps in the entire league.
It’s so close, we can almost taste it.
Whenever this topic is raised, there’s some pushback from a segment of the fanbase who point out, quite correctly, that the Canucks are already the best scoring team in the league. They lead the NHL in both goals with 195 and goals-per-game with 3.68. That goes along well with a power play of 24.4% that sits eighth overall.
Those same pushbackers will argue that because the Canucks are stronger offensively than they are defensively, they should be focused on additions to the blueline, not the forwards.
But the key word here is balance.
The defence, while still featuring many flaws on an individual basis, has proven to be a highly-balanced and stable unit all season long. When fully healthy, the Canucks have seven defenders that they want in the lineup on a nightly basis. The breakout performance of Noah Juulsen in 2023/24 has really changed the picture, and whereas folks may have been nervous about relying too heavily on Tyler Myers in the postseason, the Canucks can now supplement or even replace him with either Juulsen or Ian Cole on his off-side.
Point-blank, there aren’t that many D available on the market who are both affordable and who could offer a genuine upgrade on what the Canucks already have. Their best bet seems to be to stick to the in-house rotation they’ve already developed, perhaps with a little extra depth thrown in via a minor trade or two.
Not so with the forwards, however. With the forwards, there are ample players of varying top-six quality available for a wide variety of prices on the deadline market.
And there’s definitely room for at least one of them in the Canucks’ lineup, too.
As it stands, the Canucks have four absolute, de facto, non-debateable top-six forwards. That’s Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, and the newly-added Lindholm. Now, these four are all of exceptional quality, even for top-six forwards, but having only four on hand does strike us as a bit light for the so-called top offensive team in the world.
In addition to that quartet, the Canucks also have a trio of players who can play in the top-six when called upon, each with wavering levels of success. That’s Ilya Mikheyev, Pius Suter, and Nils Höglander. Of the bunch, Höglander has been the most productive, though until very recently much of that production came from the bottom-six. Suter has performed adequately wherever he’s been placed. Mikheyev is having a difficult year.
Each of them could theoretically be improved upon.
Landing another top-six forward, probably a winger, is more easily said than done. Many have floated the idea of trying to sell off Mikheyev just to open up cap space for someone new, and that may very well come to pass. But if, through the magic of salary retention or a target with a low cap hit, the Canucks are able to simply add a top-six winger without subtracting anyone from the roster, they’ll have quite possibly the most-balanced forward corps in the game.
Obviously, Miller and Boeser stick together, ride-or-die. They’ve played with Lindholm the last couple of games, but that doesn’t need to stick.
Meanwhile, Pettersson has been showing some great chemistry with Höglander. If those two can stay together for the time being, the Canucks will have the building blocks in place for two exceptional scoring lines.
Maybe Lindholm sticks with Miller and Boeser, while the newly-acquired winger pairs up with Pettersson and Höglander. Or maybe the new winger is that long-awaited “F1” forechecker that Miller and Boeser have been waiting for, and Lindholm joins Pettersson and Höglander for a Tre Kronor line.
Either way, it’s all about how the rest of the lineup looks after this change.
Obviously, the Joshua Three aren’t going anywhere, and will remain the team’s third line.
Dropping Suter and Mikheyev further down the lineup, however, gives the team four strong units that can be rolled as often and as regularly as head coach Rick Tocchet desires.
We’re picturing something like this:
New Player/Lindholm-Miller-Boeser
New Player/Lindholm-Pettersson-Höglander
Di Giuseppe/Åman
Just look at that lineup. There’s not a single line on there that the Canucks couldn’t feel confident putting out there against any opposing line, or in any game situation. It’s strong down the middle, like the Canucks have been all season long, but also nearly as strong on the wings, which has not been the case.
Potency has not been a problem. But balance has been, and this forward corps is as balanced as it gets.
Should Höglander falter in the top-six, he’s got Suter and Mikheyev on hand as convenient replacements. For the time being, two quasi-top-six two-way forwards become premium fourth liners. Lindholm can slide into center for shifts or entire games no matter which line he is on. Di Giuseppe and Aman are ready in the pressbox to hop in at a moment’s notice.
It all starts to come together very nicely. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and somehow ending up with something that looks even better than the picture on the box.
And it’s potentially just one more trade away from coming to fruition.
Of course, we won’t leave you hanging with that tantalizing possibility, and we won’t hang our argument entirely on the premise of “NEW PLAYER X” being the answer to all our problems.
In the days to come, look for a follow-up article on just who that missing piece might be, and how the Canucks can acquire them without disrupting any of what they already have.
Until then, the placeholder will just have to do.
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