With training camp just over a month away, the competition for spots in the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup will be fierce. This is especially true for the bottom six where there is a log jam of forwards. By the end of the preseason, I’m sure we will be seeing a veteran or two put on waivers. Not unlike last season when Sam Gagner was waived in favor of Tyler Motte.
The bottom of the lineup will definitely be in flux as the preseason unfolds. As for the top-six, it is mostly set as we wait for Brock Boeser to inevitably sign some sort of contract.
The defense underwent a major overhaul with the additions of Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg. Quinn Hughes will also be a full member of the defense core when the season begins. So it will be exciting to see how the new pairs work together.
Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff! Here is my take on what I think the Vancouver Canucks lineup will look like on opening night (Oct. 2) when they face off against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
First Line – Ferland, Pettersson, Boeser
The top-line gains some nastiness as Michael Ferland joins the Canucks and Elias “The Alien” Pettersson. For most of last season, we saw Pettersson and Boeser joined at the hip with a revolving door of left-wingers. Antoine Roussel, Josh Leivo and Sven Baertschi were just three of the forwards to see time with the dynamic duo.
I hope head coach Travis Green gives this line some time to gel and gain chemistry with one another because it has the potential to be something great. Ferland is a nasty piece of business down low and plays well with skilled players. He also is a threat to score which pulls the attention away from Pettersson and Boeser. As a result, Boeser will have more time to unleash his lethal shot and we all know what Pettersson can do when he is given extra time and space.
Some have suggested the recently acquired JT Miller as an option for this line as well. Ferland is the best fit, however, as he usually does not let cheap shots go unchecked.
Second Line – Miller, Horvat, Pearson
The duo from the end of last season stays together in the form of Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Miller joins them as the Canucks finally have two formidable offensive lines. Pearson showed some chemistry with Horvat after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. So it would make sense to keep them together to start the season.
Miller brings size, experience, and a consistent offensive presence to a line that did not have it for most of last season. Horvat probably felt like he was standing in the middle of a revolving door most of the time. He also did not have the most offensively inclined forwards with him either.
Miller represents a significant upgrade to Horvat’s left side. He is a three-time 20-goal scorer and has eclipsed the 40-point plateau four times in his career. He is coming off a season where he accumulated 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 75 games. On the Lightning, he was used on the second and third lines, so on a 1B line, he’s bound to get more opportunities to provide offense.
Miller can provide relief to Horvat’s wrists as well as he has experience at the center ice position. Over his career, he has a 49.8 percent success rate in the faceoff circle. This should reduce the number Horvat has to take over the course of the season. I’m sure this is welcome news to the player who had to take the most faceoffs (2018) in the National Hockey League last season.
Pearson is kind of a wildcard here as his spot in the top six is not guaranteed. Forwards like Baertschi and Jake Virtanen could easily take his spot if one of them outperform him in training camp. As it stands now, I am betting on Pearson to secure a position on this line.
Third Line – Virtanen, Sutter, Baertschi
This is where it gets dicey. The Canucks have so many bottom-six forwards that could take these spots. Ultimately, I still think Brandon Sutter has a place on this team, mostly because his contract is virtually unmovable. So the Canucks may as well use what skills he has. When healthy, Sutter is efficient both defensively and in the faceoff circle. He also brings a decent offensive game to the rink.
Adam Gaudette will give him a run for his money in training camp, but I think Sutter could be coming back this season with something to prove. If he doesn’t, I believe the Canucks will move him or bury him in the minors.
Virtanen and Baertschi join Sutter in what could be a very effective two-way third line. Both of them have speed and skill while Virtanen brings size to the table as well. They have also displayed chemistry in the past when they were Horvat’s semi-regular wingers. Sutter is a poor man’s Horvat, so it could work.
Fourth Line – Motte, Beagle, Leivo
I went through many combinations before settling on this trio. Tyler Motte and Jay Beagle were fixtures on the fourth line last season, so they stay intact. Josh Leivo, who was acquired last season from the Toronto Maple Leafs will join them. He could easily move up the lineup when needed, but he will spend his time here on opening night.
This could be the ultimate energy line as Motte and Beagle bring grit and physicality to every shift. With the addition of Leivo, they will be able to provide a little more offensive pressure when they are on the ice.
Defense Pairing One – Edler, Myers
Alex Edler will have a new defense partner this season in the form of the 6-foot-8 Myers. Edler has never had a partner with Myers’ size and offensive abilities, so it will be interesting to see the chemistry between them early on. Myers’ usual partner on the Winnipeg Jets was Dmitry Kulikov, who was a sub-par defenseman in the NHL. Edler, on the other hand, is a legitimate top-four defenseman on most teams. Myers should thrive with him at his side.
