Since joining the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014-15 season, captain Bo Horvat has seen multiple wingers on his line. He didn’t have a consistent linemate until the team added Tanner Pearson in the 2018-19 season. Pearson has lined up on the left side of the Canucks captain since, while Nils Hoglander also found himself joining the pair in his rookie season.
The club has added a few new players to the roster this past offseason. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Canucks have a lot more options in potential linemates for Horvat.
Pearson has been a reliable linemate for Horvat over the past two and a half seasons. In the 137 games he’s played with the Canucks since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has scored 40 goals and posted 75 points. His 40 goals are the third-best since he’s joined the team, and his 75 points are the sixth-best.
Horvat has also benefitted from playing with Pearson as the last three seasons have been his best in a Canucks jersey. Since 2018-19, Horvat has posted a point per game above .70 every season. The addition of Pearson may not have been the main reason for the captain’s increase in production, but it certainly helped.
The biggest issue for Pearson is his production will likely start to drop the older he gets. He will be 29 to start next season, and with younger talent joining the club, he may be moved to the third line to provide the team with depth scoring.
The Canucks acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussell, Jay Beagle, the 2021 ninth overall pick, a second-round pick in 2022 and a seventh-round pick in 2023. A few weeks later, the club signed Garland to a five-year, $24.75 million contract.
Once the Canucks acquired Garland in the trade, he has been seen as a likely lock to play on Horvat’s wing. During his time with the Coyotes, Garland improved the play of his teammates. Former Arizona forward Christian Dvorak, who has recently been acquired by the Montreal Canadiens, is an example of this.
Garland has improved over his three seasons in the NHL. In his first season in the NHL, he scored 13 goals and posted 18 points in 47 games. The following season, he improved to 22 goals and 39 points in 68 games. The 2020-21 season was his best as he scored 12 goals and posted 39 points in 49 games. His productions is impressive, especially since the Coyotes ranked in the bottom five in the league in goals per game throughout Garland’s three NHL seasons with the club (from ‘Canucks continue to go all in: Inside the Braden Holtby buyout and Conor Garland extension,’ The Athletic, July 27, 2021). He will likely reach a new career-high in his time with the Canucks and could prove to be a top-line player during his tenure.
Hogalnder was one of the few bright spots in the 2020-21 season. The 2019 second-round pick had a surprising start to his rookie season in training camp when he played alongside Horvat and Pearson. Throughout the season, the trio played in 51 games together, posting a Corsi For % of 53.32.
On his own, Hoglander showed he is a skilled player who can play on both ends. He’s a hard-working, competitive forward who plays with high energy and can be physical.
In his first NHL season, he posted 13 goals and 27 points through 56 games. His 13 goals were the most by any player from the 2019 NHL Draft class in the 2020-21 season, while his points were the second most behind none other than the first overall pick Jack Hughes. Hoglander brings a complete package and could be the perfect fit for the second line. He provides head coach Travis Green with versatility as he can play on both the left and right-wing. If Green decides to go with two other players on Horvat’s line, Hoglander would be useful on the third line with Jason Dickinson.
Vasili Podkolzin will be making his much-awaited NHL debut next season. Podkolzin has forced the fan base to be patient as he spent two seasons playing limited minutes in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.
Since being drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft with the 10th overall pick, most have seen him as a potential linemate for Horvat. The two share a lot of similarities as NHL players, and Podkolzin has all the tools to be the perfect winger for the Canucks’ captain. At 6’1 and 190 pounds, the Russian plays a physical 200-foot game. Similar to Horvat, he has shown he has great leadership qualities as he captained Russia at the 2021 World Junior Championships. The 26-year-old captain showed his ability to step up in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 10 goals and posting 12 points in 17 games. The Russian winger had similar success in the playoffs this past season with SKA, scoring six goals and posting 11 points in 16 playoff games.
With most rookies, it takes some time to adjust to the NHL game. With Podkolzin that doesn’t seem to be the case. With the combination of his NHL-ready size and the confidence he’s shown playing with Russia and SKA, the 2019 first-round pick should be ready to go from the start.
Canucks’ Second Line Best in Years
The Canucks will ice the best second-line they’ve had in almost 10 years. During the franchise’s peak in 2010-11, Ryan Kesler centred the second line, and for most of the season, played alongside Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson. Kesler and Samuelsson were the third and fourth highest point producers for the club behind the Sedin twins.
Horvat will be playing with his best linemates throughout his eight-year NHL career. A line of Garland-Horvat-Podkolzin seems to be the most promising out of all the combinations, although Hoglander sliding in to provide the line with some energy at times also seems like a possibility. Meanwhile, Pearson could be a safer option since he has had chemistry with the centre in the past.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.