Canucks 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Wingers

With the Young Stars Classic in the books, all that’s left is training camp and the preseason and the Vancouver Canucks will be embarking on yet another winding road that may or may not lead to the playoffs when the regular season begins on Oct. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers. But before that happens, battles will abound in training camp which begins on Sept. 22 in Whistler.

Training Camp Battles: Wingers Vancouver Canucks Dakota Joshua, Nils Hoglander and Will Lockwood

After going through the various battles within the defence corps, let’s dive into the wingers where there will be plenty of intrigue to be had, especially when it comes to who will line up alongside the big three of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. With the new faces of Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko and Dakota Joshua and the incumbents of Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander and Tanner Pearson, it could be one of the most interesting preseasons to watch in terms of line combinations.

Players Who Are Expected to Play Top-Nine Minutes

The top-nine is likely set with Boeser, Podkolzin, Garland, Mikheyev, Kuzmenko and Pearson taking spots beside Miller, Pettersson and Horvat. In my mind, I see the following as the most likely scenario (at least to start the season):

Vasily PodkolzinJ.T. MillerBrock Boeser
Conor GarlandElias PetterssonAndrei Kuzmenko
Ilya MikheyevBo HorvatTanner Pearson

With so many options, Boudreau could throw his wingers in a blender and have a new lineup every game. But in order to build chemistry, he should probably stay consistent with his combos early in the season. However, expect to see a lot of line juggling as the preseason goes along as he tries to find the right mix with his new wingers Kuzmenko and Mikheyev.

Could Hoglander or Dickinson Bump Pearson to the Fourth Line?

In addition to which wingers will line up with which centerman, there could be a battle between Pearson and the duo of Hoglander and Dickinson. Either one could bump the veteran down to the fourth line with a strong camp, but considering Boudreau will likely want a defensively conscious forward alongside Horvat, Hoglander will have to outperform someone that is projected to play with Pettersson or Miller.

Nils Hoglander Vancouver Canucks
Nils Hoglander, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That leaves Dickinson, who definitely has the pedigree to play a matchup role with Horvat, but lacks the offensive potential Pearson brings to the table. However, if he’s reinvented himself over the summer and returns as the player everyone saw with the Dallas Stars, his chances of cracking the top nine will increase substantially. Although, if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t expect that to happen as Pearson has shown tremendous chemistry with Horvat over the years and has not dipped below 10 goals in the 207 games he’s played since coming over from the Pittsburgh Penguins. That consistency alone will give him a huge leg up on any of his competition in training camp.

Who Plays on the Fourth Line With Lazar?

The Canucks will have a brand-new fourth line this season as all of Tyler Motte (Ottawa Senators), Juho Lammikko (ZSC Lions), and Matthew Highmore (St. Louis Blues) left via free agency in the summer. They will be replaced by a combination of Joshua, Dickinson, Hoglander, Will Lockwood, and Curtis Lazar. Heck, even Arshdeep Bains or Sheldon Dries could force their way onto that line to start the season with eye-popping showings at camp and in the preseason.

Related: Canucks Have the Makings of a Playoff-Ready Fourth Line

Having said that, only one spot is likely open as Lazar and Joshua were specifically brought in by general manager Patrik Allvin to make his team harder to play against. Unless two of Lockwood, Bains, Dries, Dickinson and Hoglander outperform them, someone will be on the outside looking in when opening night rosters are finalized in October. With that said, here is a closer look at the combatants.

Dakota Joshua

The bruising winger formally of the St. Louis Blues and Springfield Thunderbirds is exactly what the Canucks need on their fourth line. Someone that hits, plays mean and is generally a pain in the butt to play against. Joshua doesn’t have a lot of offensive upside, but that’s not what the fourth line is usually there to do. They exist to wear down the opposition so that the goalscorers have an easier time doing what they do best. Goals from that unit are just a bonus.

Dakota Joshua St. Louis Blues
Dakota Joshua, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

Though, while Joshua only has four goals on his NHL resume, he did show well in the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs scoring seven goals and 15 points in 18 games. So, maybe, just maybe he could be a player like Motte and pot a few goals once in a while. Good thing is, he doesn’t have to score to be effective as hitting is usually his bread and butter (100 hits in 42 games in the NHL).

Will Lockwood

Speaking of being hard to play against, Lockwood can claim that as part of his identity too as the undersized winger often plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 stature. He is also a fantastic skater and forechecker and knows how to get under the skin of his opponents. Everyone remembers the hit he laid on 6-foot-2, 226-pound Luke Schenn in last year’s training camp and the many board-rattling checks he surprisingly threw in 2021-22 when he played 13 games at the end of the season. Again, like Joshua, he can’t claim to have much offence at the NHL level – in fact, nothing to speak of yet – he does have 55 hits in only 15 career games which speaks to the level of physicality he would bring to the fourth line.

Arshdeep Bains

If any prospect has a chance at making the Canucks roster on the fourth line, it’s Bains. If he can transfer his performance at the Young Stars Classic to training camp and the preseason, he will make the coaching staff think twice before sending him down. No, we don’t know how the new regime will handle veterans under contract and rookies vying for jobs, but that shouldn’t stop Bains from trying to usurp one of Dickinson or Hoglander for a spot on the roster.

Out of all the players that impressed in Penticton (Danila Klimovich and Linus Karlsson in particular), Bains’ game is the most translatable to a fourth-line role. As such, he will have the biggest chance of sticking around.

Sheldon Dries

Finally, we have Dries. Another undersized winger who impressed last season during his brief call-up from Abbotsford, he scored two goals and three points in 11 games along with nine hits. He also had a career season in the AHL with 35 goals and 62 points in 54 games. Not one to shy away from physicality, he could be a fit on the fourth line as he too is an effective forechecker and can score when the opportunity presents itself.

Canucks Will Be Making Moves Before Oct. 12

With the glutton of forwards at the bottom of the lineup, the Canucks will have to make some moves before the season begins. That could mean Hoglander (who does not have to clear waivers) is sent down to Abbotsford to further hone his defensive game – unless he impresses Boudreau enough at training camp – or a trade happens involving Dickinson. The latter is unlikely given his contract, but stranger things have happened.

Related: Canucks News & Rumors: Bear, Horvat, Klimovich & More

Regardless, training camp and the preseason are nearly here, and we will finally have hockey back on our televisions and in arenas across Canada and the United States. All I have to say is, it’s about time.

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