With the addition of Conor Garland, the Vancouver Canucks’ top-six is now deep enough to give Bo Horvat a couple of capable winger to play with.
Garland is going to come in and bring energy at both ends of the rink and will provide added offence to a Canucks forward group that has needed it oh so badly over the past few years.
It seems like a lock that the Lotto Line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser will be assembled once again to make up the Canucks’ top line. There are some who believe that Garland may slide into the line in some capacity but with Boeser and Pettersson’s chemistry along with Miller taking the faceoffs and being the strong forechecker/puck-retriever–it makes a lot of sense to get 6-40-9 back together for another run.
That leaves a spot open with Horvat and Garland. For the first time in years, the Canucks have some top-six options for how to shape out their lineup. It’s no longer Loui Eriksson and Jake Virtanen battling for a spot. This year’s training camp is going to have an exciting battle for the final top-six spot and there are three frontrunners to earn the job.
Let’s check out the three options and view what makes the fit make sense.
As the veteran presence who was re-signed on a three-year extension that kicks in this season, Tanner Pearson will be a serious option for Travis Green to use alongside Horvat and Garland. He may not be the flashy option like the other two young stars are, but Pearson has built chemistry with Horvat ever since joining the Canucks during the 2018-19 season.
Pearson has spent more than 75% of his Canucks ice time playing alongside Horvat and through a dark period that was filled with losses, the Pearson-Horvat duo has been one of the shining lights through their 139 games together. The duo possesses a 49.51% expected goal share through their 139 games together and that is a solid 3% higher than the team throughout that timeline.
Pearson is responsible in his own zone and is strong on the boards during battles. His veteran presence means a lot to Green and if the second line is looking to be more of a matchup line, it will be Pearson’s job to lose. He lacks the offensive threat that Nils Höglander possesses but is a steady veteran player who Horvat knows will be in the right spot.
If the third line will take on more matchups, Pearson should find himself on that trio. With the addition of Garland, the Horvat line will look to outscore opponents instead of just focusing on limiting scoring against. Both Höglander and Vasili Podkolzin have much more offensive potential and if that’s the route that Green wants to go with his second line, Pearson will look like an above average third line winger in his new role.
Ever since winning the job out of training camp last season, Höglander has looked excellent alongside Horvat in a top-six role. The two found chemistry early as Höglander was able to find Horvat around the net for some easy tap-in goals. Horvat scored 10 five-on-five goals last season and Höglander assisted on half of those goals. In similar fashion, Höglander scored 12 five-on-five goals and Horvat assisted on half of said goals.
The Höglander-Horvat pairing may not have the long-standing chemistry that we see with Pearson and Horvat but Höglander is able to get the best out of the Canucks’ captain. Höglander is the best offensive option if the addition of Garland changes the way that Green wants to use his second line.
After a tumultuous season, the Höglander-Horvat experience comes to be one of, if not, the best pairing that Canucks fans saw through 56 games.
Höglander even went on to hold his own when away from Horvat as Horvat’s possession and goal share numbers took a massive dip when he didn’t have Höglander on his wing.
From what Höglander did last season, he seems like an easy decision to be alongside Garland and Horvat in the fall. The only question that arises is if you can get the best out of Horvat with two undersized wingers on his side. This feels like a dated thought as yes, Höglander and Garland are under 5’10” but their height doesn’t limit their play at all. We all saw the effort level that Höglander had last season and from all that we’ve seen and heard about Garland, his effort level is a big reason for his success.
Having Garland and Höglander as his wingers, this would be the best opportunity for Horvat to put up career numbers. Horvat scored 27 goals and had 61 points in 2018-19, you’d have to think that playing alongside Garland and Höglander would give him a serious shot of surpassing all of his career-highs for scoring.
The wildcard Russian General. We are all so excited to see what Podkolzin can do this season. What he has done in the KHL screams that he will be an impact player from day one for the Canucks. The only question is, will he be a top-six contributor from day one?
With his size and playstyle, Podkolzin projects as the perfect winger for Horvat and the way he plays the game. With the smaller, skilled winger Garland on the other size, Podkolzin will need to use his physicality on the forecheck and on the boards as he attempts to recover pucks for Horvat and Garland to work with. From all we have seen in the KHL, Podkolzin is a strong defender who does an amazing job blocking shots and forechecking. Those two traits will help open up space for Garland and Horvat to work their offence off the rush. The part of Podkolzin’s game that isn’t talked about enough is his playmaking and having Garland and Horvat on his line will help him load up on assists while giving his line mates more scoring chances to bump their goal count up.
Podkolzin will end up getting some time with Horvat through camp if Green’s past can predict the future. It’s not guaranteed that he will have a long run through camp and preseason but with a three-day training camp and seven preseason games, we should see Podkolzin on Horvat’s wing at some point.
All of our expectations come from Podkolzin’s play at the World Juniors and the KHL, it’s hard to project exactly what we will see but I am confident saying that the KHL is the world’s second-best hockey league. Podkolzin made an impact on every single shift and that is the type of player you want to see at the next level.
There are a ton of question marks about Podkolzin but we won’t have to wait much longer to see what he can do with the Canucks.
The biggest difference from this season compared to past years is that there are finally some options for the Canucks top-six. Some options that fans should be excited about. Even though many are not rooting for Pearson to win the second-line job, if he does start there, you are looking at a third line with two 20-year-olds in Höglander and Podkolzin. That young winger duo will excite folks on every shift.
No matter the final construction of the Canucks’ top-six, next season is set to bring a true top-nine that can control the goal share and be exciting as they roll through their lines. We’re all set for training camp and one of the big battles will be who plays with Horvat and Garland?