In a few short weeks, we should finally see some Vancouver Canucks hockey on our television sets. Some of the high profile players are already skating at Rogers Arena including Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, JT Miller, Tyler Toffoli, and Quinn Hughes, so there is definitely some activity right now in Vancouver. For the Canucks to have any success in the play-in/playoffs, those players will have to be difference makers. Though, as we all know from history books, the marquee players aren’t the only ones involved in the creation of a championship team. It’s often the third and fourth line players that make the biggest difference in winning it all.
When the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, it was the depth players like Raffi Torres, Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins, and Manny Malhotra who made major contributions to their success. Heck, the Anaheim Ducks won it all in 2007 primarily because of their checking line of Rob Niedermayer, Sami Pahlsson and Travis Moen.
Yes, the key players of Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald made their presence known as well, but it was the efforts of those three players that made the biggest difference in taking down the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and finally the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. Basically, the depth players who don’t score a lot during the regular season matter a whole lot more in the playoffs.
So, who do the Canucks have this season that could make a similar impact? Here are three players who have the skills to become the unsung heroes of the postseason.
Ever since Tyler Motte nailed down a spot on the Canucks’ fourth line in 2018-19, he has become one of the team’s biggest unsung heroes. He plays a hard, fast game and does yeomen’s work on the penalty kill night in and night out. He can also score when he puts his mind to it as he’s got a pretty good wrist shot too. What sets him apart though is his work ethic and pursuit of the puck on the forecheck. When he was out of the lineup, the fourth unit lacked cohesion, identity, and most of all, emotion. Essentially, the Canucks were not the same team without him.
Players like Motte become even more important in the playoffs as they bring the emotion, grit, and Moxy that are staples in all postseason battles. Every little thing in a hockey game is magnified, and the significance of a blocked shot, well-timed hit, and second of penalty killing time is increased ten-fold. This past season Motte did all these things as he was second in hits behind JT Miller with 118, had 37 blocked shots, and killed off 68 minutes of penalties. He also did all this while playing only 34 of the possible 69 games.
It’s not a matter of if Motte will bring that game to the playoffs, it’s a matter of when. The last time he was part of the postseason festivities was back in 2017-18 when he was a member of the Utica Comets. He scored two goals in five games. In total, he has four goals in eight games of professional playoff experience. So, he does have some history of scoring goals in these situations.
I have a feeling head coach Travis Green will be giving Motte every opportunity to make an impact, as he’s become one of his favourite players to turn to. He’s even seen time on Bo Horvat’s line because of his ability to provide a spark. Here’s hoping he can do something similar in the coming months.
To say that Micheal Ferland had a rough season in his first go-around with the Canucks would be a massive understatement. He was projected by many, including myself, to have an impact on the first line with Pettersson and Boeser, however, the injury bug had other ideas.
Ferland never really got a chance to form any chemistry on any line as injuries reared their ugly head very early on, as his first concussion came just a month into the season. He did return to the lineup on Dec 7 but only lasted one more game before suffering another concussion against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec 10. The team then shut him down for the season to find out what was actually wrong.
Fast forward to now, and Ferland appears to be ready to make another long-awaited return to the Canucks’ lineup. He was cleared to skate and has been symptom-free for quite some time now. In fact, he is actually on his way to Vancouver right now to participate in the training camp that will hopefully get underway on July 13. If he is indeed healthy and void of risks to his health and overall lifestyle, the team should benefit from his presence. If he plays the same game we saw from him when he was with the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes, he could be that player that makes all the difference in a five or seven-game series.
When Ferland is on his game, he is a beast to play against as he hits everything that moves, which in turn, makes him a constant distraction for the other team. He can also score goals and provide that forechecking pressure you need to win games. It’s not a guarantee that he will bring that same presence after his concussion issues, but if he can provide just a small bit of it, that could turn out to be all you need to win that key game in a series.
Let’s put aside Jake Virtanen’s drama off the ice for a minute, and focus on the hockey player the Canucks will hopefully be getting in the playoffs. With all the tools he has in his toolbox, he is built for life in the postseason. He’s fast, physical and can score goals, so there’s no reason why he can’t be a difference-maker at this time of the year. He’s shown fans in the past that he can be the type of player that thrives, as his star shone brightly for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL. By the end of his junior career, he had scored 8 goals and 23 points in 40 games, finishing with a 13-point effort in the 2015 playoffs.
In 2019-20, Virtanen broke out to the tune of 18 goals and 36 points and was a constant threat on the ice. His consistency issues seem to have been ironed out, and he appears to have finally earned the trust of Green. If he comes to training camp in good physical condition, he is poised to become one of the biggest weapons the Canucks have in their arsenal. The potential is immense, but the question still remains, will he be able to shake the rust off and continue his breakout season? If all goes well, #ShotgunJake should be trending on Twitter in no time.
Canucks Have Plenty of Potential Difference Makers
In addition to Motte, Ferland, and Virtanen, the Canucks also boast potential difference makers in Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette, and Jay Beagle. Of the three of them, Beagle is the most experienced having played 85 games of postseason hockey, all of it with the Washington Capitals, including a Stanley Cup championship back in 2018.
Beagle played a key part throughout those playoffs, killing penalties, winning faceoffs and blocking shots. One of those blocked shots was the reason the Capitals even had a chance at the Cup at all, as he made a miraculous save in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 with his team facing elimination.
By the end of it all, Beagle had scored two goals and eight points, blocked 21 shots, and won 60 percent of his faceoffs. He was a key penalty killer and provided grit and forechecking pressure from his spot on the fourth line between Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson. This time he will probably have Motte and either Ferland, Roussel, or Brandon Sutter flanking him. Nevertheless, expect Beagle to be a key player in whatever series the Canucks find themselves in.
As for Roussel and Gaudette, they too will be key players for the Canucks. Like Ferland and Motte, Roussel’s game is suited for the postseason, as he is one of the NHL’s most agitating forwards to play against. He also has the skills to score goals and make plays in the offensive zone. His last experience came back in 2016 with the Dallas Stars when he scored 2 goals in 13 games. Overall he has played 19 games and accumulated two goals and five points.
Gaudette is, of course, an unknown as this will be his first foray into the postseason. Though after having a career season with 12 goals and 33 points, he should be considered a threat to make an impact. He will be playing on the third line, which historically has been one of the biggest lines in the playoffs. There hasn’t been one Stanley Cup winner in the past couple seasons that hasn’t had at least one player from that line make a significant contribution to their run to a championship. Be it Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak for the St Louis Blues in 2019 or Lars Eller and Brett Connolly for the Capitals in 2018, third line players make a huge difference. Gaudette has the potential to do the same thing.
Basically, the Canucks have all the ingredients in their bottom-six to push themselves over the finish line in the upcoming play-in/playoffs. This is the time of the year when heroes are made. Who will step up and make a name for themselves as a key playoff performer?
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.