Vancouver Canucks: Eriksson Should Play with Horvat, Baertschi

Dec 20, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Loui Eriksson (21) reacts after scoring a goal during the first period against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Loui Eriksson (21) reacts after scoring a goal during the first period against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Loui Eriksson was signed to play right wing on the Vancouver Canucks’ top line, but playing him with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi might actually be a better idea.

Ever since Alexandre Burrows started to decline, the Vancouver Canucks have been in search of a new partner for the Sedin twins on the top line. Radim Vrbata signed up for the job in 2014 and had a successful year recording 31 goals and 63 points. However, things got much worse in 2015-16 and Vrbata was let go as an unrestricted free agent. Now Loui Eriksson was brought in to do the job, but the Canucks could be far better off playing him in the middle six.

There is no doubt that Eriksson is an elite scorer. Despite being 30 years of age, he is coming off a 30-goal, 63-point campaign. He showed terrific chemistry with the Sedins playing for Team Sweden and it would be awesome to see that in Vancouver as well.

But having Eriksson play with the Sedins isn’t all about his scoring ability either. Eriksson is an outstanding two-way player while the Sedins’ is primarily a defense thing at this point. They aren’t as reliable defensively as they used to be, which is also a reason why Willie Desjardins had them play with Jannik Hansen last season.

Playing with the twins, Hansen had a 22-goal campaign, with Daniel and Henrik finishing at 61 and 55, respectively. Their line was by far the best in goals-for percentage, because they had the defensive side covered as well.

So why change it up?

Secondary Scoring

In 2015-16, the top line was in no way the problem. They were the team’s best line and the only reason why Vancouver had hope to make the playoffs until it was mathematically impossible. The real issue was secondary scoring and defensive play of the second line.

Bo Horvat ranked third in scoring at 40 points while Sven Baertschi came in at 28. Radim Vrbata completed the line on most nights, and he had 27 points. That doesn’t sound that terrible, but let’s compare to a team that finished where the Canucks wanted to be: the Minnesota Wild.

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Minnesota made the playoffs as the final wild-card team. Six of their forwards broke the 40-point mark, two more crushed the 30-point mark. You may think that Minnesota scored far more goals than the league average and the reason why they only made the playoffs on a wild-card spot is that they were bad defensively. But no, Minnesota actually tied for 19th in goals for.

Secondary scoring is extremely important, and putting Eriksson on a middle-six line could greatly improve the Canucks in that regard. Eriksson could be the missing piece that Baertschi needs to break out into a true second-line scorer who consistently gets 40 or 50 points per season. The same goes for Horvat, who could easily get to 60 points in 2016-17, with a player like Eriksson on his side.

If the top line with Henrik, Daniel and Hansen gets around 60, 60 and 35 points next season and the second line gets something along the lines of 60, 50, 40, the Canucks would have a terrific top six. Add to that a healthy Brandon Sutter and whichever wingers he gets on his line, and things should look much better.

Defensive Play

Again, goal scoring is not the only area where Eriksson could help. His two-way play would be huge for youngsters Horvat and Baertschi, who are in desperate need of support.

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Horvat was an outstanding two-way player in junior and he has all the tools to become a Ryan O’Reilly-type player in the future. However, he often seemed overwhelmed with the role he had to play last season — basically that of Sutter. If Sutter stays healthy, Horvat won’t get the amount of defensive-zone starts he had last season, but he will still be relied on as a strong two-way player. Eriksson can take him to the next level.

In 2015-16, Horvat ranked last on the team in goals against per 60, among players with at least 20 games played, at an abysmal 3.22. Emerson Etem ranked second-last at 2.81, so it wasn’t even close.

His Corsi against ranked 22nd on the team at 58.69, with Baertschi ranking 19th at 58.28. Remember, this is five-on-five only, and things obviously went even worse short handed.

Horvat and Baertschi could definitely need some defensive help.


Eriksson with Baertschi and Horvat doesn’t mean he’ll never play with the Sedins. For one, the Canucks load their top line when they are trailing in the final minutes of a game. Eriksson would also play with the twins on the power play, which could be one of the deadliest units in the league.

We just wouldn’t see as much of it as we might want to see.

Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson could be a top-10 line in the league, but that doesn’t help if the rest struggles. A slightly weaker top line with a strong second line could lead to much bigger success than just a stacked first line.

Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. They didn’t stack their top line with Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Phil Kessel. Instead, they had Crosby on the first, Kessel on the second and Malkin on the third.

Of course, we need to consider that, for example, Malkin and Kessel are similar players in how they try to drive the play. Kessel worked better with Nick Bonino, who is willing to give the puck to Kessel and let the winger do the neutral-zone work while Malkin worked well with Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust.

Next: Remaining Fits for Eriksson

We can talk about possible combinations as much as we want, but at the end of the day, it is also about chemistry. The Vancouver Canucks will simply have to try things out in training camp and preseason, and see what works best for them.

Fact is, however, that, as of today, Baertschi-Horvat-Eriksson sounds like a very promising second line.

*All advanced stats via; all advanced stats in five-on-five situations