Christopher Higgins, originally brought onto the Vancouver Canucks for fourth line depth, has not only solidified an everyday spot on the roster, but also cracked the second line in the absence of Mikael Samuelsson in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Higgins won’t be expected to score two goals and three points every game, or even every week, but he contributed Sunday in ways that take the pressure off of Ryan Kesler, who has played this season on what has been dubbed the ‘Helicopter Line’, a line that flies even without wings.
Before he came to Vancouver, Higgins was adept in Florida at moving the puck north, and that appears to have carried over. Despite starting just 44.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Higgins finishes 51.1% of his shifts there, a very impressive ratio. It’s clear that head coach Alain Vigneault does not have to protect Higgins’ shifts, and he can go out with Kesler against other team’s top competition in tough situations. This takes the pressure off of Kesler and his back and means that the 20 minutes Kesler usually gets per night are a little bit easier, which gets important as we move into the playoffs.
Three Canucks have taken over 1000 faceoffs this season and no other has taken more than 100. Unfortunately, just two remain healthy, and Vigneault will surely allow Henrik Sedin to take the offensive zone draws, relegating Kesler to defensive duties, but Higgin’s complementary ability means that Kesler shouldn’t miss too much offensive zone time and can continue doing what he’s been doing all year: scoring goals.
Offensively, Higgins probably doesn’t have the tools that Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson do on the second line to succeed, but he’s proving to Vigneault that he can be a quite versatile player, indeed, one that you can pencil into either your second, third or fourth lines depending on need. He has proved he can play effectively in high minute situations (he played 23:34 in a game against Philadelphia when he was a Panther).
So whether it’s providing protection for Kesler or adding depth to a stacked third line, Higgins has proved to be a valuable deadline pickup as a forward in a way that Matt Pettinger, Martin Rucinsky and Geoff Sanderson never could be.