Projecting Canucks’ opening-night forward lines far too early into the offseason
Photo credit:The Kuzmenko-Pettersson-Mikheyev line is literally the most productive line in hockey right now
By Faber16 days ago
This one might be a fun one to revisit once we get to September.
For those who are looking to have some dirt on me and come back and show how dumb I am, be sure to favourite this article link.
Or maybe I’ll just go back and delete this in August — who knows…
We are just one month into the offseason for the Vancouver Canucks, who wrapped up the season with a 5-4 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes on April 13th. That is unless you count the extra practice time that the Canucks were fined $50,000 for this past week.
Imagine if the Canucks leaned into that $50,000 fine with a humourous commercial.
The structure of an offseason workout creates good habits and a new standard because next season starts now! That would have been fun, but back to the topic at hand.
Today, we are doing a way-too-early prediction of what the Canucks’ forward lines will look like on the opening night of the 2023-24 season — you know, that season that supposedly starts now.
We aren’t going to go too crazy with adding free agents or projecting massive trades. It’s going to be very difficult for the Canucks to make significant changes to their lineup because a lot of their salary cap is tied to the least valuable position in hockey — the middle-six winger.
Let’s get into what we are projecting will be the Canucks’ forward lines on day one of the 2023-24 season!
Be sure to drop your projections in the comments as well. I do read all the comments, for the record.
First Line: Andrei Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Ilya Mikheyev
I’m going out on a pretty sturdy limb here and guessing that Rick Tocchet is going to really like Ilya Mikheyev — likely enough to pair him up with the two best creators of offence on the roster in Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko.
Tocchet needs linemates that can chase down pucks for Pettersson and if Mikheyev is back to full health, he is the right man for the job. On that note, we reached out to Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein and he told us that Mikheyev is doing well in his recovery and should be fully healthy for training camp next season. He is coming off a February 2nd surgery and is hoping to get back to skating in late June or early July as reported by Ben Kuzma in The Province.
We believe Kuzmenko will be back with Pettersson for opening night. When you look back at the 36 games that Tocchet coached last season, Pettersson spent more than two-thirds of his five-on-five ice time with Kuzmenko on his wing.
Second Line: Conor Garland – J.T. Miller – Brock Boeser (or Vasily Podkolzin)
J.T. Miller will be the second-line centre for this team next year, there’s no debating that unless you want to get into Miller trade speculation — which we do not want to dive into, as there’s lots of time in the summer for that.
If the Canucks are able to move a winger in the offseason, it could be Brock Boeser or Conor Garland. If that is the case, just slide Vasily Podkolzin right onto either open-wing spot. We also have time for Nils Höglander to be in the mix for time on this line, but more on him later.
Miller’s most-consistent linemates under Tocchet were Boeser and Phil Di Giuseppe, but with Mikheyev being moved into the top-six, it feels like PDG is the winger to bounce out of Tocchet’s top-six from the final 36 games of the season.
There’s time for an Anthony Beauvillier here but we were a bit surprised to see that a Beauvillier-Miller-Boeser trio only had 4:21 of ice time together in 32 games under Tocchet.
With the trio of Garland-Miller-Boeser, you are looking to create a lot of offence against teams’ second defence pairings and will need to take the defensive deficiencies that come with these players. The hope is that you can outscore the opposition’s second line and if this trio clicks, you certainly have the potential to outscore a lot of opposing teams’ top-six’s.
Third Line: Anthony Beauvillier – Free Agent Signing – Vasily Podkolzin (or Phil Di Giuseppe)
The big question with the third line will be, ‘Who is centering that trio?’
We’ve looked at some two-way centres for this line like Derek Stepan, Noel Acciari, and Nick Bjugstad, but the Canucks will certainly be exploring a lot of different avenues to fill their 3C position.
Beauvillier and Podkolzin feel like the two wingers that will be used to round out the top-nine group. They can provide some offence and if Podkolzin takes a step, he could be a valuable third-line producer. Both Beauvillier and Podkolzin are heading into contract years — they each need a big offensive season to cash in on their next deals. The potential is certainly there, and with the top-six eating up minutes against opposing top-fours, this third line has a chance to feast on bottom-pairs across the league.
We could be looking at a third line that makes about seven to nine million dollars next season, and that’s not horrible.
