Kids Sent Down, The Forgotten Ones and New Lineup
With the recent acquisition of Zac Dalpe and an already crowded roster it's no surprise that shiny new rookies Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk were not in the team's plans for this season. I am a bit surprised that Hunter Shinkaruk didn't at least get a few games with the big club after showing some nice offensive flair during the pre-season, which is something this team has sorely lacked outside of the first line since the Demitra/Samuelsson/Sundin second line days. Although all of us fans tend to get caught up in the shiny new toy syndrome when it comes to young players, especially first round rookies that we haven't seen much of enough yet to find something to criticize and complain about. The reality is simply that Horvat and Shinkaruk simply weren't ready to make the jump this year. Perhaps the Lightning's decision to send down highly-touted 3rd overall pick Jonathan Drouin has made it easier for other teams to follow suit.
Rooks Sent Back
Horvat seemingly has the size(6'0-206), but didn't show a strong enough offensive or defensive game that really wowed or impressed outside of a few flashes, he wasn't bad either but as an 18 year old you really have to turn heads to make a playoff-caliber roster and ultimately Bo didn't really show that. He'll had back to London in the OHL along with fellow first round London teammate Max Domi(Phoenix Coyotes) and look to prove upon last year's numbers(67GP-33G-28A-61PTS) and great playoff performance(21GP-16G-72-23P). Expect him to have a monster season and make a strong push in next year's camp to make the team. I would like to see him improve a bit as a skater and develop his offensive game a bit more as well. I hate to be that guy, especially this early but you can't help but to wonder if Gillis and company will regret passing up on Valeri Nichushkin who's been impressive so far in camp and pre-season for the Dallas Stars and appears to have made the team(to be fair the Stars are considered to have a weaker roster). The Russian factor will always be a question, but the talent and potential to already be an effective NHL player and a future impact player might end up haunting the Canucks as soon as this year, and Gillis will definitely feel the heat if Bo doesn't make this team next year and Nishkushin has a strong rookie campaign. Time will tell.
Shinkaruk was a bit surprising, in a good way. I expected Horvat to be the more NHL-ready player when I saw what weights they were listed at and what kinds of players they were, but Hunter was more impressive overall. He had his ups and downs like all of the young players fighting for a roster spot, but he scored a beauty of a goal against the Sharks, played with a ton of energy and was pretty much fearless despite his size and lack of strength. When he fills out his 5'10.5"-180 pound frame I don't see size being an issue with him, he's definitely not a midget out there and his skating is very impressive, he's very agile and smooth and has the puck skills and shot to be a really good top 6 scorer in the NHL for a long time. I loved the pick at the time and love it even more now, I have a feeling that this kid is going to be a good one. Besides his strength and bulking up, I'd like to see him try and improve his defensive game as he returns to the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL after two impressive offensive seasons(66GP-49G-42A-91PTS & 64GP-37G-49A-86PTS). I'd also expect him to make a really strong case next season to make the Canucks as a full-time NHL'er.
A quick note on Brendan Gaunce, who was the first of these three to be sent back. He's been rumoured in recent trade talks......in the OHL, to potentially be on the move as a one year rental to an OHL contender, it's going to be interesting to see which team he ends up on and how it will effect his ice time and production. Perhaps fellow Canucks prospect Jordan Subban could also be apart of the package? Gaunce is another player who should make a strong push to make this team next fall.
The Forgotten Ones
Lost among all of the talk surrounding the Canucks two new first round rookies and also the newly acquired players, Zac Dalpe and Ryan Stanton are two former first round picks that have been sidelined by injuries and almost lost in the fold, at least by Canuck fans. Center Jordan Schroeder and Winger Nicklas Jensen.
