Do The Vancouver Canucks Have Their Second Line Centre?

vancouver canucks trade rumors

What does it take to build a true bonafide Stanley Cup contender?   There really are countless aspects that factor into creating a roster and hiring the right personnel for the task.  And while I think we can all agree that top notch goaltending, defensive depth, shrewd coaching and a gritty, solid supporting cast to surround your top-end skilled players are all aspects that go a long way in creating championship-caliber team, those are just a few of the broad characterizations of what it takes to build a capable Stanley Cup contending team.

For me, there is something else that I’ve noticed with each of the Stanley Cup winners since the lockout: they’ve each had two capable first line centers on their rosters – here, have a look to see what I mean:

2005-06 Hurricanes: 1st line center: Eric Staal, 2nd line center: Rod Brind-Amour (70 pts that season);

2006-07 Ducks: 1st: Ryan Getzlaf. 2nd: Andy McDonald (78 pts);

2007-08 Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg;

2008-09 Penguins: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin;

2009-10 Blackhawks: Jonathon Toews, Patrick Sharp (a bit of a sketchy inclusion here, but he spent a lot of time playing center on this run.. Bolland was also huge on the 3rd line);

2010-11: Bruins:David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron

2011-2012 Kings: Anze Kopitar; Mike Richards/Jeff Carter

2012-13 Blackhawks: same as above.

2013-14 Kings: same as above.

Every single one of those guys that played on the second line had it in them that season to be a first line center for another team! And even the Canucks from 2010-11 Stanley Cup finals had a terrific 1-2 punch from Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.

Speaking of Kesler, it is he who the Canucks are now trying to replace as their second line center.  After his (forced) trade to Anaheim Ducks this off-season, the Canucks have to now start their quest again to find a 1st line quality center to wreck havoc on their second line.  And as the careers for some of the Canucks old guard start to wind down (the Sedins are both 34, Burrows is 33 and Bieksa and Hamhuis are 33 and 32, respectively) having another borderline first line center would help the current core make one last playoff push, while also being there to usher in an era of new Canucks hockey.

So the question becomes: is the center the Canucks need currently on their roster?  Or is that center maybe a prospect currently on his way up? Let’s take a look at a three potential candidates that were added this off-season that might have what it takes to fill that role, starting with the one of the players Kesler was traded for:

 

Nick Bonino (Age: 26, Contract: 3 Years, 5.7 million)

Nick Bonino has been exactly what the Canucks fans could have hoped for after arriving this off-season from the Ducks.  Take a look at his stats from last year with the Ducks to his start with the Canucks so far:

2013-14  - 77 GP, 22 G 27 A – 49 Pts.

2014-15 – 33 GP, 8 G 13 A – 21 Pts.

And if we average out Bonino’s stats to play another 77 game season, Bonino is on pace for 19 G, 30 A – 49 Pt campaign.  That’s great for him, and it’s especially great for a 1.9 million dollar cap hit. But we’re not looking for bargains here, we’re looking for borderline 1st line centers to play on the 2nd line.

Just based on those numbers alone you’d certainly have enough enough to make a argument that Bonino has been better now than Kesler had been for the Canucks his last 3 seasons with the team (he never had more than 49 points after his Selke trophy campaign of 2011-12).  Thing is, Kesler was severely hampered by injuries those 3 years, but when he was healthy, his physical, two-way play was and is on a different level than Bonino’s.  I’ve never been one to hold PIM in high regard either, but I think it say’s something that Kesler has only managed fewer than Bonino’s career high 22 PIM in 2 seasons (where he played 48 and 17 games, respectively) as a pro.

It’s not to say that Bonino is an absolute liability in the defensive zone (+18 in his last two seasons), but he is a step below Kesler now and is a step below Kesler when he was at this stage of his career, too.  He is a perfectly fine second line center for now, but given Bonino’s precedent for point totals and his contract status I think keeping him around to anchor the 3rd line while trying to find Kesler 2.0 seems like the best course of action for the Canucks here.

 

Linden Vey (Age: 23, Contract 1 year, $735k-RFA)

Acquired on the second day of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft from the LA Kings for the 50th overall pick that year, Vey had spent the better part of the prior 3 seasons honing his craft in the AHL for the Manchester Monarchs.  Spending a lot of time on the first line with winger Tyler Toffoli, last season in the AHL he averaged more than a point per game (47 points in 43 games) while getting a ton of work on both special teams units. He also got to spend some time on Kings squad (no goals 5 apple’s in 18 games) in the regular season.   And since he joined the Canucks he’s certainly been in and out of the lineup with a few minor injuries, but in 23 games played he has contributed with 5 goals while adding 8 helpers.  And while those are not quite on par with Bonino’s numbers, they are extremely comparable – and it’s entirely conceivable he could finish the year with close to 15 goals and 40 points given his current pace.  And those are fine numbers.. but they are even nicer numbers for a 3rd line center..

I know that he is still only 23 years old and doesn’t even have a full season of NHL games under his belt.  But, even with Linden Vey’s extensive time on those special team units and playing 1st line minutes down in the AHL, he just doesn’t appear to project as the second line center for the Canucks future at the moment.

 

Bo Hovart (Age: 19, Contract: 3 years, 5.375 million)

It says here that of all the Canucks players and prospects vying to replace Kesler and his production on the 2nd line, Bo Hovart probably owns the most realistic shot of eventually replicating Kesler’s scoring and two-way play.  The problem is not so much if he is capable, but rather when will he ascend?  If it takes him as long as it took Kesler took to figure it out (around the age of 24-25), then it will probably be too late for him to fill the role of 2nd line Kesler to the Sedins (the Sedins will be 39 by then).

He made the team out of training camp, and wasn’t sent back to Juniors after the 25 game window either which says a lot (Willie Desjardins in training camp was less than thrilled with the idea of a 19 year-old rookie making his roster, but obviously seems to have warmed up to the idea of keeping him around after his solid play in camp), but at this point in his career he isn’t much more than fringe type player that will struggle with the pace of the game.

And that’s okay!  Let’s not forget he’s still only 19 years old and he has less professional game experience than Vey or Bonino (or just about anyone in the NHL, realistically).  His Corsi rating (basically a +/- for shots) is disturbingly low at this point (Vey was also quite low on the Corsi list for Canucks), and his point totals so far this year are nothing short of unspectacular (1 G, 5 A in 20 games).  But again, he’s 19, and he’s only playing 3rd and 4th line minutes which are bound to increase as he gets more comfortable in the NHL.

Add that to the success Hovart had in juniors (30 goals, 54 assists in his last season while earning kudos for his two-way game) I reckon that the Canucks have to figure that they do have that second line center for the future in the form of their 1st round pick from 2013 ( he was also the 34th ranked prospect coming into the season according to HockeysFuture.com), but he will have to develop at a bit of a faster rate than he is now for him to be the 2nd line difference-maker this team needs to make an immediate cup push.

 

trevolution

My big thing with writing (or talking) about professional sports is I want the other person to have learned something, statistical or historical. I am passionate about pro sports and have plenty of knowledge that I will try unload on all of you here. Thanks for reading!

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