The Bottom Six of any NHL team is an interesting place to be for professional hockey players. For some, it is a place where they excel, where they are comfortable, and where they can contribute the most to a successful team. For others, it is a bit of a banishment. They think that they are bonafide top of the line up players, if they "only could get the chance to show what I can do."
Around here, that would best be personified by the recently departed Zack Kassian, but you would not have to look hard on any line up to find a similar circumstance. It is an interesting part of the sport, indeed in any sport. The NFL is littered with QB's sitting on the bench, secretly hoping for an injury to the #1, and the NBA is full of guys stewing on the bench, full of resentment because "the ******* coach just does not get me, man". Such is life, in or out of sport. It is what you make of it.
The musical inspiration today comes from one the Barenaked Ladies.
It's All Been Done might be what a fan would have to say about the bottom six. It is a place of flux, by the very nature of how players move up as they play and get better. But the Bottom Six is not a punishment. So, while you might say "it's all been done Jim", just remember that it is usually the Bottom Six that wins you the Stanley Cup. The Final almost always has teams that are very, very good, and the Top Six of both teams will often just cancel each other out as far as production goes. The guys that take their limited minutes and the third lines that are clearly better than their counter AND even the Top Six because they get on a roll. Those are the guys everyone wants.
In the NHL, on a successful team, the guys on the Bottom Six may want to get those higher minutes and bigger paycheques that are just a short jaunt up the team pecking order away. But most are all about "what is best for the team", because they know how important what they do is to the ultimate success of the team. Let's look at the players that will be part of the Bottom Six mix in Lotusland this year.
The Riddle In The Middle
With the signing of Brandon Sutter to a long term deal, the Canucks have their centre ice position set, for a few years at least. Captain Hank is still producing at a Top 15 in the NHL rate, and Bo Horvat took his ice time last year and literally demanded more with his play. He will get it, and that is where it gets interesting.
As it sits, Willie Desjardin's has two centres that can play ( potentially, Bo is a sophomore ) his second and third line pivot positions. I think the desire is to see Bo Horvat take his opportunity and run with it. He has shown an ability to make smart passes, and get to the dirty areas to score, and that helps. But Brandon Sutter is where that desire meets reality. He is certainly going to get the first consideration at that position ( all this is rosterbation supposition, of course. The play of the players, the chemistry with this guy or that, is what will go a longer way to determining the starting point for Whiteboard Willie ), as a veteran. While his time in Carolina saw him higher up the depth chart, he was primarily the 3rd line centre in Pittsburgh. For the purposes of this series, since I had Bo in that Top Six position, let's assume Sutter is the third line pivot. That means he will get those minutes, as well as getting extra PK and PP minutes ( a pretty good face off guy, as well as a very good PKer ). He will hopefully make the third line more productive. Ideally, he and Bo are interchangeable at times this year, and we get increased production from both lines.
Wingers, Wingers, Wingers, We Got Wingers....
There are a lot of guys that can fill the bottom six up, but let's start with the guys that might get the occasional 2nd line minutes too. In order of seniority...
- I know some in this market ( not this scribe ) would say Burr' should be in this article, but since he was in the last one, the most senior member is the quintessential 3rd liner, Chris Higgins. He gets minutes on the 3rd line occasionally, but the left side with Sutter is where he should play most of his minutes. "Abs" is a pretty sturdy 6'0", 205, and his speed and shot should benefit from playing with Sutter ( or even Bo on occasion ). He can score in bunches when he plays with guys that turn pucks over around the net, where his instincts are good.
- Jannik Hansen. The Honey Badger. Beaker. The Great Dane. Pick your nickname as your tastes warrant. After all, it is the same way the various coaches he has played for here have given Beaker his ice time. You are just as likely to see him with the Sedins as with Linden Vey, and the Danish Army Knife just does his thing with whomever he plays with. Fast, with a hummer of a shot ( he needs to use it more ) , and a proclivity for getting involved physically while talking in that "minniminnemeee?" Beaker voice, he can get under folks skin as well.
