Vancouver Canucks: Linemate options for Bo Horvat and Antoine Roussel

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Antoine Roussel #26 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2018 in New York City. The New York Rangers won 2-1. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Antoine Roussel #26 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2018 in New York City. The New York Rangers won 2-1. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The trade deadline is less than 10 days away and I’d be very surprised and a bit scared if the Vancouver Canucks are big game hunting for a winger to play with Bo Horvat. There are many stats to back up why Antoine Roussel is a good fit with Bo but who should be on the other wing, let’s discuss.

With the recent addition of Ryan Spooner, many Vancouver Canucks fans are wondering if the toxic environment in Edmonton would be reason to believe that Spooner could turn his career back onto the scoring highway and get back to second-line scoring numbers.

Weird enough, the Canucks are looking for a second line winger who can skate with Bo Horvat.

Maybe Jimbo knows what he’s doing after all?

Spooner likely isn’t the long term answer, maybe not even the short term answer, as Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet is reporting that Spooner is seeing time with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

Facts are facts

Horvat has chemistry with Antoine Roussel, it seems that Roussel actually has chemistry with whoever he plays with up and down the lineup. The stats show that Horvat is at his best offensively when he plays with Roussel as his linemate.

So let’s remember that Bo Horvat has been in some dire situations when it comes to the group of wingers that he has found himself playing with this season. Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, Nikolay Goldobin, Markus Granlund just to name a few. It’s clear that this team wants to have a second line that is strong on both sides of the ice but can also be a line with a positive plus-minus that take plenty of shots on goal.

It’s interesting to note that when Horvat plays with Granlund, Goldobin, Motte or Schaller, his shots for to against ratio is negative. The combined shots on net when Horvat is on a line with these four wingers is 185, while the shots on net allowed sit at an eye-opening 264. That’s a 41.2% Shots-For percentage.

When Horvat is away from these players his line’s shots on net totals are 387 for and 337 shots on net allowed, that’s a 53.5% Shots-For percentage. You can clearly see in the image above that adding Roussel helps Horvat even more. With Roussel as one of his linemates, their line’s combined shots on net are 134 and only 86 shots on net allowed, that’s a 60.9% Shots-For percentage.

That 60.9% is actually higher than many superstar pairings in the NHL.

Now I’m not saying this pairing is better than the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but this graph proves a point that the pairing of Horvat and Roussel needs to stick together.

The problem is who will be the other winger that could succeed with these two?

The third wheel

There’s a handful of options for the Canucks to throw in with this duo, fellow TCW writer David Quadrelli had a great article talking about linemates for Bo Horvat, he brought up the combination of Horvat, Roussel and Jake Virtanen.

Now, this is a line that I can get down with, I like the speed that Jake and Rous have on the wings and Virtanen’s ability to drive the puck in deep is something that works well with Horvat and Roussel’s strong board work and puck retrieval abilities.

Adding Virtanen to this line seems like one of the top fits for me. I love the combo, but with the recent news that #ShotgunJake will be missing a month due to a broken rib, we will have to look further down the lineup for someone to ride shotgun with Bo and Rous.

I’m just going to cross off the four names that I mentioned earlier in this article Goldobin, Granlund, Motte and Schaller. These four have had opportunities to play with Horvat and have not found enough success for me to believe that they can find it in the second half of the season.

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Loui Eriksson‘s name would likely come up, as he’s an NHL veteran who plays a 200-foot game that coaches are obsessed with.

On top of that, he can add a bit of offence from time to time but I think Loui’s time as a top-six forward in Vancouver has passed.

He has found a good spot with Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte on the fourth line, and although the team is paying almost 10 million dollars for that fourth line, they are an effective trio in that role and I wouldn’t mess with it.

Newcomer to the team Zack MacEwen is intriguing, a big body with some pace to his game and a knack for being physical and driving the puck to the net. His game has vastly improved since being signed to the Utica Comets in 2017-18, getting faster and more confident with every professional game played.

Would MacEwen be 100% ready to play alongside Horvat and Roussel in tough matchups against some of the NHL’s best lines? Probably not, but I don’t think that there is really any right winger in the organization right now that is 100% capable of playing great defensively against the NHL’s best.

So why not try #BIGMACZACK with these two? It’s not like head coach Travis Green hasn’t played worse players with Horvat this year. “The Big Fella” is buzzing right now and the other night when he fought immediately after an opposing goal was a great example of an attempted momentum pushback that I haven’t seen from a Canuck player in years.

Another betting favourite is probably Josh Leivo. His game has impressed a lot of Canucks fans this season and coach Green has shown confidence in Leivo, putting him in powerplay situations and also having Leivo get plenty of top-six time whether it be with Pettersson or Horvat.

The problem with this trio is that Leivo has mostly been deployed as a left winger, but he has shown that he can play the right wing. Another problem is that even though these three have been teammates since December 3rd, they have only been assembled as a line for a minuscule six minutes and eighteen seconds together, and the Leivo-Roussel combination has only played 11 minutes and 39 seconds together as a winger duo.

These three would likely match up nicely though, as Leivo can fire shots with accuracy while also contributing as a forechecker, and is pretty effective in his own defensive zone. Roussel would bring the fire, Horvat brings the bull mentality, and Leivo could be the trigger man who gets effective shots on net.

Sounds like a decent combo to me.

What’s next?

We may need to wait until July 1st, 2019 to fully address a winger that could play every day with Horvat, but if there’s anything we have learned from Green’s coaching over the years, it’s that he loves his pairs. For now, let’s hope that coach Green keeps Roussel and Horvat together and uses this time in the season to cycle through some right-wingers who could round out the duo into a competitive NHL second line.

Horvat is clearly a great second line centre and Roussel has shown that he can compete as a second line left-winger when saddled up with Horvat. This team should also consider Spooner after his attempt at the first line with Pettersson and Boeser is finished. I wonder if the change of scenery can do something for Spooner, who has seen his scoring touch plummet after being a 40-50 point scorer as recent as last year.

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Do you have an ideal right winger to play with Horvat and Roussel, or would you like to see coach Green cycle a few different options until we see what the best fit is? Let me know in the comments section below!

*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick*