One of the biggest flaws with the Canucks — and there are many — is that quality on the wings is lacking.
For years now, Benning has tinkered in smaller deals for wingers to see if there is a fit. Usually, those deals end up being for underutilized players in other organizations.
Some of those deals have worked. Sven Baertschi and Josh Leivo are examples of that. However, for every Baertschi and Leivo, there have been fringe players like Markus Granlund and Emerson Etem.
Tanner Pearson and Ryan Spooner were the latest reclamation projects to enter the fold. With 15 games remaining for the Canucks, there aren’t a ton of opportunities for these guys to impress, meaning that the battle for roster spots next season begins now.
With salary bias aside, here’s a look at the Canucks winger power rankings. Injured players are included, because this is really meant to take a look at who the Canucks best wingers are. Depth is important, but this is meant to help envision what a healthy Canucks line-up looks like.
Depending on who pulls away from the pack, there could be another edition of this power rankings before season’s end. I hope that’s true, because it likely means somebody else (other than Boeser) is making an impact.
- Brock Boeser, RW1
Undoubtedly the Canucks best winger and it’s not even close. The Canucks desperately need another impact winger to help Bo Horvat, which is no secret for anyone who follows this team.
2. Josh Leivo, LW1
Nine goals and 15 points in 35 games doesn’t jump out at you, but Leivo’s underlying numbers for the Canucks push him to the forefront as the team’s best option at left wing. His 1.16 goals per hour at five-on-five is best among forwards on the Canucks, and he’s shown some nifty playmaking skills as well.
Still, to coin a term from John Tortorella, having Leivo as the Canucks best left winger is good for Leivo, but not for the Canucks.
3. Sven Baertschi, LW2
Concussions are the most difficult injury to deal with in hockey, just ask Baerschti. The Swiss native has seen nearly his whole season wiped out because of concussions, and he’s now missed 45 of the team’s 67 games.
For the games he has played, Baertschi has been one of the team’s most consistent goal scorers, although he’s set up zilch offensively (his total assists per-60 at evens is worse than Brandon Sutter). However, he’s easily the team’s most productive forward at five-on-four, with 6.16 points-per-60. Elias Pettersson is the second-most productive forward on the powerplay with 3.77 points-per-hour.
4. Nikolay Goldobin, RW2
The enigmatic Russian clearly has the offensive tools to play in the NHL, but he won’t be with the team much longer if he can’t finish. Goldy is the Canucks best set-up man on the power play, averaging a primary assists per 30 minutes with the man advantage. However, his 1.4 points-per-60 is in line with a bottom-six forward, something this team has in spades already.
5. Antoine Roussel, LW3
There’s an argument to bump Antoine Roussel even further up this list. He’s done everything the Canucks have asked of him and more. He hits, kills penalties, and has chipped in offensively with secondary scoring. Roussel is a perfect third-line fit, but deserves to play further up the line-up compared to who’s in front of him.
6. Jake Virtanen, RW3
“Shotgun Jake” looked like a player who was on his way to becoming a top-six forward early on. However, being paired with Brandon Sutter was like ending up on a case with Hitchcock and Scully from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sutter can’t pass, and Virtanen is better off with players who are creative offensively.
Virtanen’s Corsi with Sutter is at 42%. Without Sutter, his Corsi jumps to 55%. Sutter’s actually drops to 39%. Go figure.
7. Tanner Pearson, LW4
We’re only four games into Pearson’s Canucks career, and the winger has one goal in four games. He’s looked okay, creating enough chances to warrant a longer look in the top-six (at least while wingers above him are on the mend).
8. Loui Eriksson, LW5
Oh, Uncle Loui. Arguably the laziest Canuck player on the forecheck relies on good positioning to not get burned. The fact that he’s a decent penalty killer might be the only thing saving him from a demotion or healthy scratch. That, and his $6 million price tag.
9. Tyler Motte, RW4
Motte’s work ethic is the main thing that stands out, but he has next to no puck skills at this level. Again, he’s also been a good penalty killer, which has him ranked above some of the other Canucks wingers.
10. Ryan Spooner, RW5
Spooner actually had assists in three straight games, but overall he’s looked underwhelming in a Canucks uniform. Despite playing with the Canucks best players while starting the majority of his shift in the offensive zone, he’s been creamed in the scoring chance department. So far, he looks like another unreliable, tweener winger for the Canucks.
11. Markus Granlund, RW6
Are Granlund and Spooner interchangeable? Perhaps...Spooner has better puck skills but is less reliable defensively. That being said, Granlund has been so porous on the penalty kill and power play, that it’s hard to imagine him returning next season.
12. Tim Schaller , LW6
What the healthy line-up looks like
Based on these rankings (and assuming Pettersson is your number one centre), here’s what a healthy Canucks line-up would look like with these wingers.
Josh Leivo - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Nikolay Goldobin
Antoine Roussel - Adam Gaudette - Jake Virtanen
Tanner Pearson - Jay Beagle - Tyler Motte
Extras: Loui Eriksson, Ryan Spooner, Markus Granlund, Tim Schaller
What the current line-up should look like
Again, this isn’t necessarily based on chemistry, but who deserves the most opportunity based on current play.
Josh Leivo - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser
Antoine Roussel - Bo Horvat - Nikolay Goldobin
Tanner Pearson - Adam Gaudette - Tyler Motte
Loui Eriksson - Jay Beagle - Markus Granlund
Yep, a pretty unintimidating team on paper, and the Canucks line-up for tonight is fairly similar. Pearson and Roussel have switched places, so that the former gets a look with Bo. Motte is also in his normal spot on the fourth line, which makes sense since Granlund is more productive than Motte.
Leivo also gets his shot with the Canucks two best offensive players, an opportunity earned through being the best winger of this mediocre bunch.
These last 15 games should be a battle to see who comes back next season, and Canucks management shouldn’t be afraid of tossing guys who aren’t producing. In the meantime, it’s a golden opportunity if or or two of these guys can pull away from the pack (hello, Pearson and Goldobin).