The Vancouver Canucks will head into next season with different-looking forward lines than the ones they iced in Game 7 of their second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Tyler Toffoli signed with the Montreal Canadiens at the start of free agency, meaning head coach Travis Green will have to make some adjustments within the organization’s top six.
The Canucks might be without Micheal Ferland next season, as the forward may end up on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Loui Eriksson is no longer a viable option on the main roster, as he saw himself watching from the press box during the second half of the Canucks’ playoff run. Green might have to look towards prospects to fill in his forward lines throughout the season since his team will lack scoring depth.
First Line: J.T. Miller – Elias Pettersson – Jake Virtanen
Although the Lotto Line featuring J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser was the best line for the Canucks last season, the club is better off with Jake Virtanen on the first line. With the loss of Toffoli, the second line could use a scoring winger in Boeser. Pettersson and Miller have chemistry together as the two tied the team lead in goals last season with 27. The Swedish centre was second in points with 66 to his American winger, who led the team with 72 points.
As for Virtanen, he had a career season, posting 18 goals and 36 points. The right winger’s problem was his consistency last season, as he moved up and down throughout the lineup. Virtanen played his best hockey alongside Pettersson, as his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) dropped when he played in the Canucks’ bottom-nine. Pettersson xGF% improves from 50.93 xGF% without the winger to 52.64 xGF% with him.
The weakest part of Virtanen’s game is his decision making, but with a veteran player in Miller on his line, he could improve that. The two have a great relationship, as Miller plays a mentor role for the young power forward. The trio could form an effective first line to start the season.
Second Line: Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Brock Boeser
Since the addition of Tanner Pearson, the Canucks have found a consistent linemate for Bo Horvat. The two provided secondary scoring for the Canucks last season, as Horvat’s 22 goals ranked third on the team, while Pearson’s 21 goals were good for fourth.
Adding Virtanen to the second line does not improve it, as Horvat’s xGF% drops from 49.75 percent without him to 44.26 percent with him on his line. Therefore, Boeser is a better fit with Horvat and Pearson on the second line. He had a tough time scoring last season, which was evident with his shooting percentage of 9.5 percent, but he managed to get the puck on net 169 times last season. Although he only found the back of the net 16 times, his playmaking improved, as he had 29 assists. Boeser has developed into an all-around offensive threat, and if he capitalizes on his scoring opportunities next season, he can improve the second line.
Not only does Boeser provide the second line with offensive help, but he has improved in the defensive end as well, which is important as the captain’s line goes up against the opposition’s top players from time to time. Splitting up the Lotto Line spreads out the offence through the top-six for Green’s club.
Third Line: Antoine Roussel – Adam Gaudette – Brandon Sutter
To start the season, Green will likely keep his bottom-six the same, but it could change as the season goes on. There is no guarantee that Virtanen will keep his spot in the top-six, which means a player like Adam Gaudette could get a good look on the right-wing. He recently re-signed for one season with the Canucks and stated he wants to develop into a similar player like Patrice Bergeron.
To start the season, Gaudette would play with Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel, the same wingers he ended the season with. The two wingers play a defence-first style of game, making the third line a checking line. Since the Canucks did not buy out Sutter, he will likely still be in the lineup come opening night. General manager Jim Benning stated losing the forward would hurt the team more than help.
Sutter may not last on the third line for long, which means a young forward such as Kole Lind or recent signing Jayce Hawryluk could replace him. If the Canucks struggle to score, they can look to add either Lind or Hawryluk to provide the club with depth scoring.
Fourth Line: Tyler Motte – Jay Beagle – Zack MacEwen
The fourth line will be a little different from last season, with Zack MacEwen getting an opportunity to start next season. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, MacEwen is a physical two-way player and will be a great depth player for the Canucks next season. He will line up on Jay Beagle’s right side as Tyler Motte will be on the left-wing.
The fourth line will also be a checking line as Beagle, similar to Sutter, is a two-way forward. As for Motte, although he is great on the forecheck, he showed his scoring chops in the playoffs, as he scored four important goals for his club. Similar to the third line, the fourth line may see some changes as well, with Motte and MacEwen having the skill set to be useful throughout the lineup.
Canucks Have Other Forward Options
Outside of the 12 players mentioned, the Canucks have other options to improve their forward lineups. Lind and Hawryluk will get an opportunity to play for the club sometime next season.
The Canucks could even see one of their top prospects, Nils Hoglander, make an appearance as he has had a good start overseas. Hoglander has 5 points through 10 games with the Rogle BK of the SHL and could potentially slot into the team’s top six next season. Green will have to look towards the youth to help his team stay competitive since the organization has young players available to fill the holes throughout the lineup.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.