Canucks: Who Should be Pearson’s Center, Horvat or Miller?

A big discussion point since Tanner Pearson arrived in Vancouver has been the best center to play him with. This season, he has split his time between Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller and seen success with both players. While the results are very close, one linemate has stood out as the clear favourite.

Pearson and Horvat

From his arrival in Vancouver up until head coach Travis Green was let go, Horvat and Pearson were inseparable. The two played 1448 minutes of even-strength time together prior to the season and have added another 284 minutes this season. While the fact they have had chemistry in the past has created a nice foundation, how they have played in 2021-22 together is what’s important.

Tanner Pearson Vancouver Canucks
Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the 284 minutes together at even strength, the duo has a 53.28 percent Corsi and expected goals-for of 13.24. They have outshot the opposition 184-167, outscored the opposition 12-8 and lead in scoring chances by a margin of 144-124. While most of the statistical categories look good, they are a little deceiving.

Horvat and Pearson, just like most of the Canucks, have benefited greatly due to exceptional goaltending from Thatcher Demko. While on the ice, the team’s save percentage is 95.21 percent which is one of the best in the league. On the offensive side, while they are generating chances and getting shots on goal, their on-ice shooting percentage is only 6.52 percent. Essentially, they are getting very lucky when it comes to goaltending and very unlucky when it comes to scoring. The good news though, as mentioned earlier, is that even though the results may not be there, the duo is working well together and are playing the way that is needed to be successful.

Part of this debate also looks at how the players have done when separated from each other. This season, Pearson has played 368 minutes away from Horvat. Here is a breakdown of some other statistics when the two have been separated.

CategoryHorvat Without PearsonPearson Without Horvat
Goals For Percentage41.86%55.26%
Expected Goals For Percentage46.30%54.33%
Scoring Chances For Percentage50.55%51.37%

While the two work well together when it comes to generating goals and chances, Horvat has seen a decline in offensive quality when not with Pearson. The captain is also giving up more chances against, which is part of the reason the Canucks have struggled this season. In short, Horvat plays better when Pearson is on his wing than when others are flanking him, which should be brought into consideration when deciding which line he should be on.

Pearson With Miller

Since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach, Pearson has been seeing a lot of time on Miller’s wing. The two have played 265 minutes at even strength and have a 51.83 percent Corsi while they are on the ice together. They have outscored the opposition 17-9, own an expected goals-for of 14.62 and have outshot the opposition 152-135. There is one major difference between the two duos, though, and it surrounds how the goaltender plays and their shooting percentage.

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When Pearson and Miller are on the ice together, the team has a lower save percentage than when he is with Horvat. The goaltender’s save percentage is at 93.33 percent, which is still great but means that the goaltenders are playing at a lower level. On the flip side, however, the duo’s shooting percentage at even strength is at 11.18 percent, which means they are capitalizing on their chances. That is why there is such a large discrepancy when it comes to goals scored.

In total, Pearson has played 400 minutes away from Miller this season. Here is a breakdown of how the two have fared when on different lines.

CategoryMiller Without PearsonPearson Without Miller
Goals For Percentage43.48%50%
Expected Goals For Percentage46.95%52.60%
Scoring Chances For Percentage50.21%52.30%

Just like with Horvat, Miller plays better with Pearson on his wing than without. The Canucks as a team seem to benefit as well as they score more goals at even strength when the duo is on the ice. The benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks when they are together, which makes this duo one of the strongest the team has.

Which Duo is Better?

Both are so close, but for the Canucks to be successful, they should keep Pearson with Miller. The two are working well together and, more importantly, putting the puck in the back of the net. Unless a trade occurs, they should be kept together for the rest of the season as they are providing the spark the Canucks need if they want to get back in the playoffs.

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