Schroeder is currently out with a foot injury after blocking a shot during a pre-season game against the Oilers, he's expected to be sidelined 2-3 weeks from now and I'm assuming that the team will send him down to the AHL in Utica for a 2-3 game conditioning stint since he's missed a good portion of camp and pre-season. What also hurts him as that he'll be behind everyone else when it comes to learning Tortorella's system which could start him behind the 8 ball right away, and could even make it difficult to crack the top 9 or lineup at all if everyone is healthy when he returns. Last season, Schroeder looked pretty good early when Vigneault had him centering the second line with Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen on a speedy line while Kesler and Booth were both out of the lineup with injuries. However, once the line juggling and mixing and matching began and when Derek Roy and Ryan Kesler were added to the lineup, Schroeder found himself looking on the outside again and was sent down to the AHL where he suffered a shoulder injury and wasn't really right after that, which could explain why he didn't end up playing in the playoffs despite players like Andrew Ebbett drawing in the lineup. Let's take a closer look at how he was used, how hard/easy his minutes were and how he handled his role/minutes:
Schroeder's neutral coloured bubble indicates that his puck possession(shots for/against) were fairly even when he was on the ice. However he was given the 4th most offensive zone starts one the team behind the first line as 60% of his shifts started in the offensive zone, meaning he was used in an offensive role and given some easy minutes which may have made him look better than he actually was since he wasn't a positive possession player despite the fairly high offensive zone start usage. Next, you'll notice that his bubble is pretty low on the chart, this shows that the quality of competition wasn't very tough, meaning he was usually playing against opposing 3rd and 4th lines. So not only was he getting a higher amount of offensive zone starts, but it was also against weaker competition and yet he still ended up being a neutral possession player. However Schroeder was also the victim of a bit of bad puck luck, the team's shooting percentage with him on the ice was a below average 7.24%, but the team's saving percentage was also pretty hight at .924%, this indicates that he probably should have scored a few more points, but the team also should have given up a few more goals with him on the ice, so not really a big difference there. Overall, he clearly was put in a position to succeed last season before the Roy and Kesler additions to the lineup and didn't make the most of his opportunities, he wasn't bad, but not really a good player either. He's a capable 3rd line center, since he still has some upside as a young player, but after looking at these numbers I have to question whether he has the upside to ever become a 2nd line center in this league. My best guess is that he ends up as an undersized 3rd line center, if that's the case then he could benefit from continuing to work on his two-way play and developing some of that offensive confidence that made him a 1st round prospect, at the pro level.
As for Jensen, there's not as much in depth analysis can be done since he's only played 2 games at the NHL level so far. Last season was a strange year for him. He wasn't eligible to play in the AHL and both he and apparently the Canucks felt that another year of junior in the OHL would do him no good so he signed to play with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, a weaker club that would have some opportunity for him to play some decent minutes against grown men in a pro league. He ended up playing fairly well and was one of the top rookie goal scorers in the SEL, despite playing reduced minutes some nights(50GP-17G-6A-23PTS). After his team's season ended he was allowed to play in the AHL and there was even hope that if he played well enough in the AHL that he might get a callup to the Canucks but he struggled playing for Scott Arniel(who apparently did a poor job of handling the Canucks prospects in the AHL) and the Chicago Wolves and put up just 2 goals and 2 assists in 20 games for the Wolves.
Despite his struggles in the AHL last year, there was a realistic shot for him to earn a spot with the Canucks this year, especially after a good rookie camp. But Jensen disappointed with a so-so pre-season. He's always been considered to be a streaky player, and doesn't do a a whole lot when he's not scoring or making offensive plays so naturally he failed to impress since he couldn't generate much offense at all. I still think it's way too early to press the panic button with Jensen though, from the looks of it, he has all of the talent and ability to potentially become a good second line offensive player in the NHL someday, but he needs to work on his consistency issues and keep in mind that he's just 20 years old and this will be his first full season as a pro. Besides being a streaky player and having to work on his all-around game, what I did notice as a positive about Jensen was his positioning in the offensive zone, he does seem to where to go to score goals, but as a result his game also seems to rely on his teammates being able to set him up and also read off of him well. Basically pre-season is tough for a player like him since there's a a lack of chemistry and he also was playing with other young players and not with established pros. I think some significant time in the AHL as a top line forward could do wonders for him under the right coach. hopefully Ex-NHL'er Travis Green can get the most out of him.
With the additions of Zac Dalpe and Ryan Stanton plus the final cuts of Horvat and Shinkaruk, I thought I'd re-do my new opening night lineup as well as my lineup when Zack Kassian is set to return from suspension and Jordan Schroeder from his foot injury.
