There has been a lot of discussion lately about what the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup will look like when hockey ultimately returns. For the first time since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, they could have a roster with zero injuries. That’s exciting, especially when you look at the depth this team has right now. Additionally, with the American Hockey League season getting canceled, they could have reinforcements ready to go from the Utica Comets as well.
Now that it’s looking more and more likely that we will see a 24-team tournament instead of the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the Canucks could be uniquely set up to have some success in their march to their first Stanley Cup. Without further ado, here is my take on what the lineup should look like when the modified postseason finally begins.
First Line – Miller, Pettersson, Boeser
When Brock Boeser returned from injury against the New York Islanders in the Canucks’ last game before the pause, he was put with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Though, now that he is completely healthy, he should be ready to resume his duties on the vaunted Lotto Line. He will rejoin the dynamic duo of J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, who have been dynamite together all season long combining for 54 goals and 138 points.
For most of the season, this trio was one of the best lines in hockey, dominating possession and accumulating points almost at will. They were also great at sustaining pressure in the offensive zone and were rarely caught in their own end for extended periods of time. If the Canucks have any success in the playoffs, this line will be a huge reason why.
Second Line – Pearson, Horvat, Toffoli
The Canucks finally have a second wave of attack that could be as dangerous as the first. Pearson and Horvat have been together all season long and have been productive in a matchup role on most nights. As a duo, they have 43 goals and 98 points, which is pretty good for a second line. Before Tyler Toffoli was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, they had a revolving door of wingers which consisted of Loui Eriksson, Jake Virtanen, Josh Leivo, Antoine Roussel, and even Tyler Motte.
Now that Boeser is healthy, Toffoli can finally join this line and hopefully continue the roll he was on before the pause occurred. He seemed to fit in almost immediately after being acquired, posting ten points in ten games playing on a line with Pettersson and Miller. If he can do the same thing with Horvat and Pearson, the Canucks will have a formidable one-two punch that should match up well against most top-six forward groups.
Third Line – Leivo, Gaudette, Virtanen
Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, Leivo was going to be out of the Canucks’ lineup until some time during the playoffs. Depending on when the postseason begins, he could be healthy and ready to go, which means the third line will get an infusion of size and skill to go along with the offensive emergence of Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen. Before he got injured, he was having a career season with seven goals and 19 points in 36 games. He was also playing on the second line with Horvat and Pearson, so he should be able to sustain that same production on the third line.
As for Gaudette and Virtanen, they have been two of the biggest revelations for the Canucks this season. They were both having career seasons at 23-years-old, and more importantly, they were consistent offensive threats as well. For a team that has struggled to generate offence from their bottom-six in the past, that is a welcome development as they potentially march towards their first playoff run in four years.
In the playoffs, where your top offensive stars are sometimes checked to death, a productive third line could be the difference between moving on and booking a date on the links. This line could be the x-factor against teams like the Edmonton Oilers who only go two lines deep offensively.
Fourth Line – Roussel, Sutter, Ferland
Now we get to the smorgasbord that is the fourth line. The Canucks have too many forwards and not enough spots, especially when everyone is healthy. Right now, I am putting Roussel, Micheal Ferland, and Brandon Sutter together, but it could definitely change throughout the course of a series. Say what you want about Sutter, but he is still a good two-way player capable of generating offence, that’s why I decided to put him on this line instead of Jay Beagle.
As for Ferland, I think he deserves a chance to bounce back from the concussion problems he’s had this season. If he’s 100 percent healthy with zero risks to his overall health and well-being, the Canucks could use his physicality in the playoffs. However, if hitting or being hit could cause another concussion, then it’s not even worth entertaining the idea of him returning to the lineup. If that’s the case, I would rather have Zack MacEwen take on that role instead. Ferland is only effective if he’s engaged in the physical game, so if he can’t do that, then he’s practically useless in a fourth-line role.
Defence Pairing One – Hughes, Tanev
You could probably swap defence pairings one and two, but I like the visual of Quinn Hughes on the number one unit. As predicted, Chris Tanev was the perfect partner for him as they have formed one of the most steady two-way pairings in the NHL. With less time as a matchup defenceman, Tanev was also injury-free, even though he did technically get hurt after the last game the Canucks played in March.
Hughes, meanwhile, was everything and more for the Canucks this season. He not only was one of the top minute munchers on defence, but he also put up 53 points on his way to becoming the main offensive catalyst on the backend. The bottom line is, he was probably one of the biggest reasons why they are in the playoffs at all. So of course, this pairing stays together going into this modified postseason.
