Vancouver Canucks: What needs to change in the top nine

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Adam Gaudette #88 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Adam Gaudette #88 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

The NHL is in an interesting transition right now, with the growth of speed and skill and the departure of size and grit. The Vancouver Canucks must find a way to add more skill to the lineup, and having Adam Gaudette replace Brandon Sutter might be the best option.

The evolution of the bottom two lines has been especially evolving over the past few seasons, and the Vancouver Canucks will have to make changes to their lineup if they want to be able to keep up with the ever-changing NHL.

The easy thing to do here is compare the lines of some of the best teams in the NHL to the Canucks, and that’s what I am going to do here.

First off, I want to look at the first place team in the Metropolitan Division, the New York Islanders. The Isles are off to an amazing start to the season with 63 points. Under head coach Barry Trotz, they’ve allowed the least amount of goals against at just 118.

Some old school fans might be thinking that it is all about a powerful checking line with some defensive-minded blueliners. But in realit,  it’s about good coaching and finding strengths in each of the lines.

Something the Canucks should try and work on, some folks were mentioning head coach Travis Green in the running for the Jack Adams Award ,if they were to get into the playoffs this season.

Looking at it from a wide lens or from an Eastern media point of view, I can see how those types of statements would be made. This Canucks team was widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL. Without Elias Pettersson, they would likely be around there.

More from Editorials

There have been some smart moves and tough love done by Green, but there have also been some questionable ones.

Brandon Sutter on the power play comes to mind, or example. He hasn’t recorded an assist since opening night on Oct. 3.

Meanwhile, Troy Stecher has not been on the power play consistently — even though he is the leads all Canuck defenceman in even strength points.

Loui Eriksson and Markus Granlund haven’t been healthy scratches, despite their struggles offensively. Of course, some of those more questionable moves have been amplified lately.

That includes Nikolay Goldobin and the “Free Goldy” movement, which has been making some fans scratch their heads in a frenzy. They’re left wondering why the fourth-highest scorer on the team has been sat multiple games in a row.

Nobody is perfect, but there are definitely some deficiencies in the Canucks lineup, and one of those downfalls is how the top three lines are formed. I’m a fan of the fourth line right now. Tyler Motte, Jay Beagle and Eriksson do all the little things and then some, this trio hasn’t been scored on once with 53 minutes of five on five play.

Let’s talk about the top nine

The top six has been talked about ad nauseam, and the debate is always alive and well on Twitter. Is Jake Virtanen a top six guy? Where does Sven Baertschi sit on this team? Who’s a guy that can find chemistry with Bo Horvat? These are three of the topics I will explore next, and I also want to talk about the difference between the top six and the third line.

I recently asked my Twitter followers about who they thought belongs in the top six.

Virtanen won the poll, not to my surprise when he is matched up against two less favourable Canucks players in Goldobin and Josh Leivo. This result goes a few different directions for me.

Currently, I like Virtanen in a top six role, his speed and ability to get to the net would compliment Horvat’s similar bull-like offense. With some expanded time together, I think future captain Bo would raise Jake’s game to a top six level.

It’s clear that Pettersson and Brock Boeser have found some chemistry with each other early in their NHL careers. Boeser has not been all that he was last year and for me that’s exciting; he hasn’t played his best with Pettersson yet but we have seen flashes of it. This could certainly be a top NHL first line in the future, if the Canucks can find a left winger that compliments these two NHL All-Star level players.

Related Story. Canucks: What it will take to make the playoffs. light

Goldobin has been great with those two, but Green believes that there is a lot lacking in his game. That simply means we’re not going to see him consistently on the top line, let alone in the lineup most games.

Baertschi and Leivo have been two players who have played with Pettersson and Boeser for an extended time. To me, Leivo doesn’t belong in an NHL top six. But there is a spot for him, because he plays well defensively and can contribute goals on occasion with his solid shot.

So for this team this is hot I see it kind of shaping out.

The third line

This is a line that should be able to score goals and make opposing teams uncomfortable. It’s not a checking line anymore like we have seen in the past but this line should have some guys that can provide offensive upside while being capable defensively.

The tough thing right now is that having Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle as two centres on your team makes it difficult to have a third line that can score. It’s clear that Sutter and Beagle are very similar players, they are the same size, play on the penalty kill and are both without playmaking skills.

I don’t have much of a problem with Jay Beagle, he does a solid job for a fourth line centre, he is averaging 13:50 of ice time a game right now and his ability to stall the opposing powerplay as they try to enter the zone is something that makes him a high quality penalty killer. There are some fancy stats out there that will say that he is not a good penalty killer but from my eye test and small dive into analytics I believe Beagle is a solid piece.

Related Story. Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen must bounce back. light

Sutter is my problem.

The third line is evolving and the perfect fit for the Canucks right now is Adam Gaudette. He was finding more of a scoring touch later in his 32 game stint, after being dangerous but not being rewarded for his good play early in the year.

Gaudette is currently playing with the Utica Comets in the AHL and speaking with Cory Hergott and Ben Birnell over the past few weeks I asked them both about Gaudette’s game and they both spoke very high about how he looks like one of the most confident players on this Comets roster.

Gaudette has found a spot on his off wing (left side) of the powerplay and has been performing at a very high level. That spot on the power play was a zone where he dominated in his time with Northeastern in the NCAA. The final year of his NCAA career saw him win the Hobey Baker award and much of that was due to the power play production that Gaudette had.

The ideal line to round out the top nine in the future for me is a line that included Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen.

Roussel’s high tempo and sandpaper attitude would likely force Jake Virtanen to get more involved in the play and these three skaters are good at getting around the ice. Gaudette is probably the worst skater of the trio, but his developing shot and offensive awareness could spark a more offensive game out of Roussel and Virtanen.

Gaudette saw some of his greatest play when playing with Virtanen, his shots on net had a positive ratio of 42 shots on net created and only 38 shots allowed in the 79:29 that they have played together.

So right now it’s tough to have a third line that can produce goals with Brandon Sutter in the lineup, I wonder if as we close in on the trade deadline and Gaudette has more time to develop in the minors we could see a Sutter trade. I think Sutter still has good value, those old school third line players still have value to a playoff team that has solidified their forward group and needs a centre who can play on the penalty kill.

The deadline is rapidly approaching and it will be a big one for general manager Jim Benning and company. This seems to me that it will be the last year to accept losing, after this year the Canucks have already shown plenty of growth and next season with the upward trajectory, this team should be competing for more than a wild card spot. Hopefully one of the three pacific division spots.

The league is changing and third lines are now relied on to score and play a 200-foot-game, the Canucks should get ahead of the trend and get Sutter out of their top nine as soon as possible.

Gaudette is ready to be an NHL third liner on this Canucks team and winging him up with guys like Roussel and Virtanen would be beneficially for all three of them, having a line where they can skate their tails off, get shots on net and try and be a positive scoring third line instead of just trying to keep the puck out of your net for 16-18 minutes a night.

Next. Looking at The Vancouver Canucks February schedule. dark

My question for you in the comments section is who is you ideal third line for the Canucks and does it include Brandon Sutter?

*Stats courtesy of, Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick