*This is an archived article that was published in 2022
It was a long time coming, but the Vancouver Canucks finally had a fourth line they could count on to throw out there to create energy and drive emotion for the team. I wrote in an earlier article about the need to be tough to play against. The trio of Tyler Motte, Juho Lammikko and Matthew Highmore did that and then some. They kept it simple by dumping the puck in and going to work on the forecheck. They played in the dirty areas and shot the puck. No deking, no fancy moves; just good, old-fashioned relentless hard work. If you have watched me on The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner, you know that’s my kind of hockey.
So, in the spirit of how much success Motte, Lammikko and Highmore had as a line, I thought it would be fun to revisit each of the trades that brought them to the Canucks. So without further ado, let’s begin with the man that has been with the team the longest, Tyler Motte.
Tyler Motte & Jussi Jokinen For Thomas Vanek
Motte was not a popular acquisition when he was brought over from the Columbus Blue Jackets by then-GM Jim Benning. With the Canucks out of the playoff race and preparing to sell assets at the 2018 Trade Deadline, fans and analysts were expecting the return for a 41-point man in Thomas Vanek to be more than just a bottom-six forward and 34-year-old Jussi Jokinen. They thought an offensive player like that would at least be worth a second-round pick or quality prospect. Yet, they got Motte, he of the 12 goals in 110 NHL games.
It didn’t take long for Motte to change the minds of the faithful though, as he established himself as a speedy, lunch-pail forward capable of expertly killing penalties and igniting the emotion of any line he was inserted on. He basically went from a run-of-the-mill role player to a core piece of the Canucks in just a few short seasons.
After breaking out in the 2020 Playoffs to the tune of four goals in 17 games and starting the next season with five goals in 16 games, it appeared Motte was destined for greatness as a two-way third-line winger who could put up 10-15 goals a season. Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its ugly head and ended his campaign after only 24 games.
Motte didn’t start the 2021-22 season on time as he was sidelined with a neck injury that still required rehab. Fortunately for him and the Canucks, it doesn’t seem like he is any worse for wear as he played some of his best hockey after the 2020 Playoffs. In 196 games with the Canucks, he totaled 50 points.
The 28-year-old who hails from St. Clair, Michigan became a fan favourite in Vancouver too, not only for his work on the ice but off of it as well. His story about battling with depression and anxiety as a hockey player with the Michigan Wolverines was inspiring and the work he’s done in promoting the importance of mental health since then has helped eliminate a lot of the stigma around it. Especially in Vancouver, where Kevin Bieksa helped launch MindCheck.ca (now Foundry.ca) after his best friend and former teammate Rick Rypien committed suicide because of depression, it’s fitting that Motte is now part of that fight too.
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As for the other half of the trade, Vanek ended up being a productive part of his new team, at least during the regular season, anyway. After scoring seven goals and 15 points in 19 games, he couldn’t keep it going in the playoffs as the Blue Jackets were dispatched quickly by the Washington Capitals in six games with him producing only a single goal.
Vanek joined the Detroit Red Wings for the second time in his career in 2018-19 where he proceeded to score 16 goals and 36 points in 64 games. He officially retired in 2020 and left the NHL with 373 goals and 789 points in 1,029 games.
Matthew Highmore For Adam Gaudette
Once thought to be a part of the Canucks’ future, former Northeastern star Adam Gaudette seemed to be destined for big things after a career-high 12 goals and 33 points in 2019-20. Then, a slow start in 2020-21 coupled with drama around how the COVID-19 virus got into the dressing room in Vancouver turned that future on its head. It wasn’t long after the season resumed that he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for 26-year-old Matthew Highmore.
Gaudette didn’t have much luck in Chicago either, as he struggled to gain a footing in their lineup. After only six points in 15 games spread over two seasons, he was claimed off waivers by the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 27, 2021. Now 26 years old, he is playing for the St. Louis Blues AHL affiliate in 2022-23.
When Highmore arrived in the Canucks’ lineup after the trade, he was given a lot of ice time by then-head coach Travis Green. Averaging over 15 minutes a game and spending time on the penalty kill, he was a pleasant surprise scoring three goals and five points in 18 games. At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, he was outplayed by Phil Di Giuseppe and William Lockwood at training camp but still managed to keep his spot on the roster going into opening night.
After the coaching change that saw Boudreau take over behind the bench, Highmore started playing the style of hockey that got him in Green’s good books. Using his speed and forechecking abilities, he found a home on a line with Motte and Lammikko and like his linemates, showed up on the scoresheet with more regularity.
Highmore was also relied upon to kill penalties for his new coach. After the coaching change, he averaged 1:13 of shorthanded ice time per game, which tied him with Lammikko for fifth behind Motte (1:53), J.T. Miller (1:44), Bo Horvat (1:31) and Jason Dickinson (1:21). After being overshadowed by Di Giuseppe and Lockwood in training camp, he burst onto the scene as an important piece of the Canucks and their burgeoning fourth line. Following the 2021-22 season, he signed with the St. Louis Blues and spent the majority of 2022-23 with their AHL affiliate.
Juho Lammikko & Noah Juulsen For Olli Juolevi
The Olli Juolevi saga ended on Oct. 10, 2021, when the Canucks gave up on their once-star prospect by trading him to the Florida Panthers for a package that included the 26-year-old Lammikko. After nearly six seasons of development in the prospect pool, the 23-year-old Finn just never caught on as an NHL defenceman in Vancouver. He is currently a free agent.
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Lammikko, on the other hand, found a different gear with the Canucks. After two seasons with the Panthers that saw him record four goals and 11 points in 84 games, he surpassed that with a career-high seven goals and 15 points in 75 games. Fuelled by the confidence of his new coach, he surprised everyone with his physicality, solid effort in the faceoff circle (51 percent) and emerging presence on the penalty kill. He also showed off some nice hands in front of the net and a sneaky ability to create offence.
Despite not being as proficient on faceoffs as Jay Beagle was for the Canucks, Lammikko became a better version of the former Stanley Cup winner at a much lower cap hit. When you add in the fact that he had five more goals and 11 more points than him, the comparison between the two is almost embarrassing.
As for Noah Juulsen, he has shown some potential as a good bottom-pairing defenceman who can jump into the top-four in a pinch. He has been forced to play elevated minutes at times this season with all the COVID protocol absences and has performed admirably considering the circumstances. He currently has two assists and 63 hits in 20 games with the Canucks and six goals and 36 points in 59 games with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Abbotsford Canucks. At only 26 years old, he could still become a serviceable long-term option for the team as management continues to figure out the direction they want to go in.
Motto Line Became Boudreau’s Go-To Trio
After being put together as a line, Motte, Lammikko and Highmore played a grand total of 182:57 together. When compared to the next trio of Miller, Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson, that is 38:11 more minutes of ice time. They became Boudreau’s go-to line and usually were the only trio that avoided the blender when he shuffled his lines from game to game.
Instead of Horvat’s line, which was always Green’s go-to, the Motto Line was Boudreau’s primary shutdown trio. While their Corsi-for percentage was less than ideal at 46.44 percent, the Canucks outscored the opposition 11-2 at 5-on-5 and had a .968 save percentage (SV%) when they were on the ice. The most impressive advanced stat, however, is the number of high-danger chances and goals they generated as a line. As a trio, they scored seven high-danger goals and generated 28 high-danger chances. For a fourth line, that’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider the fact that Miller, Boeser and Pearson only had one high-danger goal to their name.
The Canucks really have Benning to thank for the effective fourth line they had. He may not have always made the best decisions when it came to contracts, but his trades for Motte, Lammikko and Highmore certainly paid dividends.