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Let’s read way too much into line combinations at Canucks training camp

Travis Green made it clear on Thurdsay: training camp wasn’t just going to be bag skates and drills.
Travis Green at the opening of Canucks 2018 training camp.

Travis Green made it clear on Thurdsay: training camp wasn’t just going to be bag skates and drills.

“We’re going to scrimmage a fair amount in Whistler on top of practicing and conditioning,” said Green, then added, “We’re going to have the lines mixed up a little bit.”

With the Sedins gone and new young players and veterans battling for spots in the lineup, nothing is set in stone. That means Green wants to see plenty of different combination at camp and in the preseason to see what works and what doesn’t.

“I’m not opposed to anything, anything that’s gonna work and looks good and they play well, I’m open to anything that’s going to help the hockey team and help us move along,” said Green on Thursday. “There’s a possibility for anything as far as our combinations go.”

With that in mind, we definitely shouldn’t read too much into the lines and combinations at the first skate of training camp.

But we’re definitely going to do it anyway.



Let’s start with Group A. Here are the forward lines.

Eriksson - Horvat - Lind
Schaller - Beagle - MacEwen
Leipsic - Gaudette - Virtanen
Gaunce, Kero, Boucher, Jasek

The combination of Loui Eriksson with Bo Horvat immediately jumps out to me. On Thursday, Travis Green described the battle to play left wing with Horvat and Brock Boeser as “wide open.” He listed four players — Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, Brendan Leipsic, and Nikolay Goldobin — as potential candidates, though he said there could be others.

Eriksson getting an opportunity with Horvat right off the bat probably means something — maybe everything! Meanwhile, Kole Lind playing on the right wing with Horvat suggests that the Canucks see Lind primarily as an offensive, top-six player.

Tim Schaller and Jay Beagle is a combination we’re likely to see on the fourth line during the regular season. The addition of Zack MacEwen on the right wing probably means that MacEwen has the inside track for a call-up during the season if the team needs a fourth-liner. Take that one to the bank!

Brendan Leipsic, Adam Gaudette, and Jake Virtanen? Could that be the Canucks’ third line on opening night? Probably not! But maybe!

Gaudette is a longshot to make the team out of camp, which perhaps doesn’t bode well for Leipsic. Or maybe playing with Leipsic and Virtanen means Gaudette is more likely to make the team. Anything is possible!

Then there’s poor Brendan Gaunce, getting the shaft with the other also-rans: Tanner Kero, Reid Boucher, and Lukas Jasek. Things aren’t looking good for ol’ Gauncer.

What about the defence in Group A?

Edler - Gudbranson
Juolevi - Stecher
Sautner, Chatfield, Sifers

Alex Edler and Erik Gudbranson was a pairing that Green seemed to like last season. Gudbranson liked it too. It was primarily focussed on shutting down the opposition, rather than contributing offence, which doesn’t seem ideal for Edler, who was the leading scorer on the defence last season.

There’s just the minor issue that they were one of the team’s worst pairings by most underlying statistics.

Olli Juolevi and Troy Stecher is an interesting pairing that we could potentially see this season depending on injuries. Juolevi will most likely start the season in the AHL given the logjam of defence ahead of him, but the idea of two smooth skating, puck-moving defencemen paired together sounds appealing.

Ashton Sautner and Jalen Chatfield could be call-ups this season. Jaime Sifers won’t be.

On to Group B! Here are the forwards:

Baertschi - Pettersson - Goldobin
Carcone - Sutter - Motte
Archibald - Granlund - Gadjovich
Dahlen, Gagner, Boeser, Palmu

Oh boy, I’m going to read into this like a seemingly-arbitrary line break in an e e cummings poem.

Sven Baertschi, Elias Pettersson, and Nikolay Goldobin? There’s your second line. It’s a lock, hashtag-confirmed, bet the farm, guaranteed. Please do not blame me if you actually bet any money on this eventuality, though I’m not sure what books would be offering odds on line combinations.

What’s truly interesting is seeing Goldobin on right wing. Goldobin can play both wings, but naturally slots in at left wing with his left-hand shot and the opening available on the top line. But Goldobin’s path to the top-six might be easier on the right wing, where he could potentially out-battle Sam Gagner and Jake Virtanen to play on Pettersson’s right side.

You have to think that if Brandon Sutter is matched with Michael Carcone and Tyler Motte, he is 100% getting sent down to the AHL, right? There’s no other possibility.

In all honesty, it’s likely that Roussel and Sutter were expected to partner up in training camp and Carcone was the replacement for Roussel when he wasn’t cleared by the Canucks’ medical staff.

Markus Granlund at centre with Darren Archibald and Jonah Gadjovich is an interesting line. Green tried Granlund at centre early last season and it did not stick. With Horvat, Pettersson, Sutter, and Beagle down the middle, Granlund is likely to end up back at right wing. Unless, of course, Sutter gets sent to Utica.

Finally, what an interesting group mixed together on the fourth line. Clearly they’re considering sending Brock Boeser down to the AHL because he’s waiver-exempt.

In practice, Sam Gagner centred Boeser and Jonathan Dahlen, with Petrus Palmu cycling in. Gagner could be an option to centre the second line if Green is uncertain whether Pettersson is ready for the role, so matching him with top-six forwards rather than bottom-six grinders makes sense. There’s also the outside chance that Green splits up Horvat and Boeser. Who knows? Anything could happen!

Finally, the Group B defence:

Hutton - Tanev
Del Zotto - Pouliot
Brisebois, Biega, Graham

PITB readers are well aware that I’m a big fan of Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev playing together. Green giving them a chance to play together at camp is a good sign.

I’m less enthused about Michael Del Zotto and Derrick Pouliot, a pairing that struggled last season when it came to transitioning the puck up ice. Unfortunately, the Canucks don’t have anyone that truly excelled with Del Zotto last season, though Stecher and Tanev did best with him.

So, with all of these rock-solid lines in place on the first day of training camp, what’s the most likely lineup for the Canucks on opening night?

Eriksson - Horvat - Boeser
Baertschi - Pettersson - Goldobin
Leipsic - Sutter - Virtanen
Schaller - Beagle - Granlund

Hutton - Tanev
Edler - Gudbranson
Del Zotto - Stecher