Underutilized Centres the Canucks Could Target

The Sedins have left Rogers Arena for good, and they’ve also left a gaping hole in the Vancouver Canucks lineup.

With Henrik Sedin calling it quits, the Canucks look especially thin at centre heading into next season. This has led to rumours that they will sign someone like Tyler Bozak, but does it make sense to sign another veteran to big money in free agency?

After the Vegas Golden Knights took the league by storm this season by targeting underused players, you can bet that other teams will try and use the same method. There are examples of talented young players around the league who are being used sparingly on good teams.

If the Canucks wanted to be proactive and creative in their decision making, they would be wise to explore this market.

With possible trade chips like Chris Tanev and Sven Baertschi, the Canucks could look to improve at centre via trade. Here are some centres they could look at acquiring ahead of next season.

Colton Sissons

If you’re looking at players who are underutilized, Colton Sissons definitely fits the mould.

The north Vancouver-native plays in a bottom-six role for a stacked Predators team, but he’s also proven to be versatile. Sissons was the Preds number one centre after injuries decimated their Cup aspirations. Surprisingly, Sissons was able to hold his own against a superior Pittsburgh team.

Colton Sissons Predators
Colton Sissons just had his best regular season in the NHL, and he’s off to a hot start in the 2017-18 playoffs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Due to Nashville’s embarrassment of riches at centre, Sissons often plays the wing. He started the season centering a fourth line with Austin Watson and Mikka Salomaki. When the Preds signed Mike Fisher, Sissons was shifted back to the wing alongside Watson and Nick Bonino on a third line.

The 24-year-old did only have 27 points in 81 games, but he also played heavy defensive minutes. He started 69 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone, playing in a role similar to Brandon Sutter.

Banking on Sissons to step up offensively is a bit of a risk, but he does have nine goals and 19 points in his last 28 playoff games. Playing with offensive players should help him as well, and he’s someone you could also swap to the wing if Elias Pettersson was ready for centre.

Could you also imagine how insane Nashville’s defence would look with the addition of Chris Tanev?

Anthony Cirelli/Yanni Gourde

Even though all eyes are on the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson, players like Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde of their other young players are flying under the radar.

Both Gourde and Cirelli had flashes of offensive brilliance for the Lightning. Gourde put up 25 goals and 64 points as a 26-year-old rookie, while Cirelli put up 11 points in 18 regular season games.

Yanni Gourde
Yanni Gourde took the league by storm as a 26-year-old rookie. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The two speedy forwards are both slight in stature but have clear playmaking talents. In a trade, the Lightning are more likely to part with the Gourde based on his age, whereas the Canucks would have to add more in a deal for Cirelli. With other top centres on the team, including 21-year-old Brayden Point, the Lightning have the ability to move one of these young centres.

If their is a critique for both of these players, it’s that neither was good in the faceoff circle. Cirelli sits at 44.9 per cent while Gourde is down at 43.4 per cent. Again, with Pettersson as the apparent heir at centre, this is only a short-term fix.

Nick Bjugstad

Nick Bjugstad fell off the face of the earth a season ago. After battling injuries, he only registered seven goals and 14 points in 54 games.

This past season in Florida, he’s turned around his game in a big way. Bjugstad put up 19 goals and 49 points while spending ample time at wing alongside Aleksander Barkov. He spent about half the season playing centre as well, and Bjugstad is 49.3 per cent in the dot for his career.

Nick Bjugstad
Nick Bjugstad had a bounce-back season in Florida. Could the Canucks once again express interest in the 6’5″ centre? (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

Having a 6’5″ centre put up 50 points sounds perfect for the Canucks. However, there’s a good chance that Bjugstad doesn’t put up 50 points if he isn’t playing with Barkov. Would acquiring Bjugstad be buying high, just like the Canucks did with Sam Gagner?

It is promising that even though Barkov and Bjugstad were good together, both of their numbers dipped when they played apart. There’s a decent sample size here, as they played 542 minutes together and 475 minutes apart at even strength.

