Bo Horvat found a consistent partner in Tanner Pearson, but there was no consistency whatsoever in the right-wing position. This was a common theme throughout the season, as Travis Green employed a relatively unique system of cycling right-wingers through the lineup while keeping the LW and C positions consistent. This meant that all of Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Zack MacEwen, Josh Leivo, and Loui Eriksson saw some (or plenty of) time in the top six.
Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning swung for the fences at the 2020 trade deadline, acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the L.A. Kings in exchange for Tyler Madden, Tim Schaller, and a second-round pick. The expectation at the time was that Toffoli would join Brock Boeser and fortify the team’s right-wing for the foreseeable future. Of course, things didn’t play out as expected. The pandemic brought the season to an abrupt halt, the cap stayed stagnant, and the Montreal Canadiens took full advantage by inking Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million dollar deal much to the dismay of Canucks fans everywhere. And yes, there may not be a silver lining at all. However, it’s true that this allows (forces?) the team to be more creative with the makeup of their top six.
Vancouver Canucks: Potential Right-Wingers for Bo Horvat
Option 1: Loui Eriksson
Any prediction with Loui Eriksson in the top six isn’t likely to be a popular one. At the same time, it may be the most likely one. While it may come as a surprise, the numbers tell us that Loui Eriksson was the best RW for Horvat last season. Pearson – Horvat – Eriksson put up a Corsi of 52.1 percent, alongside a Fenwick of 51%. (Stats courtesy of moneypuck.com)
While we can’t expect Eriksson to score 30, or even 20 points, we can reasonably expect him to do the little things. In fact, we can expect him to do them quite well. Things that come with being a veteran of 14 NHL seasons. Eriksson is an expert at creating space for his linemates, whether that be through his own positioning or setting screens. With Horvat and Pearson’s North-South style of game, this could prove to be quite a valuable addition. We should expect to see this line come together at some point next season, barring any significant regression by Eriksson.
Option 2: Jake Virtanen
Search “polarizing” in a dictionary, you’ll probably see a photo of Jake Virtanen right below it. Entering the offseason, it looked like his days as a Vancouver Canuck were numbered. Yet, it seems as though the team is giving him another shot to prove himself in the blue and green. What better way to do that than riding shotgun with the captain?
It’s certainly true that Pearson-Horvat-Virtanen didn’t show too well in the past. Virtanen’s defensive deficiencies stifled Horvat and Pearson’s abilities as two-thirds of a shutdown line. However, while Virtanen’s play leaves a lot to be desired, the tools he possesses still make him an ideal candidate for offensive assignments. Further, if the Canucks indeed plan on grooming Adam Gaudette as a two-way center of the Ryan Kesler mould, this could mean Horvat’s line sees a more offensive deployment as soon as next season. If this is the case, Pearson-Horvat-Virtanen has all the makings of a fearsome forechecking trio. And if this is the season that Jake Virtanen finally turns into Cam Neely, the team will be that much better off for it.
Option 3: Brock Boeser
When Brock Boeser took the league by storm in his rookie season, the then 22-year-old Bo Horvat was there with him every step of the way. But with the subsequent arrival of Elias Pettersson, Boeser hasn’t seen much time with Horvat since. That might not continue to be the case, however, with J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson emerging as a star duo. There may be added value in spreading out the scoring by moving Boeser down a line, and utilizing him as “the guy.” Boeser has proven many times before that he benefits from being the primary scoring option on any given line or powerplay unit, and playing with Pettersson is taking that away from him.
Daniel Wagner of vancouverisawesome.com did a great deep dive on this which you can read for yourself, but one of the main points is how many fewer wrist shots he took this past season. Brock Boeser’s wrist shot has long been his greatest weapon, but he only took 4.65 per game in 2019-20. This is a significant drop off from 2017-18, when he took more than six and a half wrist shots every game. Playing with Horvat would allow him to be the primary offensive option again, and potentially even rediscover the magic from his rookie season. This could prove far more beneficial than having one scoring line and three “shutdown” lines. This certainly is a combination to consider.
Who Plays with Bo Horvat
The carousel of right-wingers showed no signs of stopping in the playoffs, and there’s little reason to suspect that will change moving forward. There are no shortage of options for that second-line RW spot, even outside the aforementioned trio. Newcomer Jayce Hawryluk, Zack MacEwen, and even Adam Gaudette could get some consideration. The fact of the matter is that absolutely nothing is set in stone, making the situation that much more interesting. The Canucks brass will surely be keeping a keen eye on the topic moving forward.