The last time the Sedin twins didn’t lead the Canucks in team scoring, there were seven 100-plus point scorers in the league, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were rookies, and the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes were in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lots of things are bound to change in the league in the span of a decade, but one thing that hasn’t is Henrik and Daniel finishing one and two in scoring for Vancouver. The Canuck greats have done so every season since 2006-07. Their production has been admirably consistent during their careers, but in turning 36-years old this September, this run of being the team’s top point-producers is closer to the end than the start.
This is, of course, by no means a bad thing. If anything, it would prove beneficial for the team, the fan base, and above all the ageless (but aging) Sedins if they are succeeded in being relied on as the team’s top scorers.
And that could happen as soon as next season. A succession plan may fully take a few years in the Canucks forward group, but the performance of some select players in 2015-16 signaled that a changing of the guard is in progress. Here’s three forwards who could lead the team’s production next year – who may not necessarily be linemates, but conveniently cover all three forward positions.
Stepping up into a top-six forward role as a sophomore in the NHL isn’t easy for most players. There were growing pains for Bo Horvat in this spot last season, with Brandon Sutter out almost the whole year. Playing in all situations against tough competition is a lot to take on for a 20-year-old. His teammates, the organization and the fan base knew it, but Horvat pushed through all the struggles and learning curves.
He put up only two goals and nine points in the first 39 games of the year, but the offense started to come for Horvat in the second half, as he evidently became more adjusted to the role he’d been thrown in early in the year. In the 43 games that followed he put up 14 goals and 31 points, and arguably stood out more than any other Canuck offensively in that stretch.
final 10 games of season:
Horvat (5) & Etem (4) have combined for 9 goals
rest of #Canucks 13
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) April 10, 2016
Not every young player can be thrown into the fire and turn it into a positive, but Horvat did just that last season. As the Canucks season was spiraling down the stretch, Horvat continued to show his tenacity and it paid off with each passing game. He went from showing flashes of being a tough player to play against to being that kind of player consistently.
Horvat is sure to be more confident in his game heading into next season. And even if he slots in as the second or third line center with Sutter healthy, he’s bound to improve on his production. The added depth down the middle will put less pressure on Horvat to face tough competition, and he likely won’t need to be asked to be a skating Swiss army knife each night.
With Horvat on this list, only naturally would 23-year-old Sven Baertschi project to boost in production as well, based on the chemistry the pair showed at points in the second-half of last season.
Baertschi : “Playing with Horvat was the key for me, we found a way to start scoring goals and get confidence.” #Canucks
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) May 18, 2016
Baertschi got off to slow start last year, with only two goals and seven points in his first 27 games. He was playing in his first full NHL season, and was likely also being asked to carry too heavy of a load a lot of times. But the Swiss left-winger battled through it like Horvat did, and the two more often became standouts for the Canucks.
The former 13th overall pick in 2011 would finish the year fourth in goals among Canucks players with 15 in 69 games, 13 of which came in his final 42 games. As the year grew on, Baertschi showed exceptional poise in creating offense and great speed with the puck more regularly. In essence, he found ways to translate his skill to the pro level, which had made him known as one of the best junior players in North America during his days with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
He’s still in the status of a restricted free agent, but Baertschi has given the organization no other option but to re-sign him. He’s stated publicly that he wants to play in Vancouver, and by holding his own in a one-year, one-way “show me” deal in 2015-16, he’s earned it.
The 30-year-old Jannik Hansen finally got recognition as a top-six forward with the Canucks last season, emerging as one of the team’s top scorers. His 22 goals in 67 games put him second on the team, and was a career-high for the Danish right-winger in his eighth full NHL season.
One of the forgotten pieces for #Canucks going forward is Hansen. Just turned 30 three weeks ago and clearly in his prime.
— Brad Fay (@SNBradFay) April 10, 2016
Hansen has spent his entire career in Vancouver, and he’s always been known to be versatile. He can slot in on the wing on any line. He can play a speed game, a hard forechecking game, or a defense-first game. That renowned versatility finally got him a look next to the Sedin twins in early November. He complimented their style well, to the surprise of very few, and rightfully stayed put in that spot all year.
After being cast to the Canucks fourth line in 2013-14 (which was used much more than a fourth line), there was never questions to Hansen’s legitimacy on the team’s top unit last year. He’s often been seen more than heard, based on his efficiency to fill any role he’s been put into, but Hansen also evidently emerged as a vocal leader on a young Canucks team this year.
There’s no reason to believe Hansen will be moved off of the Sedin’s wing, but he’s also shown chemistry on the wing with Horvat as his center. He could likely even play on the wing with Sutter down the middle if slotted there. Regardless, the former 287th overall pick by the Canucks in 2004 should help bolster the team’s top-six once again next year.
Canucks contributor for The Hockey Writers. Maple Ridge, BC native. Contact: email@example.com or @ColtonnDavies on Twitter.