Harder’s Take: Vancouver Canucks Line-Up Predictions

desjardins_700x400.jpg

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com 

It has been a week since the preseason has commenced for the Vancouver Canucks and fans have, through trial and error, seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. In their four games played, the Canucks camp pulled off an impressive 3-1-0 record. Many players have been cut but 28 players remain in the main roster. There are still a lot of questions regarding the majority of the group. If the roster was announced tomorrow on who will stay and who will go, what would the line-up look like? Here’s my take on what the team will look like for the upcoming season.

FORWARDS

Sedin – H. Sedin – Vrbata

Burrows – Vey – Shinkaruk

Higgins – Bonino – Hansen

Kassian – Richardson – Dorsett

DEFENSE

Hamhuis – Bieksa

Sbisa – Tanev

Edler – Weber

FIRST LINE: D. SEDIN – H. SEDIN – VRBATA

The first line of the roster is a no brainer. Henrik and Daniel are the faces of the franchise and Radim Vrbata is the greatest thing for the twins since the invention of sliced bread. On Friday night against the Calgary Flames the trio proved the veterans are just as good as the young stars. They were able to take shots from every angle, pass the puck, and put the pressure on the opposing team. Expect the fountain of youth to strike the first line because they are ready to show the NHL what they’ve got.

SECOND LINE: BURROWS – VEY – SHINKARUK

Over the span of the preseason, Willie Desjardins has paired Alex Burrows, Nick Bonino, and Zack Kassian in what is considered to be our second line for this season. In the two games they have appeared, the players looked incompatible with each other and could not produce a positive result. The play between the three has been sloppy and is not suitable to be a top six line. In order to fix this problem, there will need to be a massive shake up in the second line and that includes a touch of good hockey knowledge and consistent scoring.

Linden Vey shows the potential to become an elite player and averaged over a point a game when playing with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL last season. The star studded center has scored four points in the two games he played in the preseason and with his speed and power knows how to deliver.

Hunter Shinkaruk has been the most impressive player in this preseason and has proven above and beyond that he is ready to take on the NHL this season. The Ryan Kesler style play of Shinkaruk brings is exactly what the team needs in the top six line-up. He can snipe the puck and he can pass unlike his second line predecessor. Even if the first round pick does not make the main roster this season, expect him to be the first player that Jim Benning decides to call up from the minors.

Last season, Alex Burrows was struck with injury after injury and wilted under the John Tortorella regime. This July Radim Vrbata signed with the Vancouver Canucks to play with the Sedins thus stealing Burrows’ first line role. The great thing about Alex Burrows is that he can be placed on any line and flourish with whomever his line mates are. Shinkaruk and Vey are young and smaller than the average NHL pro but with the presence of Burrows, they will have their veteran counterpart providing more grit when necessary.

THIRD LINE: HIGGINS – BONINO – HANSEN

When Jim Benning came into management, he set into place a series of trades to fix the wreckage that Mike Gillis left behind. Every player was randomly placed into the line-up and some of the former choices were questionable. Last season Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen played on the second line but clearly did not belong on that pedestal. Now the two Canucks can be moved from those positions and be part of a solid third line where they can provide steady back up and become a major component to Desjardins’ four line system.

Bonino has been anointed by the brass to become the new second line center, but it is problematic due to the fact that he does not look like he can hold that position firmly in his grasp. If he were to be the second center, the role would come with a lot of pressure to potentially lose the spot to prospect Linden Vey. The former Ducks player needs more time to develop with the third line to show he is ready to take on a top six position in the roster.

Though it sounds like a line not much faith would be held in, the three team mates would prosper and could score some serious points and help fill the body of the roster.

FOURTH LINE: KASSIAN – RICHARDSON – DORSETT

In the Western Conference, the fourth line always matters if a team wants to be a serious cup contender. The Canucks are currently in a very good position with their fourth line as they have ripe crop of players to select from. Brad Richardson without a doubt will be the center for this line in the upcoming season. He is a great faceoff player and is physical every time he steps on the ice. Derek Dorsett makes an excellent line mate for Richardson because he can scrap, skate, and score when needed. Lastly, Zack Kassian needs to start back at the bottom and work his way back up through the team. The wild card player is too inconsistent to skate on the second line and he could possibly put the Canucks’ game in jeopardy with a primary role. Playing on the fourth line would let Kassian re-establish his worth to play in the top six. In the meantime he will have to work a whole lot harder in every game or it is goodbye, Vancouver.

