Canucks Have the Makings of a Playoff-Ready Fourth Line

When the Vancouver Canucks decided not to extend qualifying offers to Juho Lammikko and Matthew Highmore, it signalled that the team would have a new fourth line in 2022-23. To potentially replace them, general manager Patrik Allvin signed Curtis Lazar to take over as its pivot and Dakota Joshua as the heavy physical presence to deter opponents from taking liberties on stars like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. At least, that’s how it looks on paper right now. As we all know, things could change as the offseason continues to unfold.

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If Lazar and Joshua ultimately make up two-thirds of the fourth line, who takes the last spot? With a couple of new top-nine forwards in Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko, some regulars are going to be forced down the lineup, which will make things even more interesting. Whatever the case, the Canucks appear to have the makings of a fourth line that could be a huge difference maker, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs as well. Let’s take a look at who will be in contention to round out the trio led by the gritty forwards Allvin acquired on July 13.

Nils Hoglander

Following an impressive 2020-21 rookie season where he put up 13 goals and 27 points in 56 games, Nils Hoglander took a small step back in production in 2021-22 finishing with 10 goals and 18 points in 60 games. Unfortunately, his ice time was reduced from an average of 14:24 to 12:10 when Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green behind the bench in December. Clearly a favourite of Green’s and a dog house candidate for Boudreau, he was one of the only forwards to play all 56 games in 2020-21 while he was a healthy scratch a few times in 2021-22. Then, to make matters worse, a muscle/groin injury ended his season prematurely in April when it was revealed that he had to have surgery to repair it.

Nils Hoglander Vancouver Canucks
Nils Hoglander, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hoping to be 100 percent healthy come training camp, Hoglander will have to work hard on his two-way game to get into the good graces of Boudreau as he did with Green. Known for his intense forecheck and work ethic along the boards, he has the tools to be a very effective bottom-six energy forward. Alongside Lazar, who was an accomplished playmaker in junior, he might be able to score some goals as well. If the Canucks can get a fourth line that can contribute between 40 and 50 goals, that will go a long way to making the playoffs in 2023. A trio of Hoglander, Lazar and Joshua definitely have the potential of doing that.

Will Lockwood

Speaking of speed and intense forechecking, Will Lockwood has both in spades. He also has a leg up on Hoglander in the trust department, as he became a go-to forward for Boudreau down the final stretch of the season. With only 15 games in the NHL under his belt, he doesn’t have the experience or the scoring potential that the slick Swede has, but he definitely has the Moxy and toolbox of a shift disturber tailor-made for a fourth line. A fact reiterated by Ryan Johnson, who doubles as Allvin’s assistant and general manager of the Abbotsford Canucks.

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“He’s imposing with explosiveness and has an ability to catch people who take him lightly…He can put you on your butt pretty quickly. A fantastic human being. He’s got a bright future and has worked so hard on the PK part because a player like him has to be able to do it” (from ‘Canucks rookie Will Lockwood rocks, looks like roster lock for next season’, The Province, 4/12/22).

Will Lockwood Vancouver Canucks
Will Lockwood, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As Johnson eluded to, despite Lockwood’s lack of size at 5-foot-11, he packs a punch when he hits people due to his timing and the fact that people underestimate him. Something that veteran defenceman Luke Schenn found out the hard way during training camp last season. Still looking for his first point in the NHL, he has the skills to provide offence from the fourth line as well. Like Tyler Motte before him, he was a solid scorer in college with the Michigan Wolverines and can separate himself from the opposition with his speed. His forechecking and ability to get under the skin of opponents with his physicality (49 hits in 13 games) should also get him more scoring chances as his career progresses.

Linus Karlsson

Now we get to a few of the candidates with an outside chance of beating out someone for a roster spot in training camp. First up is Linus Karlsson, the prospect everyone is eagerly anticipating to see in the NHL this coming season (or at the very least the American Hockey League). Playing overseas since he was drafted 87th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2018, he has rocketed up the rankings to become one of the Canucks’ most promising youngsters and will finally make his debut in Abbotsford or maybe even Vancouver if he impresses the coaching staff enough in September.

