In the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was no surprise Vancouver Canucks’ head coach Travis Green was not shy about shuffling his lines. The big question heading into the 2020-21 season revolved around who will play on the team’s top-six. With the emergence of Nils Hogalnder, the organization has more options than expected. Green will have multiple combinations to work with throughout this season.
Option 1: Miller-Pettersson-Boeser & Pearson-Horvat-Hoglander
The Canucks will start the season with the Lotto Line and Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Hoglander on the top two lines. The Lotto Line, featuring Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, was one of the best in the first half of the 2019-20 season. The trio will attempt to have a productive 56 game season.
Meanwhile, Horvat was third in goals with 22 and points with 53 through 69 games. Pearson was fourth in goals with 21 and was fifth in points with 45 in 69 games. Hoglander adds another offensive-minded player to the line and seems like a good fit for the line. Green has had a tough time finding the third piece to Horvat’s line. Players such as Loui Eriksson, Boeser, and Jake Virtanen have not been the best fits for the line. Hoglander could potentially improve the line, which allows the Canucks to have two top lines.
Option 2: Miller-Pettersson-Virtanen & Hoglander-Horvat-Boeser
Miller and Pettersson have proven to have great chemistry with one another, but Virtanen has also excelled playing with the two. The trio controlled shots 58.94% out of the 123 minutes of five-on-five play together while having an expected goal rate (xGF%) of 58.70%.
Additionally, Virtanen and Pettersson improve while playing together. Virtanen’s xGF% with the Swede is 52.64% through 268 mins, while it’s below 50% with every other center on the roster. As for Pettersson, he owns a 50.93 xGF% without the winger and a 52.64 xGF% with him.
Boeser would drop down to the second line and play with Horvat and Hoglander. Boeser and Horvat have struggled to produce offensively over the past few seasons, but that has more to do with Green deploying the two in the defensive zone instead of the offensive zone. He usually uses the captain’s line as a shutdown line at times.
With Hoglander on the line, Green may change up how he uses the trio and instead deploys them as an offensive line instead of a shutdown line. Not only will this increase production for the second line, but it will provide the Canucks with a second line that could produce as well as their first.
Option 3: Hoglander-Pettersson-Boeser & Miller-Horvat-Virtanen
Pairing Pettersson along with a possible Calder trophy contender in Hoglander is a fun idea. Adding Boeser to the mix creates potentially one of the most fun and exciting lines in the NHL. Before Miller joined the team, Boeser and Pettersson were a dynamic duo for the Canucks. In the 2018-19 season, they led the team in points per game (P/GP) and goals per game. Adding an offensive-minded player such as Hoglander would make this an ideal first line.
Sliding Miller down to the second line with Horvat allows the second line to pitch in offensively as well. Miller had a career year last season, while Horvat was on pace to a career year in an 82 game season. When the team traded for the 27-year-old before the 2019-20 season, some expected him to line up next to the captain. The two are two-way players and would do a great job in shutting the opponents down while helping out offensively.
Virtanen could also benefit while playing with the two leaders, specifically Miller. He mentored him during the Stanley Cup playoffs, as he sees a lot of himself in the young forward. It took the 27-year-old some time until he found his true potential last season (from ‘Ben Kuzma: Virtanen found key Canucks’ confidant in loud, proud Miller,’ The Province,’ 08/20/2020).
“I was watching my shifts and he’s watching next to me. He says: ‘Hey, what if we do this? The communication between him and me is non-stop and we sit together on the plane, too. Sometimes that gets annoying, but it’s good. We do talk shop a lot, especially after games, but he never stops. He’s a chatterbox.”Virtanen on Miller’s mentorship
Option 4: Miller-Pettersson-Boeser & Pearson-Horvat-Virtanen
The Lotto Line and Virtanen with Horvat and Pearson were the expected top-six lines before camp until Hoglander changed everything. These lines are still possible if Hoglander struggles during the season. The Lotto Line will likely continue to produce as expected, but the second line will need Virtanen to be at the top of his game for success.
Hoglander would end up on the third line, which gives the Canucks an option to have three offensive lines. Lined up next to Adam Gaudette and Tyler Motte could lead to another exciting line for the Canucks.
Canucks Have Options
Aside from the four options presented, the Canucks have other players they can plug into the top-six. Gaudette is a player Green may try out on the wing instead of the center. He has spent time on the wing, and with Jay Beagle and Brandon Sutter playing center, the Canucks can afford to make a change.
The Canucks are expected to sign Vasily Podkolzin later in the season, and he will likely get a look in the top-six for the organization. The 2019 first rounder seemed NHL ready at the 2021 World Junior Championships. Podkolzin and Pettersson would be an exciting duo, but he also fits in well with Horvat, as the two are two-way players.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.