THE HORVAT QUESTION

Bo Horvat has been the top of the talk within the Vancouver hockey community. What is problematic is that he is too good for the Ontario Hockey League but is only 19 years old. Horvat is too young to play in the AHL and the options are having him spend the whole season as a Vancouver Canuck or returning him his junior team, the London Knights. The dilemma becomes fostering the proper development for the budding star. If he spends the year in London, Horvat will not have the challenge that he needs in order to move forward in his career. The danger of Bo Horvat playing the season in Vancouver creates the challenge of the team holding too many centers on their roster. In order for him to make the team another center would have to go and he may spend the year on the third line. If he were to stay in Vancouver it could possibly harm his development as a player. The answer to this quandary lays in the hands of the team management and will be no easy choice.

CUTS

Shawn Matthias:

The centerman was acquired in a trade for goaltender Roberto Luongo last march. Since landing in Vancouver and it has been uncertain on his future with the franchise. In the congestion of centers, Matthias will be a healthy scratch for the team.

Tom Sestito:

Sestito became the primary odd man out when Derek Dorsett joined the Vancouver Canucks. Tom Sestito as a player is everything that Dorsett is not. Dorsett works as an upgrade from the brash fourth liner who will most likely be placed on waivers this season.

FIRST PAIRING: HAMHUIS – BIEKSA

This first pairing is an easy one to predict. Bieksa has been the leader of the defensive charge for the past few season while Dan Hamhuis has played the supporting role. Though a Brent Seabrook-like defenseman would be preferable for a top pairing, the duo will plausibly create a solid front line in every game.

SECOND PAIRING: SBISA – TANEV

The second pairing is not a flashy group of blue-liners. Luca Sbisa in the preseason plays a classic style of defending the zone and dumping the puck out for players to chase. Sbisa makes a large impact on the ice when delivering hits and he always finishes. Tanev as well is a classic defenseman and will be a compatible piece with the newly acquired player.

THIRD PAIRING: EDLER – WEBER

Last season Alex Edler was worst in the NHL in plus/minus with a rating of -39. The Swedish star struggled all of the 2013-14 season and needs a restart with the team. Like Kassian, Edler was inconsistent in his play and will need to earn his trust back with management if he want to regain his top pairing role. Yannik Weber will play as the support to the ailing Edler to help nurse back into the defenseman he used to be.

CUTS

Ryan Stanton:

In the preseason Ryan Stanton has been everything but good in the game. Every time he steps onto the ice he looks like a lost puppy wandering the arena. Stanton cannot defend, he fails to provide any support to his team mates and on Thursday night he kept crashing into cut defenseman Kent Huskins over the majority of the game. Ryan Stanton has one year remaining on his contract and if he seeks for an extension, he will have to get his head back in the game.

What is seen here is what I project the Vancouver Canucks line-up will look like for this coming season, and I firmly believe with a balance of both young stars and veterans will overall look best in the managements favor during the long run.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Canucks Resurrect Successful Power Play Against Flames

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com

lindenvey_700x400

On Friday night, the Vancouver Canucks won their third straight game in the preseason. In the back-to-back finale against the Calgary Flames, newly acquired goaltender Ryan Miller debuted in the blue and green followed up by Joacim Errikson for the second half as Eddie Lack got the night off. The game played was a complete flip from Thursday’s outing as the Canucks turned it around showing they were clearly the dominant team in the building.

The game in itself was refreshing because it was the first game, in what has seemed like a millennium that the Canucks were a force to be reckoned with on the power play. Out of seven opportunities, the boys were able to net three goals provided by Linden Vey, Jannik Hansen, and Radim Vrbata.

The Sedins were back to their old glory days alongside Vrbata who was a seamless fit with the two stars on the first line. Everything fell right into place as the team successfully cycled the puck, knocking the Flames out of place and winding Douglas Carr into a blubbering mess on the ice. Linden Vey successfully screened Carr in the second period and scored on a rebound off the goaltender’s pads. The goal by Vey and the lead up to it made a large impression on what fans are hoping to see this year. Henrik Sedin was a key contributor to the power play on Friday setting up for the assist on all three goals scored. Radim Vrbata scored one goal and took a total of 12 shots when including attempts. As can be seen by his play, Vrbata likes to shoot and was 11th in the NHL last year with 263 shots on net.

