The Vancouver Canucks shook the hockey world on Friday afternoon when they traded for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Acquiring a top-six forward along with a top-four defenceman makes this roster much better and much deeper with one massive trade. Two players who are going to benefit a ton from the trade are the two 20-year-olds, Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin.
I had my doubts about Jim Benning being able to acquire a certified top-six forward but with a lot given up in the trade, he made it happen with the addition of Garland. Garland will likely play with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson as the Canucks look to have finally solidified their top-six scoring group.
There may be an opportunity for Podkolzin or Höglander to crack the top-six on Horvat’s wing, but from what Travis Green has done in the past with Horvat and Pearson, it feels safe to say that Horvat will once again have Pearson on his wing this coming season.
If this is indeed the case, the Canucks third line looks like it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch next season.
In my four years of writing about the Vancouver Canucks, this is the best third line I have ever seen for the team and the excitement level about the top-nine group should be at its highest during the Jim Benning era of the Canucks.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) May 18, 2021
Höglander showed that he is very capable of being a top-six forward last season with his 12 goals and 14 assists at five-on-five last season.
Podkolzin is coming over after his second full season in the world’s second-best league and just led his team in playoff scoring while only playing 14 minutes a night for SKA.
Then you insert the versatile defensive specialist Jason Dickinson, who the Canucks traded a third-round pick for before the expansion draft roster freeze.
All three of these players are going to be not only capable defenders, but project to be one of the hardest bottom-six lines to play against in the entire Pacific Division. The move to the third line creates much easier matchups for Höglander and Podkolzin, as just two weeks ago, there was an expectation for one of, if not both players to play top-six minutes against top-four defencemen and other top-six lines.
Now, these two 20-year-olds along with Dickinson will be able to match up against other teams’ bottom-six lines and have a strong chance of winning their line match on a nightly basis.
Dickinson’s defensive performance over the past three seasons has been at an elite level while Höglander’s rookie year saw him dominate both offensively and defensively at five-on-five in a much more difficult role.
Now you throw in Podkolzin, who is ferocious on the forecheck, has great playmaking ability and is a shot-blocking machine. This line isn’t going to just be a good third line, this trio has the potential to be one of the best in the league according to the analytics crowd. They are going to be analytics darlings but will also please the eye test crowd as Dickinson’s work in the defensive zone, Höglander’s exciting play and Podkolzin’s unrivalled effort level will have the fanbase falling in love with a bottom-six line for the first time in 10 years.
Nice shorthanded shift for Podkolzin, he was on the ice for a whole one minute PK shift. Very aggressive on the forecheck and attack the point men. pic.twitter.com/V4M4wKDiNW
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) August 6, 2020
Just one week ago, I was writing about Podkolzin potentially being on the first line and Höglander being relied upon in a matchup role on Horvat’s wing once again. These are two 20-year-olds whose lives just got made a whole lot easier thanks to Benning’s work over the past handful of days.
The team sacrificed futures with the draft picks given up in the trade but will have two 20-year-olds on entry-level contracts playing in a more sheltered role and that is exactly what you need to be a playoff team.
Höglander and Podkolzin are now set to be two young stars in the league who play behind a strong top six led by the likes of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland and J.T. Miller.
There is a world where Höglander moves up and Pearson moves down and though it’s not quite as exciting, it gives the Canucks a different look with a player like Pearson who is a strong finisher. Podkolzin needs to play with some linemates who have good finishing ability. Pearson makes some sense in that role and it will depend on what Travis Green decides to go with in his top-six.
The best part about the additions of Dickinson and Garland is that Green now has options. This team just got a lot deeper and Tyler Motte can go back to being an excellent fourth-line player instead of having to play up in the lineup.
With the new options for Green, he has the capability to move around his middle-six wingers if a young player is having a good night when one of Garland or Pearson has a tough night on the ice. This opens up the door for top-six minutes to Höglander or Podkolzin while not having the pressure to be relied upon as top-six players on a nightly basis.
The Canucks’ roster was made a lot better over the past week and it sounds like they aren’t done loading up for a push into the 2021-22 playoffs.