What does the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup look like if Aatu Räty makes the team?
Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
After a 10-0 blowout loss in their first preseason game, it’s hard to say that the Vancouver Canucks’ year is off to a great start. But even at the worst of times, there are always those who stand out, and at this very early juncture in the season, that player is Aatu Räty.
Nobody looked good against Calgary on Sunday night, but of all the players on the Vancouver side of the ice, Räty was probably the best. That continues a trend that saw him put up one of the best performances of any of the prospects present at the Penticton Young Stars Tournament.
On the one hand, Räty is playing up to expectations as the highest-ranked prospect remaining in Training Camp. Tom Willander, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and that other Elias Pettersson are all off with their own 2023/24 teams already, leaving Räty at the top of the heap for the time being.
Even then, however, few gave Räty much chance of cracking the Canucks’ NHL roster this year. We already published a piece entitled “Is the Vancouver Canucks’ forward lineup pretty much already set?,” and based that thinking on the fact that the Canucks have four veteran centres, seven veteran wingers, and both Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin all pencilled-in to forward jobs.
But if anyone is going to force their way into the conversation, it’s going to be Räty, and he may have already got a head-start on that process.
So, what happens next? If Räty does in fact push his way into and onto the 2023/24 opening night lineup, what would that lineup look like?
There are a few interesting scenarios to consider.
Räty as a winger
Let’s get this one out of the way right away.
If Räty makes the Canucks this year, it’s almost certainly as a centre. That’s his natural position, he’s the team’s top prospect at that position by a mile, and it’s arguably the position of greatest organizational weakness at this point.
Plus, there’s those aforementioned nine other wingers who are all-but-guaranteed NHL jobs. There’s simply no room at the wing, and certainly not enough to justify playing Räty there out of position.
In the past, this might have been considered the ‘easier’ path for a forward to take in cracking the big league roster. This time around, Räty is going to have to do so as a centre or bust.
Räty as third line centre
The most likely place to Räty to enter the lineup is as the 3C. The Canucks would want to put him in a position to succeed, and all those wingers we just talked about give them the perfect ability to run a scoring top-nine and slide a couple of talented scorers on either side of Räty.
What happens to Pius Suter and Teddy Blueger, the two UFA signings currently competing for the 3C job, in this scenario?
One of them either bumps over to the wing or bumps out of the lineup as the 13th forward. Neither outcome is particularly ideal, but it could be doable for a short period of time as the Canucks let Räty roll for a while.
Flanked by, say, Conor Garland and Anthony Beauvillier, Räty would have a genuine chance to put up some numbers, and if it keeps working, there’s every chance he could just stay there. Suter and Blueger are fine players, after all, but not of the sort that should block the natural progress of a blue-chip prospect.
Räty as fourth line centre
You could take a lot of what we said in the last section and copy it here. Räty as the 4C bumps one of Suter or Blueger out of a spot as Räty slides in.
But the 4C spot is a far less desirable one when it comes to giving the young Räty an NHL job. For one, it would undoubtedly mean fewer minutes at a crucial point in his development path. For another, it would almost certainly mean a decrease in the quality of linemates.
We can imagine a fourth line of Räty flanked by Blueger and Dakota Joshua as a fine unit that performs well, but it wouldn’t be a great place for Räty to continue to develop the offensive side of his game. With alternative options already present on the roster, if the choice is between a 4C job and Abbotsford, Räty should probably be packing his bags.
Räty as second line centre
Now, wouldn’t this be something.
As a prospect, most have said that Räty probably tops out as a 2C. So, why not let him start there and see if he can grow into the role?
Obviously, Elias Pettersson and JT Miller are fairly locked into place as the Canucks’ top-two centres. But Miller has played plenty of wing in the past, and if coach Rick Tocchet is looking to really mix up his forward corps, perhaps a scenario in which Miller pops over to the wing for a spell might be of some interest.
This could mean a reunion of the Lotto Line, or it could mean Miller on Räty’s wing. Either way, it’s putting Räty in the best position to succeed imaginable, while at the same time allowing the Canucks to start having a more long-term outlook on the centre position.
In order for this to even have the slightest possibility of happening, however, Räty is going to have to post some serious numbers in the preseason. Looking good on the wrong end of 10-0 losses is not going to cut it.
Räty as a temporary Ilya Mikheyev replacement
And now we arrive at our most likely scenario.
We’ve yet to hear exactly when Ilya Mikheyev will return to the ice following an unexpected absence, and we don’t know when that non-contact jersey is going to come off. The team has indicated that Mikheyev will be ready to go by opening night, but it doesn’t look all the certain.
If Mikheyev does miss time to start the year, and if the team takes the option of placing him on retroactive LTIR and thus opening up enough cap space for a replacement, it makes ample sense for Räty to be that replacement.
We’d still probably slot him in at 3C in this scenario, and slide one of Suter or Blueger over for the time being. Give Räty a couple of talented linemates and as much ice-time as the team can muster, and communicate to him that he’s going down as soon as Mikheyev returns, no matter what happens.
A nice, little no-pressure audition with a planned expiry might just be the perfect way to reward Räty’s preseason excellence while not rocking the pre-established roster boat; giving a leg-up to his NHL development without pouring too many expectations on him too early.
Or, he might get cut and have to try it all again next year.
There’s still a couple of weeks left to sort this out. But the possibilities are exciting.
Recent articles from Stephan Roget