The first two games of the 2022-23 Vancouver Canucks season have been problematic. The team has blown multi-goal leads in both contests while also giving up a shorthanded goal in each, and their power play has been abysmal, going one for 13. There has been one positive, though, and that is the play of the Andrei Kuzmenko – Elias Pettersson – Nils Höglander line. The trio has been Vancouver’s best by far and should be considered the Canucks’ top line, at least for now.
The trio has only played 15 minutes at even strength so far and is already proving to be miles ahead of everyone else. They have a 73% Corsi percentage and have yet to be on the ice for a goal against. For comparison, the next highest consistently used line is the Connor Garland – Bo Horvat – Vasily Podkolzin line who, in just over 16 minutes of ice time, have a Corsi percentage of 48.5%. They are also the only line that has an expected goals for above 1.0 at 1.4 and has created six high-danger scoring chances. From an offensive perspective, they are dominating, which is music to Canucks fans’ ears.
When they are not on the ice, the Canucks are a completely different team at even strength. In just over 61 minutes, they have a team Corsi of 43.93% and have six high-danger scoring chances combined. The only real positive is that they have a 3-2 lead in goals scored compared to conceded. If the Canucks want to be successful, they need more than one line to be on their game night after night. If this trend continues, they could find themselves in a similar hole as they did last season.
Bounce Back Höglander
After a difficult 2021-22 season, Höglander has bounced back in a big way. Not only is he tied for the team lead in even-strength shots on goal with five, but he is also rocking a 72.34% Corsi rating. Most importantly, he seems to have regained his confidence quieting those around the fan base, including myself, when it comes to claims of whether or not he is ready for a full-time NHL job.
Höglander has also been impressive in the limited time he has been separated from Pettersson and Kuzmenko. In total, he has played 3:01 away from his linemates and has a Corsi percentage of 83.33%. With other linemates, he has also been on the ice for two high-danger scoring chances for and zero against. Although he doesn’t have any even strength points yet this season, if he continues to play at this level, he could easily surpass the 26 he produced as a rookie during the 2020-21 season.
Kuzmenko Living up to the Hype
On right-wing, Kuzmenko has been everything the Canucks hoped for when they signed him this offseason. The former SKA St. Petersburg star already has an NHL goal to his name and is tied with Höglander for the team lead when it comes to even-strength shots on goal. It is clear he knows how to create offence as he also leads the team in individual high-danger chances created with five, while no one else on the team has more than two. Based on his play, it is also safe to say he has been the team’s best winger so far this season.
Coming into this year’s campaign, there were questions about the impact Kuzmenko would be able to make on the team. From his defensive play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) to whether or not he would be able to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface, those were concerns that the Russian needed to answer. Luckily so far, he has been able to show that he is ready for those challenges in the NHL.
Pettersson Becoming a Leader
Pettersson looks dialled in, especially at even strength to start the season. He scored the Canucks’ first goal of the season and is one off the team lead with four even-strength shots on goal. From throwing hits to creating scoring chances, he looks to have once again taken a step forward in his development early on.
Through two games, Pettersson has also shown he can not only compete with the opposition’s best players but dominate against them. In 5:16 of even-strength ice time against Connor McDavid, he posted a 70% Corsi and his line outshot the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner five to one. He also saw 3:58 of ice time against Leon Draisaitl and was able to keep him in check with a 55.56% Corsi and outshot the German 3-2, which included his season-opening goal. He is proving game after game that he is one of the best centers in the league and as a result, will be leaned on heavily as the season progresses.
Strong Start for the Trio
With the majority of the Canucks forwards still looking in preseason form, it is imperative that the trio of Kuzmenko, Pettersson and Höglander continue their strong play. This line has looked dangerous every time they hit the ice and have also proven to be one of the stronger units in their own end. During a time when not a lot is going right, it is great to see these three step up and lead the team.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.