If the Vancouver Canucks hope to make the playoffs this season, they’ll need to have scoring throughout the lineup. The top guns of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat will most definitely provide it. The questions begin when you hit the third line.
When head coach Travis Green trotted out his troops for practice last Wednesday, we saw Loui Eriksson and Josh Leivo flanking Brandon Sutter. That formation does not scream offence as they only combined for 25 goals last season. Eriksson and Sutter aren’t the best skaters either, making it a less than stellar option offensively.
Preseason standout Adam Gaudette should be given a chance to lead a line that can provide adequate support to Pettersson and Horvat. He can be the answer to the third line’s offensive conundrum.
Black Hole Sutter
Digging into the analytics, Sutter has not fared well in generating offence or shots for that matter. Along with Jay Beagle, he was one of the worst forwards on the team in generating shots when he was on the ice during the 2018-19 season.
If the third line is not in the offensive zone at least generating shots, goals will be few and far between. This was not what we were expecting when Green expressed his desire to have a top-nine that could score, not just a top six. If he continues to deploy a third line centered by Sutter, offence will stop at the second line.
After blowing everyone’s mind in the preseason and forcing the demotion of Sven Baertschi to the American Hockey League, Gaudette is ready to lead the third line. Sure, he’s young and inexperienced, but he is a far better option than Sutter. He’s faster, and more dynamic offensively. For the Canucks to have a three-pronged attack, the third line has to be able to generate offence, period.
Gaudette has the potential to be a difference-maker offensively especially if he’s given the right wingers to work with. After showing chemistry with Baertschi in the preseason, he would have been the most ideal option. But until he is summoned from the Utica Comets, Leivo and Jake Virtanen will have to do. If they can use their speed and size to get in on the forecheck, teams will have a much harder time stopping the Canucks attack.
In the end, Gaudette provides a lot more offensive potential than Sutter. At 30 years of age, Sutter has peaked offensively. We can’t expect much more from him. Gaudette, on the other hand, is just beginning his NHL career and should be given every opportunity to grow his offensive game. The Canucks need to give him the keys to the third line and let him grow into the role. It’s a gamble that could pay off with a playoff berth.
What About Defence?
Many pundits pointed to Gaudette’s lack of defensive awareness at times in the preseason as a reason to send him to the American Hockey League. If you look at the traditional role of a third liner, then yes, that could be an issue. But if Green uses the line as a source of offence rather than a wall of defence, that deficiency won’t matter as much. The defensive part of his game will also improve the more he plays in the NHL.
Gaudette got into the lineup for the first time this season on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. He did not get onto the score sheet but looked comfortable in his first game of the season. He wasn’t as noticeable as in the preseason but got stronger towards the end of the game.
The ironic thing is he got better once the aforementioned Sutter was put on his wing. I still think Baertschi is the best option, but if Sutter can better utilize his shot playing with a good playmaker in Gaudette, maybe the line won’t be such a black hole after all. He also is a good defensive presence, so that could eliminate some concerns there too.
Success is dictated by how much depth you have in your lineup. If the Canucks can create three lines that can generate offence consistently, they will win more often than not. Right now it is frustrating to see the lack of goal scoring from the forward group. Granted, it is only two games into the season.
If given the chance, Gaudette can grow into a solid presence on the third line capable of doing what Ryan Kesler did with Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen some seasons ago. That line was a difference-maker for the team both offensively and defensively. The Canucks need that again to take the pressure off the top six and finally make a push for the playoffs.