It was one of the Vancouver Canucks biggest faults entering into the season.
After the Sedins spent the last two season watching their production fritter away to a second-line place, it was clear that the Canucks didn’t have a first line.
Even though Bo Horvat hit the 20-goal, 50-point plateau for the first time in his career, his production only met that of a second-line player. He also didn’t have steady wingers who were burying the puck alongside him.
Well, that’s all changed this season in Vancouver.
Through the Canucks first 20 games, they have a unit that is actually playing like a first line - and it doesn’t include the Sedins.
That’s an incredible thing, because for the first time since before the 2004-05 lockout, the Canucks have a first line that doesn’t include Henrik or Daniel.
Rise of the 99 B-Line
Okay, so the name is the definition of a working title, one that only the East Van hipsters on transit will understand.
While that isn’t your typical hockey crowd, it doesn’t take a super fan to see what the Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Brock Boeser line is doing for the Canucks.
According to Left Wing Lock, the line has been on the ice for eight even strength goals for and only four against. That eight goals for total leaves them tied for 12th overall in the league with six other lines. Some of those other units include the Sean Monahan line, the Jonathan Toews line and the John Tavares unit.
Basically, the Canucks top line is a middle of the road unit in terms of top lines. Luckily, the bar has been set low in Vancouver so the fact that the 99 B-Line is even scoring at a first line pace at all is impressive.
One of the even more promising aspects about the unit is that they weren’t even formed until the six-game mark of the season, against the Boston Bruins.
The line would have averaged another two goals if they were together since game one. That ten-goal production would leave them with top-ten first line production.
It’s encouraging to see that both Baertschi and Horvat are scoring at paces slightly above last year’s pace. They previously averaged second-line production, but they’re creeping into borderline first line numbers now through the first 20 games.
Still, the missing part on their line was a third winger who could score.
They have that now, and they have it in spades with Boeser.
The Canucks super rookie has solidified all of those early Calder Trophy whispers with 17 points in his first 17 games.
He’s even surpassed the production from the rookies ahead of him in Clayton Keller and Matt Barzal. Although they’re both ahead of him in terms of total points, Boeser’s point-per-game pace exceeds both of those players.
Not only is he the Canucks most dangerous offensive weapon, but he’s made the players around him better. Let’s face it, if the Canucks kept rolling Baertschi, Horvat and another winger like Thomas Vanek or Loui Eriksson, their production would take a dip.
First Line, Check. Second Line?
I don’t want to rain on the parade entirely here. The fact that the Canucks have three young promising forwards that are scoring at a first line pace is both encouraging and a tad bit surprising. Most of us were trying to temper out expectations for Boeser, but he’s crushed those early on.
Now the question is, where will the rest of the offence come from?
During the beginning of the season, it looked like the Canucks were going to be able to roll out four lines on a consistent basis. Gone was the AHL-quality fourth line with Michael Chaput and Jack Skille. The fourth line on the Canucks now featured the likes of Vanek. Sam Gagner, or even the Sedins.
The problem is that none of the Canucks lines aside from Horvat are scoring on a consistent basis. Aside from Derek Dorsett’s outburst at the beginning of the season, only Thomas Vanek is providing semi-consistent offence.
A first line is usually harder to find than a second line, but the Canucks need to find another scoring line if they don’t want to get buried in the standings.