Defence Pairing Two – Edler, Myers
Alex Edler and Tyler Myers have had their ups and downs throughout the season, but they are still a good option as a pairing. Myers hasn’t put up the points I expected from him at the beginning of the season, but he is still better than Erik Gudbranson, Derick Pouliot, or Michael Del Zotto, that’s for sure. He has averaged over 20 minutes a night in a matchup role with Edler while putting up a respectable 6 goals and 21 points. He may have had some poor games like all defencemen do, but all-in-all, his first season with the Canucks was pretty good.
Edler quietly put together another solid season with the Canucks, finishing with 30 or more points for a third straight time. Despite the struggles the Canucks have had on defence, he was probably one of the most consistent defenders this season. If they hope to do anything in the playoffs, this pairing has to be a rock defensively, as they will most likely get the call to be the matchup pair. If they struggle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Troy Stecher resume his role as Edler’s partner in crime, like he did most of last season and as recently as March of this season.
Defence Pairing Three – Fantenberg, Stecher
As Chris Faber from Canuck Army mentioned in a recent article, Stecher and Oscar Fantenberg have not been scored upon as a pairing. Granted, they have only played 36 games and 79 minutes together, so maybe that’s not a good indicator of defensive success. However, the alternative is Jordie Benn, who struggled mightily after starting the season as the sixth defenceman. It didn’t take long for Fantenberg to take his spot in the lineup, which was surprising considering Benn was supposed to represent an upgrade to the Canucks’ defence core.
Fantenberg has proven to be a good puck mover and a relatively quiet defender in his own zone. His underlying numbers don’t look very good, with a Corsi-For percentage of 43.7, but he has displayed a better overall game than Benn. He has been physical with 67 hits to his credit and has not been afraid to block shots as well. Overall, this pairing is better with him patrolling the left side.
Extra Forwards – Beagle, Motte, MacEwen, Eriksson
You could probably add Sven Baertschi, Reid Boucher, and Justin Bailey to this list when the NHL expands the rosters, but as of right now, Beagle, Motte, and MacEwen are the extras upfront. If Ferland isn’t good to go, MacEwen or Motte will be elevated to the fourth line. Both of them are physical, fast, and built for a gritty playoff series.
Beagle could easily take the spot of Sutter on the fourth line, but as I stated earlier, he’s not the most fleet of foot. In a series against a team with skill and speed, Sutter is the better option. However, he is a great piece to have available, especially if the going gets tough. He does have 85 games of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup after all. Finally, Eriksson is still here, I just hope that Travis Green is smart enough to use other options instead of him.
Extra Defencemen – Benn, Rafferty
As we all know, injuries happen quite frequently in the gritty atmosphere of the playoffs. Most likely the Canucks are going to have to call upon their depth on defence at some point. So, why not have the dynamic Brogan Rafferty on stand by? After the season he had with the Comets where he put up 7 goals and 45 points, he could be a great depth piece to have ready if, heaven forbid, a player like Hughes goes down with an injury. I’m not saying he’s as good as him, but he could take over his role if that were to happen.
As mentioned earlier, Benn didn’t have a great season, but he is still an NHL-caliber defenceman who is capable of stepping in when needed. He can kill penalties, block shots, and provide a physical presence, so he could be valuable when injuries inevitably occur.
Goaltending – Markstrom, Demko
The silver lining to this stoppage is the fact that starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom will be fully healthy when the Canucks start playing again. In the eight games without him, they won only three times and gave up a gaudy 30 goals against. That stretch of games just confirmed to everyone that he is definitely the MVP of the Canucks this season. Without him, they would not be in the playoff picture, that’s just the truth.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Canucks Goalies
Markstrom’s numbers may not be Vezina Trophy worthy, but his overall value to the Canucks most certainly is. Just look back to the many times where he made over 40 saves and stole wins where his team had no business being in the game at all. His backup Thatcher Demko had a good season too, but he was no Markstrom. If the Canucks make it anywhere this postseason, it will be on the back of the man they call “Marky”.
Canucks Could Be a Surprise Contender in 2020
Depending on who they match up against, the Canucks could surprise everyone this postseason. We don’t know exactly how the format will play out, but this line up could be one that thrives in the playoffs. With everyone healthy, the depth they have at both the NHL and AHL levels is pretty exceptional with a good mix of veterans and prospects all ready to go if needed. They even have a pretty capable third goaltender in Mike DiPietro if one of Markstrom or Demko goes down with an injury.
These may be unprecedented times, but the Canucks are probably one of the teams that greatly benefited from the pause to the NHL season. Now all they have to do is take advantage of it, and maybe just maybe, bring the Stanley Cup back to Canadian soil.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.