The “Lotto Line” for the Vancouver Canucks has proven to be one of the best offensive trios in the NHL, but they should consider spreading out the top scorers.
The biggest highlight of the 2018-19 season for the Vancouver Canucks was the insane chemistry that formed almost instantly between the remarkable rookie, Elias Pettersson and second-year pro Brock Boeser. The twin-like connection was thought to be a sure-fire lock as one of the league’s best duo’s for the next decade, but it appears destiny might have something else planned for Vancouver.
General manager Jim Benning brought in J.T. Miller in an offseson trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and not long into the season, the duo turned to dominant trio. Miller’s arrival on the top line sparked not only his own offensive production, but also the numbers of Boeser and Pettersson.
The theoretical tripod called the “Lotto Line”, began decimating opponents. But some would argue, as the season has worn on, that the chemistry between Miller and Pettersson has grown stronger than “Boesersson”.
Next thing you know, Jake Virtanen is having a breakout campaign and he’s knocking on Boeser’s doorstep looking for ice time. The Canucks are yet to play their 50th game of the season and “Big Tuna” is already putting up career numbers. The local kid from New Westminster, B.C. has 28 points this season, with 14 of them being goals.
More from The Canuck Way
- Which team won the Bo Horvat trade?
- What to expect from newcomers Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Räty
- Back to the future: How the skate uniforms became a regular Canucks’ feature night
- Canucks kick off 2023 with disappointing 6-2 loss to Islanders
- 2nd period penalty trouble sinks Canucks in 4-2 loss against Winnipeg
According to Hockey Reference, out of Virtanen’s 14 goals, 11 of them have been scored at even-strength — which is enough for him to lead the team in five-on-five goals.
Say what you want, but imagine what his goal totals would be if he was seeing top-line minutes on a regular basis while also cementing his place on power play two.
His 14 conversions are tied with Tanner Pearson for fifth most on the team. Pettersson leads the team with 21. Those 14 goals are impressive for Virtanen, considering his average ice time is 12:39.
On the other hand, Boeser is having a career year, but he has fallen to “third wheel” alongside Miller and Pettersson. Swapping the sniper and power forward for a longer look might help the Canucks be a better team in the long run. Hear me out on this.
For a handful of games, head coach Travis Green has rewarded Virtanen’s previous stellar play by slotting him on the top line. This moves Boeser down to the third line to play with Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel, but surprisingly, it’s benefiting both players.
Virtanen’s size and speed complement the top-line playing style very well. Being arguably the team’s fastest skater, he can move into the dirty areas, retrieve the puck and feed it to Pettersson before parking himself net-front for goaltender screening and garbage goal rebounds.
When it comes to Virtanen, we’ve all heard the Micheal Ferland comparisons, and we all know why he was brought to Vancouver — as protection for Pettersson. In a pinch, Virtanen is the guy who can fill that role.
Each game that passes, Virtanen looks more comfortable riding shotgun with Petey and Miller. He notched two assists against the San Jose Sharks, and Virtanen recorded a beautiful primary assist on an offensive rush — feeding the puck to Miller cross-crease. He’s been consistently making a difference. Perhaps Virtanen is just getting started.
Keep Boeser — 2018 All-Star MVP — down on the third line. Again, he’s instantly the go-to-guy. With the strong hustle of Gaudette and the never quit attitude of Roussel, Boeser has two relentless puck-hounds that can outwork opponents, tire them out and find him in the spot for his signature goal. The sniper needs to be touching the puck more on a regular basis while also upping his shots per game. He gets what he needs playing down the lineup.
If all goes well, this deployment of players gives the Canucks three legit scoring lines and provides chemistry throughout. Instead of slowing down like last season, Virtanen can strive for 50 points if he stays on the top line. When it comes to Boeser’s “demotion”, he actually gets a lot more time with the puck and gets first dibs on beating the opposition’s backstopper.
Remember when Phil Kessel won his first Stanley Cup? Instead of stacking Kessel with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Head coach Mike Sullivan had each star player head their own line and what happened? There was too much elite skill throughout the lineup, and that made it impossible for the opponents to shut them all down. The same thing could happen in Vancouver.
The Canucks continue to win games, and the linemates are gelling well together. There is no reason to mess with a good thing. Virtanen is excelling on the top line, Pearson and Loui Eriksson are munching shutdown minutes while also lifting Bo Horvat to over a point per game. On top of that, Boeser gives the team three scoring lines partnered with Gaudette and Roussel. This is working for Vancouver, and maybe it gets them to the playoffs.