Canucks 2021-22 Season Preview: Forward Line Projections

Finally, it’s September and we are less than two weeks away from the start of training camp for the Vancouver Canucks. Preseason games will be first on the docket as they will face the Seattle Kraken on Sept 26 in the first of seven games before their season opener on Oct. 13 against the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: Canucks Fans Have Plenty of Reasons to Be Excited for This Season

The Canucks will have a few new faces in the forward group in Conor Garland, Jason Dickinson, and Vasily Podkolzin that will add some much-needed depth to their offensive attack. They also have removed the high-priced contracts of Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, and Jay Beagle which will open up spots in the bottom six. So, as we get closer and closer to puck drop on the 2021-22 season, let’s play everyone’s favourite game of predicting the line combinations for opening night.

First Line: J.T. Miller – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser

Starting with the Lotto Line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser, the Canucks will once again have a formidable top line that should score a ton of goals and push the pace every time they are on the ice. Since they were put together by head coach Travis Green, they have regularly recorded a positive Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and generated a lot more high danger chances (HDCF) than high danger chances against (HDCA).

SeasonCF%HDCFHDCA
2019-2058.387462
2020-2151.784634

The 2019-20 season was by far their best, but they also played 426:22 together. Considering Pettersson was injured for most of the 2020-21 season and they only played 201:07 as a trio, a 51.78 CF% is actually pretty good. I’m sure Green will try different combinations in training camp with new wingers Garland and Podkolzin in the mix, but previous success and familiarity will probably win the day in the end.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Boeser lighting it up last season with and without Pettersson and Miller, it probably doesn’t matter where he plays. He looked like his old self with the lethal shot and confidence from his rookie season as he scored 23 goals and 49 points in 56 games. To put that in perspective, he scored 13 of those without Miller and Pettersson. So, he could definitely play on a different line and still be productive. Also, if you’ve seen the footage from the Da Beauty League tournament in the summer, it doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat during the offseason either.

Second Line: Nils Hoglander – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland

This trio has the potential to be one of the most exciting lines in the NHL. They could also finish the season with the highest CF% in the league too. All three are relentless forecheckers and hate when they don’t have the puck on their stick. Throw in Bo Horvat’s faceoff prowess and you have a recipe for the ultimate puck possession line.

Horvat will also finally have a consistent goal-scoring winger for the first time since Boeser and Tyler Toffoli spent time with him during the 2019-20 season. Garland might actually be a better fit too. His style of play is hard work, tenacity, and strength along the boards. Despite being 5-foot-10, he’s surprisingly proficient at keeping the puck alive in the trenches. He’s also creative, fast, and has a quick release on his shot.

Related: 5 Cool Things About Conor Garland

Then there’s the Swedish buzzsaw, Nils Hoglander. Consistently one of the hardest working players night in and night out, he started on Horvat’s line during training camp last season and never looked back. By the end of the campaign, he was the Canucks’ most effective top-six forward in every zone and finished as an analytics darling when it came to his 5-on-5 statistics.

Those are just insane numbers when you consider the fact that he played with Horvat, who was matched up against the opposition’s best players every single game. Now, if all goes to plan and the Canucks captain is not the match-up center anymore, could we see the most goals from a second line since the days of Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson?

Third Line: Tanner Pearson – Jason Dickinson – Vasily Podkolzin

With Garland’s addition to the top six, Tanner Pearson will drop to the third unit with Dickinson and Podkolzin. We all know what Pearson brings to the table, a strong two-way game, veteran leadership, and…empty-net goals. Joking aside, there’s a reason Pearson has so many empty-netters on his resume. He’s earned the trust of the coaching staff to be out there regularly in the final minutes of the game, and that’s a valuable player to have on your team.

Dickinson, who came over from the Dallas Stars for a third-round pick, will be the Canucks’ new third-line center this season. Probably the most suited to the job since Manny Malhotra was a regular on the team (minus the faceoff ability), he brings a polished defensive game and a style that makes him very hard to play against each and every night. Like Hoglander and Garland, he is also strong when it comes to the underlying stats as he finished last season with a 55.3 CF%.

