Vancouver Canucks: Travis Green faces roster dilemma

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 29: Jake Virtanen
VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 29: Jake Virtanen /

New Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green will have a difficult task in selecting the players to round out his final roster spots.

As we approach the beginning of the 2017-2018 season, there has been a lot of water cooler chatter between fans as to who coach Travis Green should have in the Vancouver Canucks starting lineup.

In particular, the focus has been on three players: University of North Dakota (UND) phenom Brock Boeser, former Calgary Hitmen star Jake Virtanen, and AHL sniper Nikolay Goldobin.

To my mind, it is not even a debate. All three players have earned the opportunity to start the season with the team, and potentially help drag the Canucks out of the playoff-less abyss.

Brock Boeser

Let’s start with Mr. Boeser. From scoring 35 goals in his draft year, and putting up 27 goals in his rookie year with UND (more than star UND alumni such as Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, and Zach Parise), Boeser is a goal scorer of the purest kind. In 12 games with the Canucks (including pre-season), Boeser has eight goals.

For a team that finished 29th in goals scored, the Canucks need a goal scorer like the Kardashians need attention.

Simply put, there is no way that Boeser is left off this team.

Jake Virtanen

Virtanen, on the other hand, is not as much of a sure thing. Though he has had a good preseason thus far, there is no hiding the fact that he didn’t have strong offensive numbers with the AHL’s Utica Comets last year. For a sixth overall draft pick, who has played a near full season in the NHL prior to being demoted, this is of great concern to the powers that be.

However, just like Liam Neeson, Virtanen has a particular set of skills, skills that could potentially make him a nightmare for his opponents.

First, no other forward on the Canucks depth chart has the combination of size and speed that he does. When on his game, Virtanen can obliterate players and skate around them with relative ease.

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Virtanen also has an excellent shot, that may only be inferior (but not by much), to that of Boeser’s.

Another advantage is that Virtanen was coached last year by none other than Canucks head coach Travis Green. With this experience, Green could put Virtanen in a prime position to succeed.

I believe if he is used in the bottom six this year with a solid playmaker (perhaps someone like Sam Gagner), Virtanen could do some damage on the score sheet and make the team tougher to play against.

Verdict: Virtanen should be on the team.

Nikolay Goldobin

This is where things get really complicated. With 94 points in 118 career AHL games, he has nothing left to prove in the AHL. He drove this point home by putting on a show in his short stint with the Comets.

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The only thing that is holding him back is his defensive play, which interestingly enough has looked pretty solid so far this preseason.

In addition, he also looked good on a line with the Sedins near the end of last season. A full season with them could make Goldobin shine.

Playing Goldobin with the Sedins could also allow for Markus Granlund to be moved to the third line with potentially Loui Eriksson and Thomas Vanek, giving the Canucks a strong third line.

Goldobin could also be effective on Bo Horvat’s line, as Goldobin is both an adept playmaker and finisher.

Sending Goldobin down is counter productive, and as someone who has proven his game at every level, he deserves to be on the team.


Is having three young, relatively inexperienced right wingers advisable? Probably not.  However you can’t go much lower than the Canucks did last season.

Keeping to an entirely veteran lineup will only result in more failure.

It is time to turn the reins over to the young guns. Mistakes will be made, no question about that. However the Canucks are still primarily built around veterans, so the youthful enthusiasm will be insulated by veteran savvy.

Most importantly, these three players give the Canucks the best chance at making the playoffs. I know tank nation will be mad with that thought, but at the end of the day if you’re not playing to make the playoffs, you’re not playing — period! And I for one cannot stomach another season of boring losing hockey.

Next: Preseason Finale: Five Lineup Battles left to Watch

If it’s in the cards for the Canucks to tank again this year, at least it should be productive and entertaining. From what we’ve seen so far from Boeser, Virtanen, and Goldobin, it looks like it will be a fun ride.