Fourth Line: Dakota Joshua – Nils Åman – Nils Höglander (or Phil Di Giuseppe)
We know that Dakota Joshua is going to be in the opening night lineup, but after that, there’s some arguing to have on who will be on the Canucks’ fourth line.
A thing we wonder about with the fourth line is if Tocchet wants Joshua to be the centre on that line. Phil Di Giuseppe is a player who got a lot of minutes under Tocchet but as we mentioned earlier, those minutes could have been due to missing Mikheyev. Being an option for the bottom-three lines is a fine spot for Di Giuseppe to be in for next season, but if the team wants to give Joshua a run at 4C, Di Giuseppe likely becomes an everyday player.
We’ve put Nils Åman at 4C because he positionally is a solid centre and though he lacks offence, he has a long reach, skates decent enough and is a big body in the bottom-six — just the way that Tocchet likes it. Äman is the answer if you want to keep Joshua on the wing but we’re guessing that Tocchet would rather have PDG in the lineup, so maybe they give Joshua a decent run at centre.
Nils Höglander earns a spot on our fourth line, but he will certainly have the shortest leash on the team.
With forwards like Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Dries, Aidan McDonough, Vitali Kravtsov, and more looking to earn a spot for opening night, there’s going to be stiff competition in training camp for a spot on the fourth line.
Höglander has to be motivated to get back into the NHL and if he is playing well, Tocchet will love the energy from the 22-year-old. Höglander has more than enough offensive skill to win the scoring battle against opposing fourth lines but he will need to be accountable in the defensive zone. We like him with Joshua and Åman here on the fourth line because it’s some size on the boards and that will allow Höglander to be somewhat of a pest as he sneaks into board battles to retrieve pucks and can create open ice in the offensive zone when his line has possession.
Höglander and Joshua are a pair we want to see play together. Höglander struggles with finishing but he gets the puck around the net often and Joshua has the size and good enough hands to finish around the crease — this is a duo we can see having 10+ goals in a fourth-line role and that is good production from the bottom of the lineup.
Extra Forwards and their situations: Phil Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Dries, Aidan McDonough, Vitali Kravtsov, Jack Studnicka, Arshdeep Bains, Linus Karlsson
Of the opening night scratches, we expect Di Giuseppe to be the first forward who gets into game action. He may even crack the lineup for opening night — Tocchet likes this player.
Sheldon Dries was fine in a third-line role this past season but he was just fine on a team that severely missed the playoffs. The team needs to upgrade the position but as an extra centre, Dries will get his games this season, just not on opening night.
Aidan McDonough is a long shot for opening night and likely will begin the season in the AHL. He should feast on the power play with Abbotsford. We’re not sure how many NHL games he will get into next year. Time will tell.
We don’t even really know if Vitali Kravtsov will be back with the Canucks next season. His agent Dan Milstein is probably going to get a deal done with Patrik Allvin, then we will see what happens.
Jack Studnicka didn’t receive much playing time with Tocchet last year but he did get into 20 of the 36 games. Tocchet has a pretty good idea of what Studnicka can do when he’s in the Canucks’ lineup. The fact that he can play centre likely puts him in the conversation with Dries and the two players will probably battle for an NHL job as the 14th forward with the loser of that battle likely finding themselves in Abbotsford.
We would love to see Arshdeep Bains have a huge offseason where he improves his skating enough to be in the mix for a fourth-line role. He is still just 22 years old and just wrapped up his first year of professional hockey. He will probably start in the AHL but the hope is that Tocchet and his coaching staff are impressed enough in training camp and preseason to give Bains an opportunity at the NHL at some point next season. Bains checks off many of the boxes to be an NHLer but just needs to take a step in terms of his skating.
Linus Karlsson had a strong year in the AHL as he made the journey over from Sweden this year. After leading the Abbotsford Canucks in goals this past season, he is an option for the Canucks’ top-nine and will probably get a chance to skate with some good players in preseason and training camp. We see him beginning the season in the AHL but if there are enough winger trades this offseason, he could be someone who gets a shot in a bottom-six role early in the 2023-24 season.
These are our way-too-early predictions for the Canucks’ forward lines on opening night.
What was a big miss? Let us know in the comments.
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