They could also provide some solid offensive numbers as both of them can skate and jump into the play. Edler may not be the same defenseman we once knew, but he did have 34 points in 56 games last season. That could be a sign of things to come.
This duo could potentially be the new shutdown pairing, tasked with logging the most minutes each night. Ideally, Green and defense coach Nolan Baumgartner will be confident in all three pairings that the minutes will be spread out evenly.
Defense Pairing Two – Hughes, Tanev
The second and third pairings could easily be flipped, as both of them are really solid. I went with Hughes and Tanev because I still think Tanev is a top-four defenseman, even with the injury history. Hughes joins him as the offensive catalyst. I have always believed that Tanev would be the perfect fit for Hughes and his rover-like style of defense. Hughes can just go about his business and not worry about what Tanev is doing. In typical Tanev style, he will lock down the defensive zone and make perfect passes out of the zone to him.
I am excited to see this pair in action. Hughes is a dynamo offensively, and Tanev is a rock defensively. It sounds like a match made in heaven.
Defense Pairing Three – Benn, Stecher
Finally, the Canucks have a third pairing that does not include Derick Pouliot or Erik Gudbranson. Nothing against the two former Canucks, but they were not the most reliable defensively, or even offensively for that matter. Enter Troy Stecher and Benn. They could easily be the second pair on this team, and no one would debate it. In fact, just saying that shows how much the Canucks’ defense has improved going into 2019-20.
Both Stecher and Benn have developed into solid two-way defensemen in the NHL. They are the perfect third pair who can also be deployed as a second shutdown duo when needed. Benn will be the physical presence on this unit and the defensive conscience when Stecher decides to jump into the play.
Benn may end up being the most valuable signing the Canucks made on defense this offseason. He not only brings physicality and shot-blocking acumen but a sneaky offensive game as well. Last season he put up a career-high 22 points (five goals, 17 assists). That would have placed him third on the Canucks’ defensive core in scoring, one point behind Stecher. As unlikely as it sounds, he represents an upgrade in offense from the backend as well.
Goaltending – Markstrom, Demko
Jacob Markstrom is entering his second full season as the Canucks’ starting goaltender. Coming off a season where he was their most valuable player, he will look to solidify his spot as the Canucks’ main man in the crease. If he can replicate last season, goaltending will not be an issue in 2019-20.
Joining him in the crease is 23-year-old Thatcher Demko, who begins his first full season as an NHL backup goaltender. Ranked number eight in THW’s top goaltending prospects, Demko needs to learn from Markstrom and continue to work with goaltending guru Ian Clark to perfect his craft. If all goes well, Demko should start upwards of 20-30 games this coming season.
With the emergence of Markstrom as a legitimate starting goaltender and the potential of Demko, the Canucks should not have to worry about their goaltending this season.
Extras – Fantenberg, Biega, Gaudette/Goldobin
Fantenberg and Alex Biega make the team as the seventh and eighth defenseman. With all the injuries that will inevitably happen to the Canucks defense, it is imperative to have depth. Fantenberg is a solid depth option and we all know what Biega can bring to the table.
Last season Biega put up career numbers with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists). He provides a physical presence as well as the versatility to play forward when needed. Like I said in a previous article, he is the perfect seventh/eighth defenseman.
Now we get to the interesting segment of the program, centerman Adam Gaudette and winger Nikolay Goldobin. Gaudette could easily start in the American Hockey League and play key minutes there. But I believe he will be the Motte of the 2019 preseason. Ultimately he will outwork the $6 million man, Loui Eriksson and force general manager Jim Benning’s hand. Eriksson begins the season in the AHL, just like Sam Gagner did last season.
As for Goldobin, it will be up to him to force someone out of the lineup. He is not suited for the bottom six, so he has to impress Green enough to force his way into the top-six. If he can, I see Gaudette starting in the AHL along with Eriksson.
We all know how Green likes to juggle his lines and shuttle in forwards and defenseman every game. So these lines undoubtedly will change throughout the season. The versatile Antoine Roussel will not start the season with the team as he recovers from the injury sustained at the end of last season. So, in December his addition will force lineup changes.
I believe the top-six forward group is set with Ferland, Pearson, and Miller. They join the incumbents Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat. It’s up to the fringe top-six players like Goldobin, Baertschi, Virtanen and even Leivo to force Green to move them up the lineup.
Regardless, this is the most depth the Canucks have had at all positions in a long time. This gives Green options for the first time as an NHL head coach. We will see what he does with the extra power. In the end, I believe the Canucks make the playoffs. Even with the inevitable injury bug, they finally have the depth to overcome it. That’s something we have not been able to say in a long time.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.