Goals For % Shots For% Scoring Chances For %
Nick Bjugstad 43.59 47.5 49.89
Aleksander Barkov 48.33 51.67 49.84
Together 60.32 57.84 56.54

Even though Barkov is the engine that drives Florida’s offence, it’s promising to see that he also struggled without Bjugstad. If the Canucks were to trade for Bjugstad, it bodes well for them that Bjugstad has success in giving a boost to star players.

How much size matters in today’s NHL is also up for debate, but the Canucks are undoubtedly a small team. Adding Bjugstad would give them a missing element: a big body who can skate and score.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

As the second Lower Mainland native to make this list, Nugent-Hopkins falls into a different category than the players above. He isn’t so much underutilized in Edmonton as he is expendable.

With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl holding down the number one and two centre positions, Nugent-Hopkins has been bounced around the lineup. He had linemates all over the map this season, but his most common one was Milan Lucic. Nugent-Hopkins played 318 minutes with Lucic, which is more than 100 compared to his second-most common linemate, Patrick Maroon.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins put up 15 points in 13 games playing with Connor McDavid towards the end of the season. (Andy Martin Jr.)

Later in the season, Nugent-Hopkins was moved permanently to McDavid’s wing on a line with Ty Rattie. The trio did have success, which could make the Oilers less likely to part with Nugent-Hopkins.

Another issue with acquiring Nugent-Hopkins is that the Canucks would probably cough up too many assets. Although, this is Peter Chiarelli we’re talking about.

Nugent-Hopkins isn’t expendable, but Chiarelli cannot afford to botch another trade involving one of his young forwards. His trade value should also remain high after arguably his best season in the NHL, where he had 2.01 points-per-60 at even strength. That was a career-high, and his 24 goals were the most he scored since he hit the same number in 2014-15.

Radek Faksa

Although not an offensive dynamo, Radek Faksa is another young player the Canucks could look at giving an elevated role.

Faska is a player similar to Sissions. Both registered around 30 points this year while wearing defensive responsibility like armor. Faksa led all Dallas Stars players with 66.6 per cent of his shifts starting in his own end.

Radek Faksa
Radek Faksa has succeeded in putting up points in a defensive role. What if he was set free offensively on another team? (Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

He scored 17 goals this season and added 16 assists, none of which came with the man advantage. Although he’s someone who’s capable of playing defence, he could have more to offer if his responsibilities on defence were diminished.

Most don’t see a trade between the Canucks and the Stars happening with the history between owners. Faksa is also signed at a team-friendly $2.2 million cap hit for the next two seasons. For those reasons, a trade here seems unlikely, but it would be worth dangling someone like Tanev or Baertschi to see if the Stars are willing to part with their young centre.

Matheiu Perreault

All of the players above are relatively young and inexperienced in the NHL. Targeting someone like Mathieu Perreault would signal that the Canucks want to move in a different direction.

Perreault’s main issue is staying healthy, as he’s only surpassed 70 games twice in his career. Even so, he hit 39 points in 70 games this season, and has surpassed 40 points in the four seasons prior.

He’s still under contract for three more seasons at a $4.125 million cap hit. That seems like a bit much for a 30-year-old with injury issues, but isn’t it still more logical to acquire a guy like this over someone like Bozak?

Mathieu Perreault
If the Canucks don’t want to look at acquiring a younger centre, they could look at someone like Mathieu Perreault. (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Winnipeg Jets have contracts like Tobias Enstrom, Paul Stastney and Shawn Matthias off the books, but they also have to sign RFA’s like Connor Hellebuyck, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey. On July 1st, they can also begin negotiating with Patrik Laine.

All of this could mean that the Jets look to move on from Perreault and his salary. Although he’s a fan favourite in Winnipeg, he’s not a key member of that core. He’s productive on the power play and at even-strength in limited minutes. If he can stay healthy, he could be the perfect person to play with someone like Pettersson.

Elias Pettersson
Elias Pettersson will likely start his NHL career on the wing. Are any of these centres above a fit to play with him? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Every player here would have to be acquired via a trade, but it’s arguably better than dipping into the free agent market. The Canucks have some assets to get it done, but will they go this route to upgrade at centre?

Are there other players you think the Canucks should target? Let us know in the comments below.