Even though the boys played against a team of Flames that will be starring on their farm team this season, fans were still pleased to see the veteran players tie the knot. There was not a single line that looked lost in the game and it gave us a promising preview of Willie Desjardins’ four line system.

Fellow Canucks fans, the boys are back.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Young Stars Give Vets a Run For Their Money

By Caleb Harder for CanucksCorner.com

Hunter Shinkaruk - Photo: VancouverSun.com

Hunter Shinkaruk – Photo: VancouverSun.com

The Vancouver Canucks opened the preseason at home against the San Jose Sharks in a compelling tug of war between the two teams that had remarkably disappointing seasons last year. The Canucks played fast and scored beautiful goals but one thing was off. The young stars were the only players to produce.

The symphony created by the rookies came off as if they were already in their prime. The flood gates opened when Jordan Subban took a shot from the point netting in the first goal. The three other goals in the game were provided by Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat, and Linden Vey. 

In their opening game, the young stars were on fire in their play against the Sharks. Though the Sedins and Radim Vrbata appeared to be a threat on the ice, they didn’t go much further than merely passing around the puck. It was a surprising outcome to the game as the veterans were expected to support the struggling young players who could not seem to get the puck out of their defensive zone in the Young Stars Tournament last week. Was it all a show for the rookies in Penticton causing fans to believe they were not ready to make the big leagues? The players on the ice last night in Rogers Arena were nothing like the ones we previously saw.

The overall effort of the group was outstanding kicking off with Linden Vey taking the chance on the breakaway two minutes into the game causing Stalock, the netminder for the Sharks, to struggle to make the save. The future Canucks showed lightning speed, beautiful plays, and proved that if the veterans won’t step up, they most certainly will.

It’s hard to tell if the vets were holding back or if former head coach John Tortorella was catching on to something in the season ending press conference. The core is not too old in theory but some will need to kick their play up a notch if they want to secure their jobs with the Canucks organization.

If the rookies continue to play in the fashion they did last night, expect players like Shinkaruk and Horvat to make the main roster this season.

The future of the Canucks, though uncertain, is looking bright.

 

HARDER’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME

#3 Linden Vey

G: 1 A: 2 PTS: 3 +/- 3

#2 Jordan Subban

G: 1 A: 0 PTS: 1 +/- 1

#1 Hunter Shinkaruk

G: 1 A: 1 PTS: 2 +/- 2

 

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Part Three: Expanding The NHL: How An Expansion Draft Could Impact The Canucks

 expansion_part3_700x400

In a three part series Caleb Harder looks how a potential expansion draft could have an impact on the Vancouver Canucks. In the final installment, he looks at the goaltenders.

In this final installment of The NHL Expansion Draft Series, I will cover the possible scenario for the goaltending of the Vancouver Canucks should this expansion come to pass.

As discussed in my previous articles, I will be using the “7 / 3 / 2” (seven forwards, three defensemen, two goaltenders) model for who could be protected on the Canucks roster. Today we examine the goaltenders.

THE GOALTENDERS

goaltenders

(30) Ryan Miller

On July 1st, the Vancouver Canucks inked a three-year $18 million deal with veteran goaltender Ryan Miller to fill the void of the starting goaltender after both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo were traded to the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. Though the Canucks still had Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom, it was believed by management that the two Swedish goalies would need some support and mentoring in the crease. Ryan Miller is one of the first goalies that come to mind when the new hybrid style of play in net is mentioned. The one time Vezina Trophy winner holds the franchise record with the Buffalo Sabres for most career wins (284) and most wins in a single regular season (41 in 2009-10). With Miller starting in net for his new team, it restores hope for stability in goaltending for the fans in Vancouver.