Linus Karlsson Skellefteå AIK
Linus Karlsson, Skellefteå AIK (Jörgen Bergkvist / Skellefteå AIK)

Technically, Karlsson has already made his debut on North American ice, as he was part of development camp this past week. According to Chris Faber of Canucks Army, he didn’t stand out all too much except on the final day when he showed off his hands and scored a couple of goals in the scrimmage.

“He had flashes of good play but he feels like a player who needs game-like action to really showcase his strengths. Karlsson does a great job of anticipating scoring chances and finding the right paths to take toward the net that allow him to get enough space for his shot to be released.”

Faber also mentioned that Karlsson appears to be ready for the NHL in a physical sense, but not in the skating department. That might put him behind the eight-ball going in since he will be battling primarily with two players that already have speed on their side.

Phil Di Giuseppe

One of the more prominent forwards in training camp last season, Phil Di Giuseppe was part of the final round of cuts before the roster was set for opening night. After clearing waivers and getting sent down to Abbotsford, he ended up scoring 12 goals and 36 points in 42 games while battling injury and COVID protocol. He had his moments in his first year with the new franchise, including a between-the-legs goal in November that got everyone’s attention on Twitter.

Di Giuseppe will have his work cut out for him to beat out Hoglander, Lockwood and Jason Dickinson, but he’s got the defensive game and penalty-killing prowess to be in the conversation at least. Re-signed to a one-year deal on July 13, he will likely be depth in case of injuries. Having said that, you never know what can happen as no one expected Motte, Alex Chiasson, Peter Schaefer or Adam Cracknell to make the team in their respective seasons. In the end, it’s all up to the players to beat out the competition ahead of them.

Jason Dickinson

Finally, there’s the veteran Dickinson who was acquired to be the Canucks’ third-line center last season. We’re now celebrating the one-year anniversary of that trade, and needless to say, that never happened. After a promising career with the Dallas Stars where he put up solid defensive numbers, he never really found his role in Vancouver. Moved around the lineup like a bouncy ball, he struggled to the tune of only five goals and 11 points in 62 games. He also never moved the needle on the penalty kill, a spot he was supposed to excel in. Faceoffs were an issue for him too as he put up his worst percentage (42.6) since 2018-19 (42.9).

Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks
Jason Dickinson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Most likely staying away from the center position in 2022-23, as he did for most of last season, Dickinson will have to fight his way onto the fourth line if he wants a regular spot in the lineup. In order to do that, he has to be more useful defensively and on the penalty kill. If he can’t outperform players like Hoglander, Lockwood and even Di Giuseppe in that sense, his inflated $2.65 million AAV contract will be on waivers or traded before the puck drops on Oct. 11.

Final Decision: Lockwood, Lazar, Joshua

The battle for the final spot in the opening day lineup will come down to a couple of players, Hoglander and Lockwood. While Hoglander has more offensive upside and more experience in the NHL, I have Lockwood edging him out due to his speed, physicality, and ferocious forechecking. He also seems to be able to get under the skin of his opponents more often than his Swedish teammate. Finally, he’s shown more prowess defensively, which is what Boudreau wants out of his fourth line.

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Lockwood with Lazar and Joshua would make for a very formidable unit when it comes to being hard to play against, as all of them are fast and willing to throw the body. Lazar was the only one that played a full season in the NHL, so the hit totals are skewed to his side, but when projected over a full 82 games, the trio would have combined for over 700 hits. That’s a lot of physicality from a fourth line.

All in all, replacing Highmore and Lammikko with Joshua and Lazar and aligning them with the spark plug that is Lockwood might be the best move the Canucks make this season. We will have to see how it all plays out in training camp, but this trio will likely become Boudreau’s favorite group to throw out to inject energy into the team when they need it. Who knows, they might even be one of the reasons why they become playoff contenders again.