Third Line Forwards?

The Vancouver Canucks have been lauded for their moves to bolster their defense by trading for Keith Ballard and signing Dan Hamhuis this summer. Some in the media have even gone so far as to declare the Canucks the favourite for the 2011 Stanley Cup.

It's true that the team is set in goal, on the blueline and in their top-six forward ranks. But there are some skeptics out there who wonder about the third and fourth lines. Is there enough depth here for a Cup run? Let's take a look.

Right now, One player is all but guaranteed a spot on the third line: Manny Malhotra. Defensively responsible and elite in the face-off dot, Malhotra is the ideal checking-line center. But who will play with him? A lot of fans are putting their hopes into wonder-prospect Cody Hodgson. While he's had a rough time since being drafted, dealing with back issues and some disagreements with Canucks management, Cody is still seen as one of the elite centre prospects in the NHL. I myself certainly salivate at the idea of a future with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Hodgeson manning the pivot for the boys in blue and green. But with the hardships previously alluded to, is he an ideal candidate to make the team out of camp? He certainly has the smarts and skating to excel defensively. It has been reported that should Cody earn the third-line centre spot, Malhotra could slide to the wing. However, it might even be a better idea to let Hodgson begin his career on the wing, given Malhotra's face-off ability.

So who else could play on Malhotra's line, with or without Hodgeson? The most likely players are Jannick Hansen and Tanner Glass. Hansen is a speedy forward who at times excels at forechecking and creating chances. Of the two he seems more suitable for third-line duty. Glass is a physical energy forward who could be adequate on a checking line, but seems more suited for a 4th line role.

Of course there also offensive prospects Jordan Schroeder and Sergei Shirokov. Both have had high expectations put on them. Shirokov is older and has more professional experience. But Schroeder no doubt has the higher upside. Although small, Schroeder has elite scoring abiliy and was a real steal in the 2009 draft. The problem with these two forwards is whether or not they are NHL ready and whether they possess enough defensive ability to play on an NHL third-line.

Players destined for the 4th line or reserve status who have an outside shot include Rick Rypien, Darcy Hordichuk, Victor Oreskovich, Joel Perrault,. Alexandre Bolduc and Gauillaume Desbiens. But I think that any Canucks fan would agree that ideally those fellows do not even come close to seeing top-9 ice-time.

That leaves two other area's: Free Agency and Trades. With the trade market virtually stagnant, I won't even begin to consider possible options. But with cheap veteran talent abundant in free agency, let's take a look at some forwards the Canucks could (and should) be interested in.

Frederick Modin: Has lost any vestige he once had of offensive ability, but is still defensively responsible and provides a veteran presence. Should come extremely cheap.

Owen Nolan: The ideal choice, but might be out of Vancouver's price range. Gritty, experienced, a born leader and still can score (though not at the same pace as at his best).

Scott Walker: Again, gritty and experienced, with a knack for scoring clutch goals.

Jay Pandolfo: A veteran checker, has lost a step over time but still has some gas left in the tank.

Jere Lehtinen: Once the best defensive forward in the NHL, age is catching up to him. Likely to retire.

Raffi Torres: Gritty with some offensive ability, lacks defensive polish.

Darcy Tucker: A shadow of his former self, probably not on many teams radar.

Bill Guerin: A veteran scorer could be a good presence should one or two of the younger prospects make the team.

Jeff Halpern: Once one of the top defensive forwards in the NHL, has virtually disappeared from the average fan's conscious. Could still be a cheap serviceable option.

Ruslan Fedotenko: Still has a reputation for big goals, but not all that useful.

Brendan Morrison. Former Canuck star would likely welcome a return, but does he fit into the new team structure?

Mike Comrie: Would provide Vancouver with a celebrity WAG.

So what does everyone think? What should General Manager Mike Gillis do with the Canucks bottom 6?

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