(31) Eddie Lack

This young goalie is entering his second NHL season as a Canuck. Last season, he was put to the test by playing 19 straight games from the end of the 2014 Olympic break to April 7th, 2014 under John Tortorella despite demands by management to give him a couple games off during the span. After that span, Lack proved that while he may not be ready to be the starting goalie for the Canucks, he may be a solid second benefitting from more time developing under a veteran goaltender. Overall, Eddie Lack is a talented hybrid goaltender who can fill up the whole crease. He will be the successor to Ryan Miller someday, and is one of the most lovable goalies to play in Vancouver.

THE RUNNER-UP

(35) Jacob Markstrom

Jacob Markstrom was one of two acquisitions from Florida at the trade deadline for former Canucks starter Roberto Luongo. This is the one goalie that I don’t see spending much more time on the West Coast. Without a doubt, Markstrom is a talented goaltender who had a decent lockout season with the Florida Panthers while sharing the crease with Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore. With the arrival of Ryan Miller to the equation, I believe Markstrom will not receive the opportunities he deserves to have as a goaltender and will be able to get a better shot in another franchise.

With these present conditions along with the recent selection of Thatcher Demko in the NHL Draft, the future is revealing glimmers of renewed hope. If the Canucks play their cards right in transitioning the role of the starting goaltender from Miller to Lack to Demko over a period of time, perhaps the city of Vancouver will no longer be considered the goalie graveyard to the rest of the hockey nation.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Part Two: Expanding The NHL: How An Expansion Draft Could Impact The Canucks

expansion_part2_700x400

In a three part series Caleb Harder looks how a potential expansion draft could have an impact on the Vancouver Canucks. In part two, he looks at the defence.

As we mentioned in Part One, rumours made their way through newspaper and the internet that the National Hockey League would be granting four new franchises to Seattle, Quebec City, Toronto, and Las Vegas. If the rumours turn out to be true, the NHL will hold an expansion draft for the awarded franchises.

In the expansion draft, each existing team has the choice of protecting one goaltender, nine forwards, and five defensemen, or the option of protecting two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. For teams that protect two goaltenders, all remaining goaltenders are required to have played a minimum of 10 NHL games in the previous season or 25 total games in the previous two seasons. Each team must also have one defenseman and two forwards left unprotected who have played in 40 NHL games in the previous season or 70 games combined in the previous two. Players exempted from the draft are first and second year pro’s and presumably other prospects.

In the Canucks current position, the team has the ability to choose whatever option they please in protecting players, but I will be using the “two goaltenders, seven forwards, three defensemen” format for this series. With all those rules in mind, if the expansion draft were to take place tomorrow, which defensemen would the Canucks protect on their roster and why?

To give an overview of the players eligible in the draft here is a quick overview chart of the defensemen on the roster.

THE DEFENSEMEN

defencemen

(3) Kevin Bieksa

Kevin “Juice” Bieksa is the true definition of leadership. Bieksa always provides 110% in the game whether it’s standing up for his teammates, delivering a solid hit on the opposing team when they get in the zone, or setting up his line mates for the winning goal. He is one of the most physical and aggressive defenders in the game and is not afraid to provide some gritty play. The Juice is a player with a true passion for the game and the kind of defenseman a team should never think twice about protecting for their roster.

(2)  Dan Hamhuis

Last year, Dan Hamhuis had the best plus minus rating among his fellow team mates. It seemed to be in the previous season that he was always on the ice when the Canucks scored and when they were scored on. Hamhuis has proven throughout his ten year career to have a decent point shot, however he is a fantastic defenseman when it comes to setting himself up an assist with a career high of 33 assists in the 2011-12 season with the Vancouver Canucks. Hamhuis also proved under the John Tortorella regime last season that he can definitely put the puck into the net and who knows, maybe this year it will be on the opposing team.

(8) Chris Tanev

Chris Tanev is the image of the Vancouver Canucks defensive future. The 24-year-old blue liner has strong hockey knowledge and can swiftly move the puck like no one else. His playing style is most comparable to former Canuck, Christian Ehrhoff, whom he played alongside in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final season. The undrafted defenseman has been one of the few successful prospects of the Mike Gillis era and it looks like it’s nothing but up for the rest of Tanev’s career.

If these three were to be protected by Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks, it would create the trifecta of the modern defensemen as it fills in the requirements of being tough on the ice, large on offensive strength, and honing the basics of what a strong defenseman is overall.

Part Three: Goaltenders

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder