Projecting the 2018-19 Vancouver Canucks forward lines

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 14: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena February 14, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 14: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena February 14, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

The Canucks may be blocking out some of their younger players with veterans, but Travis Green may just get the most out of his lineup after training camp. Hopefully, that means Brandon Sutter isn’t our second line centre.

Alright. After the first day of free agent frenzy, I wasn’t feeling great. The Vancouver Canucks committed to a very expensive fourth bottom six forward group and did little to address pressing matters in the lineup. I was very prepared to just write the whole season off (I still am).

Honestly, I don’t think I could stomach a full season with Brandon Sutter holding down the second line. Even worse, he would break Elias Pettersson into the league. However, things could be a little more tolerable this fall.

While listening to Jason Botchford and Jason Brough on TSN 1040, Ben Kuzma was on to discuss Travis Green and the lineup. Some things we got from the discussion was a reminder that Green promised to try Pettersson at centre during training camp. Obviously, he would, but they discussed the possibility of that going into the season.

According to Botchford, Green will consider deploying Sutter in a similar checking role last year as the third line centre (3C). Kuzma added that Sutter was confused how Willie Desjardins deployed him as a top six forward and was more comfortable with his usage last season.

Botchford also noted that Loui Eriksson will be given ample opportunity in the top six like last year before injuries and poor play knocked him down the lineup. So, I want to look at what I think Green starts with in October, but also a scenario where Pettersson is the 2C. Additionally, I will add the lineup that I would put out while keeping the new signings in the lineup.

Travis Green’s ideal roster

I do have a disclaimer about this lineup projection. Because of contract situations, I won’t bother with defencemen or goaltenders. Those areas seem set and as much as I would love to see Thatcher Demko and one of Olli Juolevi or Quinn Hughes on the opening night roster, it won’t happen. The Canucks are struggling to trade their bad defencemen and I don’t think Jim Benning has the stones to waive Anders Nilsson (not that it would be difficult).

Without further ado, here is what I think Green will  put out on opening night:

Sven BaertschiBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Loui ErikssonBrandon SutterElias Pettersson
Antoine RousselJay BeagleJake Virtanen
Markus GranlundTim SchallerSam Gagner
Brendan Leipsic

So, I’m not thrilled about Sutter starting at 2C, but unfortunately, Pettersson will have “earn” that spot, no matter how much he outplays Sutter at training camp. Jay Beagle is also playing higher up than I prefer. He should be playing 12-14 minutes a night instead of the 16-18 minutes Green used Sutter in last season. I also think Green will see Markus Granlund and Brendan Leipsic as similar players to swap in and out.

Yikes. That forward group looks like they could barely scrape above .500, barring any of the same miraculous luck from last year. However, let’s fast forward to around December. I figure if the Canucks are below .500 by then, Green may try and mix things up. He is a stubborn coach, but even he will mix and match that forward group to find the right fit. With a little shifting, the forwards look like this:

Sven BaertschiBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Markus GranlundElias PetterssonLoui Eriksson
Antoine RousselBrandon SutterJake Virtanen
Tim SchallerJay BeagleSam Gagner
Brendan Leipsic

On the outside looking in

At this point, I would swap out Eriksson for Jake Virtanen, but Green may not feel very trusting with him and Pettersson on the same line. Sam Gagner can’t be trusted since he’s so atrocious defensively and would thrive in fewer minutes.

This brings me to what I talked about shortly after July 1st. Brendan Gaunce and Nikolay Goldobin are being pushed out. Adam Gaudette won’t get in and if you were watching the Summer Showcase, you can’t even entertain the hope of Petrus Palmu being a surprise pick to make the team out of camp.

Just for fun, I thought I would build my ideal forward group as well. I won’t be undoing any signings from the last two months. However, any established forwards you don’t see will be moved via trade or simply waived to the minors. Realistically, a GM won’t be as callous as I am, but I don’t care. I want the lineup to be entertaining and advertise the future of the franchise, not the depth players that will be gone by 2022.

Nikolay GoldobinBo HorvatBrock Boeser
Brendan LeipsicUFA 2CElias Pettersson
Antoine RousselBrandon SutterLoui Eriksson
Tim SchallerAdam GaudetteJake Virtanen
Brendan GaunceJay Beagle

For my lineup this means trading Sven Baertschi, waiving Alex Biega and Granlund. We don’t know if Benning is willing to risk Biega on waivers or Granlund for that matter. But if have to keep Beagle in the lineup, we will need 14 forwards. Otherwise, I would just waive him instead. He would clear with that awful contract and if doesn’t, problem solved. It’s a win for me, either way.

The UFA 2C could have been someone like Riley Nash, but if we look at the current free agent pool, there are still options like Nick Shore and Daniel Winnik still available. They aren’t legitimate second line centres, but can be had for league minimum and offer more as a placeholder before letting Pettersson take over.

Unfortunately, this is only a pipe dream. For Jim Benning to do this, he would have to admit to his mistakes this early and draw the ire of Hockey Men in the process. But to me, this sends a better message to the younger players. If you work hard, you will be rewarded on merit, not on contract.

Next: Way too early goal scoring predictions for 2018-19

Anyway, I’m willing to give Green the benefit of the doubt this fall. I view him as an average NHL coach with the same frustrating tendencies. But he can adapt. We will get to see that in training camp. If we end up with that second lineup, I would be okay with that. It will still be rough to watch, but beats the alternative.