Related: Canucks Find Their Third Line Center in Jason Dickinson

Finally, we have the most anticipated prospect in the organization right now, Russian monster Vasily Podkolzin. Now the fourth-straight exciting rookie to debut in a Canucks’ uniform, he will most likely start with Pearson and Dickinson on the third line. His tremendous poise, work ethic, and two-way game will fit in almost immediately on a team desperate for bottom-six offence. He has the potential to be a Selke Award winner with his all-around game, and his leadership might actually have him in the running for an “A” or even a “C” on his jersey someday too.

All in all, this line should be an exciting match-up line that could be a huge difference not only during the regular season but in the playoffs as well. Podkolzin is a player built for the postseason, as we saw recently in the KHL Playoffs. The fact that he led SKA St. Petersburg with six goals and 11 points in 16 games at 19 years old just speaks for itself.

Fourth Line: Tyler Motte – Brandon Sutter – Zack MacEwen

First of all, Brandon Sutter at $1.125 million is absolute perfection. A lot better than $4.375 million, that’s for sure. With Beagle, Roussel, and Eriksson in the desert now, the Canucks need penalty killers and he is probably one of the best they employ. He’s also defensively sound, great at faceoffs and he has the skill to pot a few goals too. Sounds like the perfect fourth-line center to me.

Joining him will be none other than Tyler Motte, arguably one of the best bottom-six forwards in the NHL. Hard work, speed, and occasional flashes of offence are what he brings to the rink each and every night without fail. Along with Sutter, he’s also one of the Canucks’ most effective penalty-killing forwards.

Brandon Sutter Vancouver Canucks
Brandon Sutter, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rounding out the unit will be Zack MacEwen, well, at least for opening night. I expect Green will rotate through several forwards throughout the season depending on which team he’s facing. Against physical teams, it will probably be MacEwen or Jonah Gadjovich. Against finesse teams, likely Matthew Highmore, Phil Di Giuseppe, or even William Lockwood. As you probably have already figured out, this position will be the most competitive during training camp. I see MacEwen coming out on top because of his experience and track record with the coaching staff.

Canucks’ Lines Will Be Fluid Throughout the 2021-22 Season

In the four seasons Green has been head coach of the Canucks, he’s never had a forward group as deep as this one. For the first time ever, he will be able to roll four lines every game without the fear of losing a matchup. He’s got five reliable centers in Miller, Pettersson, Horvat, Dickinson, and Sutter, multiple offensive threats throughout his lineup, and the ability to mix up his lines to create different looks for different opponents. If you don’t believe me, here are just a few other options for the top nine:

Elias PetterssonJ.T. MillerConor Garland
Nils HoglanderBo HorvatVasily Podkolzin
Tanner PearsonJason DickinsonBrock Boeser
Elias PetterssonBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Nils HoglanderJ.T. MillerVasily Podkolzin
Tannner PearsonJason DickinsonConor Garland

The possibilities are endless especially if Green uses Miller as a centerman away from Pettersson. We will likely even see a pure match-up unit of Pearson, Horvat, and Dickinson when the Canucks are nursing a lead in the final minutes. I just hope that Green doesn’t use that unit consistently because that would mean Horvat is stuck in a match-up role yet again. Regardless of what the lines end up being on opening night, it should be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the season. In Green’s world, they are never set in stone. With more options this season, his lines may change every game. We probably won’t know until morning skate what the combinations will be.

One thing is certain though, it will be great to have hockey back with real fans in the stands and the normalcy of an 82-game season. It feels like a century ago since Miller sealed the deal in the shootout against the New York Islanders on Mar. 10, 2020. It should be fun to see and feel the energy of the crowd again at Rogers Arena on Sept 27 when they face the Calgary Flames in the preseason and then in the regular-season home opener on Oct. 26 against the Minnesota Wild.

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