- I think a lot of Canuck fans are unsure of what we have in Linden Vey. The 6'0", 189 lber ( let's see if that number goes up at Canucks.com after camp physicals. He has been, reportedly, working very hard this offseason. Maybe he put on a few more lb's ) scored 10 goals, and had 24 points in 75 games, but his skills on the ice make you think he should be getting more. Consistency is the buzzword for him.
- Jake Virtanen might be one of the guys pushing guys like Vey. If he makes the team, he could play anywhere, and contribute. Such is the level of talent the 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft possesses. He is another who has been working hard over the summer. With good reason. He knows that there is a spot there for him if he can reach out and grab it, and his early returns at the Summer Spectacular have been promising. He needs to do it in an NHL camp and in the preseason, but if he does make the team, perhaps it is the right side of the 3rd or 4th line ( more likely as a 13th forward. GMJB would have to make a little room, but they always say that is what they want, for the players to force the roster moves with their play ) . Now THAT would make the Canucks younger !
Bangers, Drivers, and the Value of Truculence
- Derek Dorsett I enjoyed what Double D brought to the roster in his first season. He had 7 goals, and 25 points, but it was the 175 PIM that was a big part of his contribution. We can get all aghast at the "violence" and all, and I can respect that viewpoint, but it is not going to change anytime soon, and it is a big part of how a team succeeds, especially in the Western Conference. He is only 6'0" and 192, but has no fear of challenging bigger guys that "take liberties" with his teammates. When you have played this game, you understand how much that is respected by his teammates.
- Brandon Prust was brought in to help Double D in that regard, because, like I said, the West is a dangerous place. The main calling card he possesses, in addition to having "no fear", like his new linemate ( in addition to a decent amount of speed for their job description, as well as an at least passable level of "hands" ), Prust is a player who will "bring it" each and every shift. That is something the coach is going to love. I would expect that he might play up and down the lineup as Willie takes advantage of that fact when his team is not going well from time to time.
- Ronalds Kenins is also just 6'0", though he is 201 lbs. The "Latvian Locomotive"made a pretty good impression in his 30 games. His shot is quick and hard, and led to 4 goals, and his ability to "puckhound" is probably where most of those 8 assists came from. He is the kind of player whose speed, and ability to make "bowling ball" hits is what got him noticed, but now who needs to learn the right time to make those hits without taking the bad penalty. Part of that is the fact that rookies get no respect in the NHL. Perhaps he will get a little more leeway as well.
- The guy that will definitely standout of he is a dark horse camp darling and makes the team is Alexandre Grenier. GMJB almost gushed in his assessment of how the big guy has seen a leap in how he plays the game at the AHL level. He is probably going to have one more year in the AHL, ( coupled with being a first call up as injuries come up ) , but perhaps he can continue his ascent up the food chain quicker. Either way, it is interesting to see him in the conversation, at the least.
4th Line Centre ?
Linden Vey can take draws, but is listed on the roster as a right winger at the mothership. In fact, there are only three centres on the roster ( but 5 right wingers ). So, perhaps it is Vey's spot until he loses it. Some guys that are in the pipeline, and at various degrees of readiness include Brendan Gaunce ( originally drafted as a centre, but having success in the AHL as a left winger ), Hunter Shinkaruk, Alex Friesen ( recently resigned ), and, in the dark horse category ( but someone else whom GMJB has lauded time and again, and who he even said has the "potential" to make the team ) is Cole Cassels. He is probably a year or two away, but who knows ? He will be in the AHL this year, but if he can excel at that level, it is another case of the player forcing the decision with his play.
So, there are your options. I see Hansen and Higgins with Sutter, and Vey between the two bangers in Prust and Dorsett, but like the way he has set it up when it comes to roster planning and having maximum flexibility as far as contracts go, the GM has given his coach a great deal of options. Some might find the higher minutes too much for them, but just remember that it is usually injury of lacklustre play that makes those moves necessary, and both of those situations are short term by their nature. Apart from the 4th line centre position, it does seem like there is back up and competition at the other spots. That is the bottom six in a nutshell. Competition.
Next up is the Defensemen and Goalies, and then Special Teams. And the Penticton Young Stars Tourney is only 36 days away. So enjoy the summer days while you can.