With the retirement of the Sedin twins at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, the Canucks are left with a gaping hole on the top power play unit. After finishing the year with an efficiency rate of 21.5%, 9th in the NHL, there are some concerns regarding the replacement of the twins, who combined scored 40 points with the man advantage (each managing more than anyone not named Brock Boeser). While it remains to be seen what happens in free agency, and that could certainly play a big role, there are still some names that could make their way onto a powerplay unit come September that are worth keeping an eye on. This exercise will essentially paint a ‘most likely outcome’ for each unit, given the current roster, with some alternate possibilities as well.
Brock Boeser - Bo Horvat - Elias Pettersson
Alex Edler - Sven Baertschi
Possible Inclusions: Troy Stecher, Derrick Pouliot, Loui Eriksson, Nikolay Goldobin, Sam Gagner.
Horvat and Boeser are, obviously, the two locks for this unit, and the primary offensive drivers of the club. Horvat proved effective in the slot area, while Boeser held down territory in “The Spot” (at the left circle). Meanwhile, recently-signed blue chip prospect Elias Pettersson looks like a near lock to make the club, and as such will likely be given big time power play duty. His effective release and excellent vision makes him a good candidate to take over Henrik Sedin’s spot on the right wall, while adding a goal-scoring threat Henrik was never really known for.
Alex Edler, who had a strong 34-point campaign, is the most likely defender to man a point spot, due to his offensive pedigree and experience in the position. However, it’s possible the team would prefer a right-shot in Troy Stecher (who could perhaps more easily feed Boeser the puck), or that they’re inclined to give Derrick Pouliot a chance, as he showed some ability with the man advantage at times last season. Sven Baertschi, meanwhile, would likely serve as a net-front presence. That said, they may want to give that position to Loui Eriksson, who has had success in the past in that spot (and admittedly hasn’t been tried there a ton in Vancouver). Another option may be a skill-based forward like Nikolay Goldobin or Sam Gagner, which would likely move Horvat to net-front, and one of the former to the so-called ‘bumper’ position’ in the middle of the ice. Evidently, there are some variations on the top unit, though at least four of the five spots look more-or-less locked in, at least to start the season.
Nikolay Goldobin - Sam Gagner - Loui Eriksson
Troy Stecher - Brendan Leipsic
Other Possibilities: Derrick Pouliot, Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen, Brandon Sutter, Adam Gaudette.
The natural fits for the second unit are, largely, the bubble candidates referenced for the top unit. Eriksson would likely plant himself in front of goaltenders, Gagner in the slot, while Goldobin would set himself as a half-boards play maker. Leipsic, meanwhile, would likely play opposite Goldobin, and play the role of puck retriever. The trade deadline acquisition played some time on the man advantage to finish the season, and seems to be in head coach Travis Green’s good books due to his tenacious style of play. Stecher likely gets the nod of point man, due to his effective transition play and ability to get shots on net (despite a lack of a blistering slap shot).
One concern among the forwards may be that Gagner is not always full effective as a centreman, making Brandon Sutter a possibility, if they wish to have a more natural fit up the middle. It also opens up the door for Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette to fill the position, should they want to go down a younger roue. Additionally, given his offensive production to end the most recent campaign, as well as his speed, size, and shot, Jake Virtanen may finally get a regular position on the man advantage.
There are a plethora of options for the Canucks to explore, and it may turn out that the retirement of the Sedins opens up a world of opportunity for other young stars. Regardless of what the eventual outcome is, the structure of the team’s two power play units will be an interesting story to watch unfold throughout the pre-season, and the start of the regular schedule.