Look Ahead…Who’s next?
Its no secret that heading into mid and late-30’s, players generally tend to decline (exception: Martin St. Louis). With Daniel and Henrik Sedin entering the final year of their current contracts with the Vancouver Canucks, what production can we expect/rely upon going forward?
It’s difficult to find replacements for them on the top line, although I’d put money on them re-signing and retiring, having played all of their NHL games in Canucks uniforms (although I’d like to forget the old jerseys with the burgundy, yikes.)
I still believe they can be very effective players late into their careers based on their style of game.
The Sedins have never been overly fast or considered off the rush scorers; their collective game is largely tailored to puck possession, protection down-low and feathering pretty passes to bury off the cycle.
This game can translate well into later years, as we witnessed 103-year old-Jaromir Jagr (kidding Jags, it’s a sign of respect) still being effective working off the possession game this past season.
The best scenario I see is a 1A/1B line combination with Ryan Kesler & company occupying the one line, but who are the next candidates for top-6 roles? The players are already in the organization would be the most likely the recent crop of draft picks.
Nicklas Jensen has all the making to be a top-6 scoring winger- solid frame, good speed and a quick release shot. He’s already played in the Swedish Elite League against men and put up 17 goals in 50 games.
With David Booth bruising like a peach and Chris Higgins‘ versatility to play anywhere in the top 9 (best suited for 3rd line), the time may be now to start Jensen out on the 3rd line and allow him to move up into the top-6 after adjusting to the league either in Booth or Higgins’ spot.
Another good bet would be Hunter Shinkaruk, the high scoring winger out of the WHL. In the past two season, Shinkaruk put up 91 goals in 146 games (including playoffs) for Medicine Hat.
His skill set with the puck is very high and once he gains a bit of strength and seasoning, he’ll be a welcome top-6 addition should he continue his development.
Bo Horvat is considered a strong two-way centerman, which may actually hurt his opportunity to crack the top-6 before the aforementioned players.
He is also listed as being able to play wing, but ideally you want his two-way abilities at center. However, the Canucks have moved players around in the past (Ryan Kesler comes to mind) to fit into the top-6.
Ideally though, he would develop into a top-6 line center.
Brendan Gaunce is similar in the sense that he has the size and maturity in his defensive game to stay at his natural center position. If Gaunce can continue to develop his foot speed and Horvat can eventually takes the reigns of a #1 scoring center, then this 1-2 combo would reward the Canucks of two strong picks up the middle in consecutive years.
Zack Kassian has yet to prove enough to be ready for frontline minutes, but there is a skill and size combo that could lead him to be the power forward the Canucks covet.
The wildcard is Jordan Schroeder because I really can’t figure out where he fits. He’s quick and possesses good puck skills, but is undersized for a league that loves size up the middle. Can he handle the physicality of playing wing?
He isn’t really a 3rd line center, but he isn’t really a 2nd liner either, he’s basically the equivalent to a AAA baseball player right now caught in limbo.
With the increased depth chart from drafts on forward, maybe the best option at this point would be to trade Schroeder and get future value in return.
Or maybe, just maybe, he can be converted to wing and become something in the mold of a Martin St. Louis or Patrick Kane down the road.
I didn’t mention the free agency option for a couple of reasons: a) My intent was to look within the organization as potential heirs to the top line throne b) I’m on a word count and c) I think the Sedins will still be effective players and stay with the team past this season.
Anything is possible, but I do know we have one of the most intriguing group of forward prospects knocking on the door in quite some time and it should be interesting to see how it plays out.