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Candidates for the Canucks’ Final Top Six Winger

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New Jersey Devils v Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin

The J.T. Miller trade at the draft, while (rightfully) widely maligned, did prove one thing for the Vancouver Canucks: that General Manager Jim Benning was out to improve the team’s top two scoring lines, and was going to be aggressve in doing so. While Miller does fill one hole, there is much debate about how to fill the remaining spot on the wing (with Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson presumably filling two spots themselves).

Josh Leivo

One of the more positive storylines from the 2018-19 campaign was the trade for Josh Leivo, and his subsequent emergence as a relatively reliable offensive threat. A strong and trusted two-way player, Leivo also possesses a strong release that led to him to score a respectable 10 goals (to go with eight assists) in 49 games with the Canucks last season. Having spent time with both Bo Horvat and Elias Petterson, Leivo makes perhaps the most sense of any internal option for the Canucks. The concerns, meanwhile, would be that his counting stats offensively were not immensely impressive (though he finished the season encouragingly), leaving doubts about his legitimacy in the top-six. His footspeed, as well, as not particularly impressive, which may not be a great fit on lines that already are not renowned for their speed. All that said, his experience and instincts would make him an acceptable option for head coach Travis Green to consider.

Nikolay Goldobin

The ‘Goldy Wars’, as many have dubbed them, have been a prominent topic of conversation around Vancouver over the past two years. Indeed, the young Russian winger has been a lightning rod for controversy, at times exciting with his tantalizing skill while at the same time frustrating many with seemingly inconsistent work ethic and defensive awareness. While demonstrating some chemistry with Pettersson, his overall numbers don’t stand out as noteworthy: just seven goals and 27 points in 63 games. Time may be running out for Goldobin in Vancouver, under a coach with whom he has yet to develop a strong relationship. That said, it’s possible they look to give him one more shot in the top-six, either as a means of increasing his value on the market or as a pathway towards reviving his career. While somewhat written off, don’t be shocked if the 23-year-old once again finds himself on one of Vancouver’s top two lines.

Sven Baertschi

Baertschi’s problem isn’t necessarily his skill level, nor his fit on the club, but rather his ability to stay healthy. Over the past two seasons, Baertschi has been on pace for 45 points, but has played a combined 79 games between the the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns. Should he stay healthy, Baertschi may just be the favorite to take the final spot. Already boasting natural chemistry with Horvat, and possessing strong footspeed and an evident tenacity, Baertschi has the talent to play on a second line on what will likely be a bubble team. Once again, though, whether he’s in the lineup and ready to reach his full potential is the biggest question mark surrounding the 26-year-old.

Jake Virtanen

While the subject of trading Jake Virtanen has been a fairly prominent one this off-season, the reasoning is, to an extent, inherently positive: Virtanen is seen as one of the assets on the Canucks with any sort of value. The reason for such is fairly evident: he’s fast, young, and has an effective release. The downsides, however, are that these tools haven’t really been used to their full potential. While starting off on a near-30 goal pace this past year, Virtanen ended the year with a fine-but-not-spectacular 15 goals and ten assists. Could he reach a higher ceiling? Certainly it’s possible, and if he can put together a level of consistency, he could become a fixture on the second line. That being said, Virtanen will have to put doubts to rest early, and prove himself as a realiable scoring threat.