On July 1st, 2018, Antoine Roussel signed his four-year, $12 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks. At that time, Bo Horvat likely wasn’t thinking that Roussel would be the best winger he would ever play with.
Fast-forward 17 months later, and Horvat might now be asking himself, “is Roussel the best linemate I’ll ever have?”
This is obviously a bit of an oversimplification. Horvat did spend the majority of the 2017-18 season with Brock Boeser when he was a Calder finalist. However since the 2018-19 campaign, Roussel has easily had the most chemistry with the Canucks captain.
It’s a problem that looked like it might have been solved towards the end of last season. With Roussel out of the line-up, newly-acquired Tanner Pearson lit it up beside Horvat with nine goals in 19 games. Unfortunately, that chemistry hasn’t carried over to this season, and Horvat once again finds himself with a revolving door of wingers.
The Usual Suspects
Just to put things into perspective, here’s a list of candidates to play with the Canucks captain on the wing, along with their effectiveness since the beginning of the 2018-19 season. I’ve excluded some players such as Loui Eriksson, Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte and Nikolay Goldobin, all of whom played more than 100 even-strength minutes with Horvat last season.
I did include Adam Gaudette, since perhaps there’s a chance he get slotted back there when Brandon Sutter returns. It’s an intriguing, although not ideal situation.
Judging by a number of categories, Roussel is still the best winger to play with Horvat, and it’s not even close. In terms of pure production, his 2.24 points-per-60, dwarfs any of the forwards listed here (other than Micheal Ferland and the tiny sample size). Boeser and Pearson rank next respectively, but their production with Horvat matches that of a third-line forward.
Travis Green likely doesn’t have an appetite to separate Boeser and Elias Pettersson, and for good reason. Pearson on the other hand appears to be one of the next-best options for Horvat, but you’d like to see some more consistent play from him.
Two guys that have intriguing underlying numbers with Bo are Josh Leivo and J.T. Miller. Leivo is Horvat’s third-most consistent linemate this season, and they’ve really done everything but produce together. The question with Leivo however is the same with Roussel: is he really suited for a top-six role? On a good team, he isn’t.
Miller on the other hand makes more sense with Horvat. Despite the great chemistry Miller has on “The Lotto Line,” his inclusion there is hurting Horvat. Miller’s underlying numbers are just as dominant (albeit in a short sample size) with Bo. Kyle and I debated this previously on Sippin’ on a 40, and I’m a proponent for trying to find a way to get Miller and Horvat back together.
Roussel’s chemistry with Bo creates conflict
Although it’s nice to see that Horvat and Roussel have chemistry, there is an issue with them playing on the top line together. Ideally, Roussel is suited for that bottom-six, bang and crash, penalty killing role. By sticking him in the top six, it bumps other players, such at Pearson, into roles they aren’t really suited for.
The problem is, there isn’t another ideal winger you’d love to see with Horvat. You’d love to see Pearson, Ferland or Virtanen snag one of those spots, but that requires a hope and a prayer more so than data and logic.
If Miller and Boeser stick on the top line, the Canucks are left with a glut of middle-six wingers between Pearson, Leivo, Virtanen, Ferland, Baertschi and Roussel.
With Roussel set to return, this seems like his spot to lose. That’s not really ideal for the Canucks, but it’s the situation they currently find themselves in.
Until the Canucks find a better solution (...J.T. Miller?), it’s time to bring on the Rous-ian machine!