So, in all likelihood the Canucks will be facing the Minnesota Wild in a five game play-in series set to begin around July 1st.
Say what you will about whether the NHL should be returning or not; the 24 team play-in scenario almost seems inevitable at this point (barring a massive surge in coronavirus outbreaks, of course).
Safety concerns and politics aside, personally I can't wait to see NHL games again. The play-in series' will be absolutely insane, unpredictable, bizzare and extremely exciting.
After three and a half months off the Canucks, and everyone else, will undoubtedly be rusty. But there is also the very unique fact that the Canucks will be able to ice a roster that is virtually 100 per cent healthy heading into the playoffs. When was the last time you could say that?
To my knowledge, Michael Ferland is the only player who will be unavailable due to injury.
Markstrom will be back and fully healed, Boeser will have recovered 100 per cent. Edler and Tanev should both have had enough time recover from the various tweaks, bruises and countless other battle wounds they are constantly fighting through. Josh Leivo, once believed to be out for the remainder of the season, should be back in action. Hell, even Brandon Sutter should have had enough time to figure out what in the world seems be endlessly nagging his groin.
There is no doubt that I haven't mentioned nearly as many injuries, known to the public or not, that Canucks players should be recovered from.
This, coupled with cap compliance going out the window in the playoffs, poses an interesting scenario when it comes to what kind of line-up the Canucks will ice in their first game back.
With the AHL season cancelled, it's widely believed the Canucks will also be able to carry a handful of Utica Comets on their roster. There will be a dearth of bodies and endless options for Travis Green.
So, with full man-power how do you think the Canucks should configure their roster for the first game back?
Also, which AHL players would you like to see join the big club despite it being unlikely they see game action?
Here's my ideal lineup:
Miller - Pettersson - Toffoli
Roussell - Horvat - Boeser
Pearson - Gaudette - Leivo
Motte - Sutter - Virtanen
Press box: Beagle, MacEwan, Eriksson
The first thing people are going to explode over is separating Pearson and Horvat. But that could prove to be a savvy move.
Toffoli has forced Boeser off the top line. Moving Boeser to Horvat's wing with Roussell is more logical, imo, than keeping Pearson on the left side of that second line.
Here's why: Toffoli on the top line combined with Pettersson's blossoming two-way game has allowed Green to match the Pettersson line against other teams top lines -- a role once reserved for Bo's line. With Pettersson going head to head with the league's best, Horvat's line will be freed up for a more offensive role.
Obviously, Boeser is suited for this. Many forget this, but he and Horvat showed tremendous offensive chemistry before the arrival of that kid from Sweden with extraterrestrial talents.
Pearson, on the other hand, has also meshed well with Horvat but solely in a shutdown role. His skills would now be better put to use by providing great depth on the third line.
But why Roussell? The feisty Frenchman has struggled mightily this season, no doubt about it. But the extra time off is likely just what he needed to really fully recover from essentially having his whole knee rebuilt. I'd be willing to put money on Roussel coming out and quickly reminding fans why we all fell in love with him not too long ago. In the 2018-19 season Roussel was arguably Horvat's best winger, the two have proven chemistry. He has also shown he has extremely underrated playmaking and vision skills, something that I believe a scoring line with Boeser and Horvat would deeply need.
Overall, I think that top-six could sneakily do some serious damage.
As for the bottom six, I imagine many will be unpleased to see Virtanen on the fourth line. To be honest, I think he does deserve third line ice-time. However, Virtanen falls victim to the fact that the Canucks have a pretty good problem at forward when fully healthy: great depth.
If Leivo is able to return he is a no-brainer for Green on the third line right side. As a right handed shot, his wall work and puck retrieval skills (when done consistently) make him Green's ideal fit in that spot. Leivo's advanced stats also support his strong two-way value.
As for Pearson on the left side, that's a pretty easy decision with Roussell taking his spot on Horvat's wing. He's basically a more experienced, proven and consistent version of Leivo except he shoots left, giving the third line two big wingers playing their preferred side who are both excellent at winning pucks; also known as Green's wet dream.
Gaudette in the 3c spot is a bit risky. He's young, has defensive gaffs but is rounding out that side of his game in an admirable fashion. His offensive flair, however, makes him an easy choice over Sutter or Beagle. Pearson and Leivo on the wings should be able to mitigate some of the blown coverage, poor positioning and bad reads Gaudette sometimes shows on defense. I also wouldn't be surprised if Gaudette continues his two-way progression and these mistakes quickly become a thing of the past.
All in all, to me, that third line looks like the kind that's necessary for playoff success.
The fourth line was really tough. Trying to put together something that made sense really made me realize why the Canucks fourth line has, for the most part, struggled mightily all year.
I originally had Virtanen - Sutter - MacEwan before realizing all three players shoot right. Not ideal for a fourth line whose main purpose is to win puck battles on the wall and keep the puck out of the defensive zone.
By taking out MacEwan for Motte, that adds a left-hand shot who is decent on the boards and isn't afraid to through his body around despite not being the biggest guy. It also allows Virtanen to move to the right side, where Green trusts him much more defensively as a right handed shot.
I am not a fan of Brandon Sutter. I do, however, believe when he's playing well he (debatably) adds more value than Beagle, so Sutter gets the nod at 4c, for now.
The hardest decision on the fourth line was leaving out MacEwan. He deserves a roster spot. But unfortunately, due to the way the Canucks roster is constructed and the fact that he doesn't seem to be trusted at centre despite playing there in the past, he looks to be the odd man out. If MacEwan can take his game to another level at centre and really earn the coaches trust playing the middle, I would love to see Motte - MacEwan - Virtanen as a fourth line. But it doesn't appear MacEwan is ready for that yet.
At the end of the day, the Canucks fourth line worries me most out of the forward group. Overpaid veterans like Beagle and Sutter often hurt more than they help and an overabundance of right hand shots makes it difficult to assemble a line where everyone is in their ideal spot.
That said, Motte, MacEwan and Virtanen are all capable of providing quintessential fourth-line shifts and scoring the odd goal. While Sutter and Beagle can be liabilities at times, they still provide value on the PK and on face-offs, while Sutter has the potential to get hot offensively.
There's been a lot worse fourth-lines in the history of fourth-lines.
Overall, the fully healthy Canucks forward group provides a lot of reasons to be optimistic heading into what is bound to be a wild playoff ride. If somehow these lines are ever deployed, not only will I feel like a genius, I'll also be confident in the team's capability to dominate teams like the Wild up front.
Note: I initially planned on doing this for the whole lineup but got more into it than I expected and ended up taking forever. It's late and I need to sleep but I will do the same for the defense and goaltending in the coming days.
I also plan on detailing my picks to join the club from Utica and why.
Just happy to be talking hockey again.
*written on my phone, apologies for typos