*Note I will use some of the same writing and reasoning that I gave in my first blog which can be found here:
Sedin - Sedin - Burrows
I now people want to see Kassian play here, or even Hansen. But the first line has never been the issue with this team so I see no reason to break them up. Burrows supposed chemistry with Kesler is overrated IMO, I don't see much chemistry between them two except for when they're killing penalties. Hansen brings the same hustle and forechecking ability of Burrows, but Burrows has better patience and hockey IQ than him so he gets the nod over the speedy Dane for me. I have zero worries or concerns about this line, they'll dominate puck possession regularly as usual(check out the graph above). Daniel Sedin's shooting percentage should rebound(8.7% last year compared to 12.3% career average).
Higgins - Kesler - Hansen
This might be called a second line that supposed to score goals, but I have my doubts that they'll provide consistent secondary scoring and would rather just use this line to play against other team's top lines. If they can come out winning or even then I like the Canucks chances to outscore the other team with the Sedins plus the other 2 lines against the other team's bottom 3 lines.
Booth - Santorelli - Dalpe
This line is going to get some soft matchups if you thnk about it, the Sedins will get the other team's shutdown pairings and shutdown lines. Kesler's line would handle the other team's top lines. Freeing up this speedy line to score against lesser defensive players. Booth and Santorelli both played in Florida a few years ago, I believe they played on the same line for a decent amount of time that year and both were able to score 20 goals. I like what I saw from this line last game, lots of speed and some creativity off f the rush gives other teams a different look from the Sedin and Kesler lines usually only creating chances off of the cycle. Again, this is not your typical shutdown third line and will not be used in that way. What I'd ask for them to do is use that great speed to forecheck hard, force turnovers and create offense off of the rush to limit the reliance on Kesler's line to provide secondary scoring. Zac Dalpe is supposedly a decent offensive player, so I see this line as a very good fit for him, getting easy minutes and playing with two decent offensive players. This is a good spot for him to show if he really belongs at this level.
Sestito - Richardson - Weise
I think Sestito is pretty awful, basically an AHL player. But with Kassian suspended and Schroeder injured, there's no other choices here. Richardson is a solid 4th line player, good speed, works hard, somewhat skilled and not afraid to mix it up physically. Weise is a very frige NHL player, but at least he's better than Sestito. I don't mind Weise as a 13th foward. I prefer a 4th line that can actually handle 10 minutes a night and not only against opposing 4th lines, and this definitely isn't one while Kassian and Schroeder are out.
4th Line With Schroeder/Kassian
Richardson - Schroeder - Kassian
Yeah, I know Schroeder's way too small to be a 4th line center, but the guy can at least play and has improved his two-way game. This is a line that I can actually play and trust a bit more than the 4th line above. I'd move Schroeder up to 3LC replace one of Dalpe/Santorelli if they struggle in that role of an offensive/speed line. Kassian as a 4th liner isn't ideal, but this line can actually play a decent amount compared to Canuck 4th lines of the past and I'd also be willing to shake-up the lineup is he shows signs of taking a step forward this season. This line would probably look a bit more right if Schroeder were to be moved for a bigger capable 4th line center, and by capable I mean a decent possession player. I just don't see Schroeder as a long-term fit anywhere on this team as a tweener. He's certainly a capable NHL'er, but this team can't afford to have a player like him in the bottom 6 in my opinion.
My defense pairings remain the same as I my previous lineup blog so I won't bother repeating them. As I stated in that previous lineup blog, this team looms solid in net and defense on paper, but a second line scorer and a good 3rd/4th line center are definite needs if this team wants to even stand a chance against the Kings, Hawks or even Blues. I think a 3rd place finish in the newly formed Pacific division is fair, assuming no major injuries. I like the Kings as the class of this division, and I'd give the edge to the Sharks over the Canucks, and I see the Ducks falling back a bit so I'll give the Canucks the call over Anaheim. I could even see Edmonton or Phoenix challenging the Ducks for 4th in this division depending on who stays the healthiest.
As always, thanks for reading!
*Note*, I figured out the comment system, just avoid any punctuation outside of commas and periods and it should work for ya. Thanks for reading as always!