Ranking the “bat swings” Rick Tocchet can take with the Canucks’ lineup in Game 5

Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
30 days ago
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Coming off a 3-2 loss in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers that has to be considered their worst effort of the playoffs, one had to assume that a change or two was coming to the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup for Game 5.
Here on Thursday morning, we don’t yet know that those changes may be. But we do know that head coach Rick Tocchet and Co. have a lot of options on the table, thanks to the team having recalled nearly every healthy player under contract assigned to Abbotsford following their elimination from the AHL playoffs.
And, yes, that list did include 19-year-old Jonathan Lekkerimäki, hot on the heels of his first professional action down in Abbotsford, and a season in which he was named both the SHL’s junior player of the year and the World Juniors MVP.
What Lekkerimäki hasn’t done, as of yet, is play an NHL game. Now, normally, Game 5 of a hotly-contested Round Two series between two Canadian rivals would be a bad setting for the start of a big league career. But when asked about the possibility of inserting Lekkerimäki into the lineup, Tocchet had an interesting response:
And, so, if Tocchet’s really got the bat out and is swinging big, we thought we’d take some time this morning to go over all the potential home-run options he’s got as he fills out his roster card for tonight.
Starting, of course, with this wildest of swings.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki
Brock Boeser and Elias Lindholm aside, the Canucks are struggling to produce offence right now. And anyone who follows the team’s prospects at all knows that offence is something that Lekkerimäki delivers in buckets.
Just listen to what WJC coach Magnus Havelid told EliteProspects about him:
“On the man advantage, just give him the puck and you get a quality scoring chance each time. You will see goals.”
Sounds like exactly what the Canucks need.
Of course, the potential downsides aren’t that hard to figure out. Lekkerimäki is 19 years old, and a veteran of just six games on North American ice. And this series is intense. To put him out there in Game 5 would make for quite the first NHL game, and to throw him onto Elias Pettersson’s wing – the only spot in the lineup that really makes sense – would be asking quite a lot of him.
Still, desperate times call for desperate measures, and something has to get Pettersson going. Why not the black ace with the most offensive talent of them all? There’s little doubt about that being Lekkerimäki, just doubt about whether he’s anywhere near ready to bring it at this level.
Vasily Podkolzin
We previously advocated for giving Podkolzin a shot in the playoff lineup on a couple of different occasions, and we still find ourselves very much in favour of it.
Tocchet spoke about wanting to be heavier on the forecheck and in the corners, and that was essentially Podkolzin’s speciality in his stint with Vancouver late in the regular season.
We’d previously pitched Podkolzin’s power forward nature as the perfect thing to bust through a tight Nashville defence and get pucks on net. Against Edmonton, we just see Podkolzin as perhaps the most physical forward option in what has become an extremely physical series.
We still like the idea of putting Podkolzin on Pettersson’s wing, and if we’re truly swinging big here, we really don’t dislike the idea of a Podkolzin-Pettersson-Lekkerimäki unit.
It would be a massive risk, but Podkolzin’s increased defensive aptitude lessens the risk of the results being any worse than Pettersson has achieved with other linemates thus far.
Nils Höglander
Let’s not get too much further down the list without mentioning the player who probably deserves to get into the lineup the most, and that’s someone who was removed from it two games ago: Höglander.
With just one assist in eight games despite near-exclusive deployment in the top-six, there’s no denying that Höglander has had a poor playoffs. But it’s worth remembering that Höglander is still just 23 years old, the same age as Arturs Silovs, and is thus anything but a finished product.
We saw Höglander respond extremely well to last season’s demotion, earning a job out of training camp and then proceeding to score 24 goals in the regular season.
At some point, Tocchet and Co. will have to give him another shot, and then we’ll see if a bit of time in the pressbox will have a similar restorative impact on his game.
Putting him right back next to Pettersson for Game 5 isn’t the worst idea in the world. At the very least, we know the two enjoy one another, and Pettersson looks like he’s in need of a friend.
Mark Friedman
Okay, hear us out!
Noah Juulsen stepped in to cover Carson Soucy’s one-game suspension, and played fine, but did play a major role in a goal against. It’s fair to assume that Soucy returns to the lineup for Game 5 and Juulsen exits.
But Ian Cole, too, continues to have a rough series, Tyler Myers has not been at his best, and Filip Hronek had his worst game as a Canuck in Game 4. Tocchet could probably feel justified in sitting any of the above, but perhaps not in sitting them for Juulsen.
Friedman remains waiting in the wings. And while he hasn’t got much action since November, he remains a viable option, and one who would bring some serious grit to what has become a sandpapery series.
Friedman is, simply put, one of the best blueline agitators in the game. Evander Kane kind of ran amok over the Canucks in Game 4. If there’s anyone in the organization capable of pulling Kane and the other emotionally-questionable Oilers off their game, it’s Friedman.
Then again, asking a marginal NHL defender to shake off months of rust and suit up against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is a big ask, and his being annoying might not qualify as enough of a reason to make that ask.
Max Sasson
You’re forgiven if you don’t even know who Sasson is. The NCAA free agent signing had a respectable, but quiet, but respectable rookie season for Abbotsford. And according to our own in-house prospects expert, Dave Hall, Sasson has shown enough to earn at least a look:
Skating speed, play driving, and 5-on-5 control all sound like exactly what the Canucks are looking for more of in this season. Of course, that would entail Sasson being able to step up and deliver those things not just at the NHL level, but at the level of intensity that is Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That’s a sizeable step up.
Arshdeep Bains
It makes sense now to return to the only other prospect that saw significant time in the Vancouver lineup this year, and that’s Bains.
Now, to be fair, Bains didn’t exactly look NHL-ready in either of his stints. But Tocchet did say he wanted more physicality in the Oilers’ end, and that’s absolutely something that Bains can supply. Plus, as a hometown product, there’s very little doubt that Bains would bring a surplus of energy to a home playoff matchup.
It’s his footspeed that will probably cause Tocchet to hesitate in putting Bains in against Edmonton, and that’s definitely a fair concern. But if he does manage to get in there all the same, we’ve got some faith in Bains keeping up on sheer willpower alone.
Aatu Raty
We’re definitely getting a little off the beaten path here. But Raty did have some very strong sections of play for Abbotsford this year, and remains one of the most talented prospects in the system. He’s probably also the most all-round option on Tocchet’s table right now, capable of skating at the NHL level already and making contributions in all areas of the ice.
Still, it seems far more likely that Raty gets an opportunity to show his stuff at the NHL level next season, not this one.
As we’ve hopefully demonstrated here, there are simply others who have earned the chance more at this point.
Elias Pettersson II
Alright, one last big swing before we call it a day.
If there’s a bigger swing out there than Lekkerimäki, it’s his 20-year-old countryman, the other Elias Pettersson.
We know, we know. Chances are that he’s nowhere near ready for NHL action, having just arrived in the AHL late this season. As a primarily defensive defender, Pettersson will need to get more comfortable on North American ice before he’s even granted a cup of coffee at the big league level.
But given his reputation for orneriness, and the fact that he already brought his rough-and-tumble play to Abbotsford, there is at least some temptation in throwing Pettersson into the fires of Round Two and seeing if he can’t become Public Enemy Number One in Edmonton in limited minutes.
Like we said, it’s not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be fun.

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